At 97 kilometers, the Huangpu is the longest river that passes through the city of Shanghai. The Huangpu ("Yellow Bank") River divides Shanghai into two sections: Pudong in the east, and Puxi in the West. A significant branch of the Huangpu, also in Shanghai, is Suzhou Creek, formerly called the Wusong River. The Huangpu averages a width of some 500 meters as it snakes its way through Shanghai, with an average depth of 11 meters. It is also the source of most of Shanghai's drinking water, after it goes through a purification process, of course. Almost equally important today, the Huangpu is the site of a bustling tourist business in the form of river cruises, which originate at Shiliupu Pier just south of the Bund area (there is a corresponding set of cruises up the Yangtze River that begin near the mouth of the Huangpu, where it empties into the Yangtze), where the Huangpu flows alongside the now restored architecture of Shanghai's former British colonial heartland.
Huangpu River Night Cruise
There are several tour lengths that one can sign up for, from a short, 30-minute cruise to a long, 3½ hour cruise. The 30-minute cruise passes the Bund, then proceeds on northward to the area designated as the New Bund, and on to Binjiang Avenue of Pudong, a newly developed economic district, where the cruise boat reverses itself and proceeds back to its point of origin at Shiliupu Pier, south of the Bund. All of the Yangpu River Cruises are of course round trips. The 1-hr excursion proceeds beyond Pudong as far as Yangpu Bridge, while the 2-hr excursion ends at Nanpu Bridge farther north, both very graceful suspension bridges (a bridge reveals its beauty more readily when viewed from the side, which is the view provided by a Huangpu River Cruise). The longest excursion lasts 3½ hours, and ends at Wusongkou Harbour, not far from the mouth of the Huangpu, which empties into the great estuary where the Yangtze meets the East China Sea.
Besides offering a privileged view of the bridges that span the Huangpu, the cruise boats also offer an excellent view of the famous colonial-era buildings that make up the Bund, buildings such as the Peace Hotel with its unique pyramid roof in blazing green and the Customs House with its large clock tower, and though not to everyone's taste, behind the original Bund area now shoot up tall skyscrapers. Those who defend the modern skyscraper background would claim that though the new buildings dwarf the colonial buildings of the "old" Bund, they do not compete with them - or even mar the view - but rather, they almost seem to highlight the older-period buildings as gentle, rounded "foothills" to the soaring, "jagged peaks" of the skyscraper background.
On the east, or Pudong, side of the river, one sees the towering skyscrapers of the New Bund area, which include Shanghai's justly famous Jin Mao Tower, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Shanghai International Convention Center featuring twin glass domes, a number of Chinese and international hotels, the office buildings that serve as headquarters to a number of Chinese and international - or rather, multinational - enterprises, as well as malls, plazas, and a bustling street life.
A Huangpu River Cruise is "history revisited" in the sense that it affords many glimpes of Shanghai's past during the period, the beginning of the 20th century through WWII. This corresponds to the period during which foreign powers had forced trade and territorial concessions upon China (the so-called Unequal Treaties, which also bequeathed Hong Kong to Britain*), and where large swaths of the city of Shanghai had become defacto colonies run by European and North American countries, as well as by Russia and Japan. The Bund is itself testimony to this period, since it belonged to the British settlement before it became a part of the so-called International Settlement, which was mainly a British-American "colony".
It also spans the period leading up to WWII in the Pacific theatre, as Japan had invaded China long before Hitler began to display the hegemonic tendencies in Europe that would culminate in WWII there. The outbreak of WWII in the Pacific theater that drew in the Americans and the Europeans (as well as most, if not all, of the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world) into direct conflict with Japan had its most dramatic and sobering - in the eyes of the somewhat naive Westerners - beginning in the city of Shanghai, which event was unforgettably captured in the Steven Spielberg film, Empire of the Sun, about an aristocratic boy who suddenly finds himself alone on the streets of Shanghai (his parents were rounded up by the Japanese invaders, but the boy managed to keep out of their clutches for a time), and ends up in a concentration camp of sorts surrounded by adults, and where the boy quickly learns the fine art of survival, 'by hook or by crook'.
For example, Suzhou Creek near Wusong on the northern outskirts of Shanghai is spanned by Waibaidu Bridge, which linked the then American concession north of the creek (present-day Hongkou District) with the British concession south of the creek. During the Japanese occupation of the city, which occurred the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or December 8, 1941 (the Japanese had their own settlement in the city, but decided to seize all of Shanghai in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor), the British and the Americans found themselves unwelcome, and were rudely turned out by the Japanese.
While the Japanese maintained at least some degree of civility towards the Westerners at that early stage in the war, this "largesse" did not extend to the Chinese residents of the city, who were compelled to show obeisance to their Japanese occupiers, including obeisance to sentries who guarded the city's bridges (sabotage may have been the driving fear here, though a general desire to humiliate, as one senses in present-day Israeli control of checkpoints in Palestinian areas, may also have been at play). The Chinese residents, on foot or in rickshaws, had to beg and wheedle with their occupiers in order to even cross the bridge.
Beyond Yangpu Bridge - which spans the Huangpu just south of the small island, Fuxing Dao, that briefly divides the Huangpu into two channels (Fuxing Dao is located just beyond Yangpu, where the river turns due north) - lies a large castle-like edifice, Yangshupu Water Plant, which was built by the British in 1882, after the respective British and American Settlements in Shanghai had been conglomerated into a single settlement, the so-called International Settlement. Farther north still, near the mouth of the Huangpu, lies Wusong Fort, which was attacked by British forces in 1842, at the close of the the First Opium War (1839-1842).
On the return trip to Shiliupu Pier, as you pass the Shanghai International Cruise Ship Terminal near Pudong, you might wish to contemplate on the fact that the cruise liners of many of China's former foes - including those of Japan (and quite possibly those of your own country) - regularly lay up here, and that without their contribution to Shanghai's economy, the city would probably not be the oriental pearl that it is today.
* The largest and most important of the British concessions in China, Hong Kong, amazingly continued to exist throughout the intensely nationalistic early period of PRC rule. The government of the PRC apparently had enough on its hands in dealing with problems of internal consolidation – and perhaps in general did not wish to provoke a crisis with the international community over Hong Kong – but in 1984, agreement was reached between China and Britain in which the latter agreed to return Hong Kong – as well as all other territories that had been ceded to Britain (in perpetuity, in fact) – to China on July 1, 1997, an event that was celebrated with much pomp, almost as much pomp as the close of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games a few years later.