stilted tea house

There is no shortage of things to do. According to one count Shanghai boasts some 3,700 entertainment spots, including clubs, dance halls, video game rooms, bowling alleys and lots of karaoke bars. One guidebook has 23 pages of restaurants and 23 pages of nightclubs. Some people say it is wise to stick to bars, restaurants and nightclubs at major hotels.

Shanghai is the most cosmopolitan of Chinese cities and its shops, restaurants, and night life reflect this. Shanghai-style food (seafood) is distinctive and elegantly presented. There are numerous night clubs, discos, karaokes, movie theater and music events although obviously oriented more towards a Chinese audience than a Western one.

Because of its status as the cultural and economic center of East Asia for the first half of the twentieth century, Shanghai is popularly seen as the birthplace of everything considered modern in China. It was in Shanghai, for example, that the first motor car was driven and (technically) the first train tracks and modern sewers were laid. It was also the intellectual battleground between socialist writers who concentrated on critical realism, which was pioneered by Lu Xun, Mao Dun, Nien Cheng and the famous French novel by André Malraux, Man's Fate, and the more "bourgeois", more romantic and aesthetically inclined writers, such as Shi Zhecun, Shao Xunmei, Ye Lingfeng, and Eileen Chang. In recent years Shanghai has been widely recognized as a new influence and inspiration for cyberpunk culture. Futuristic buildings such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the neon-illuminated Yan'an Elevated Road are a few examples that have helped to boast Shanghai's cyberpunk image.

The best sources for current information about Shanghai events, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife are the free English-language newspapers and magazines distributed to hotels, shops, and cafes around town. Also check out the China Daily, the Lonely Planet Books, other guidebooks, and posters put up around town and the universities. Shanghai's English-language newspaper, Shanghai Daily ( shine.cn ), offers both Shanghai and China news, albeit of the highly filtered and uncontroversial variety. Of the online editions of the English-language magazines, the best of ones are That’s Shanghai ( thatsmags.com ); Time Out Shanghai ( timeoutshanghai.com ); "Smart Shanghai" ( smartshanghai.com ), an urban webzine on local nightlife, dining, and culture); "Shanghaiist" ( shanghai.ist/ ), one of the best blogs in China, with lots on happenings in Shanghai; China e-travel chinaetravel.com ; and www.wangjianshuo.com , a long-running personal blog

Shanghai Oriental Arts Center(425 Dingxiang Road, Pudong, Metro Line 2, Shanghai Science & Technology Museum station) looks like a cross between an ameba and a flower.

Art in Shanghai : Shanghai’s art district is located around 50 Moganshan Lu (M50) and embraces several neighborhoods and is expanding. It houses lots of artist studios used by modern artists. See Museums.

Ballroom Dancing is very popular in Shanghai. Dancers gather in front of the Shanghai Exhibition Center, across from the Shangri-La Hotel, in Jian'an Park at the end of Nanjing Road, in the People's Park and in the Huangpu Park next to the Bund. People often dance in the early hours of the morning. For a while salsa dancing is also very popular.

Sports: The Shanghai Shenhua ("Flowers of Shanghai"), the city's soccer team, plays at the new 80,000-seat stadium. The Shanghai Sharks, the city’s basketball team, play in Luwan Stadium. There also more than 200 bowling alleys The lanes at Quyang and Ouden are open 24 hours. Other activities include go-karting and bungee jumping. Shanghai boast a yacht club, tennis club, several new golf courses and the world’s largest skateboard park.

Nightclubs and Bars in Shanghai

Reminders of the Shanghai nightlife scene that earned it the name "Pearl of the Orient" and "Paris of the East" are largely gone. The former Shanghai Club, at the end of the Bund, which once housed the famous 100-foot-long, the longest bar in the world, is now occupied by a two star hotel and a Kentucky Fried Chicken. But the Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria, once the premier men's club for British residents, is alive and kicking. The Tropicana (261 Sichuan Middle Road) is a replica of 1930s dance hall. It is located near the Bund on the top of an office building raised by the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in 1912. Large enough to accommodate about 300 dancers, it features antique glass windows, an upstairs roof garden and colonial-era furniture, The club is owned b a Polish entrepreneur who loves salsa music.

The most popular nightspot in Shanghai for many years was J.J.'s, a high tech disco built in partnership with the People's Liberation Army with foreign money. It featured Chinese and non-Chinese yuppie guys with cell phones, gyrating young women, fog-machines, crowded dance floors, Filipino DJs, strobe lights and a human-sized model of a mosquito. The Golden Age Club featured half-naked dancers and tuxedo-clad waiters who served $2,300 bottles of Remy Martin Louis XVII in $1,000-a-night private rooms. Other Shanghai clubs included Club Absolute, Tequila Mama's, Shanghai Salley's. Some stayed open until 5:00am. Most of the clubs didn’t have cover charges so it is possible to hit a number of them in a single night and not spend a fortune doing so.

On the bar scene today in Travel and Leisure reported: “With speakeasies, cocktail bars, and stunning views, this is a young party city at heart, and it is impossible not to get into some sort of escapade when indulging in Shanghai.” Among the places it suggests are: Barbarossa Restaurant & Lounge, a Moroccan themed place set in the center of a large pond a leafy area of People's Square; El Ocho, a cocktail bar, featuring traditional western drinks and homemade eastern spice concoctions; Bar Rouge, on the top floor of a heritage Bund building overlooking the Huangpu River; [Source: Travel and Leisure travelandleisure.com

Vue Bar located at Hyatt on the Bund offers fantastic views of the Huangpu River and downtown Shanghai and has a Jacuzzi in the center of the outdoor area. The Flair Bar on the 58th floor the Ritz Carlton Shanghai, is in the heart of the city's financial district and boasts an outdoor terrace with one of best views of city. Flask is one of Shanghai's best-loved speakeasies. Also check out Le Baron, a branch of popular Parisian nightclub with a rooftop terrace; Logan's Punch, designed by superstar Shanghai designers Neri & Hu; Senator Saloon, famous for its bourbon cocktails; Speak Low, a Japanese-style speakeasy with wild cocktails; Unico Located in the renowned Three on the Bund building, this fashionable lounge and bar features Latin-inspired cocktails and tapas from award-winning Mauro.” Shanghai also has a Hard Rock Cafe, a Tony Romas rib house, a Cuban cigar den and a large expat community.


Xintiandi (Metro Lines 10 and 13, Xintiandi station, near Xingye Road in the French Concession south of the People's Square) is a $200 million two-block, 560,000-square-foot shopping district and “entertainment environment”. Regarded as the prime party area of modern Shanghai, it opened in 2000 and it embraces restaurant, nightclubs and bars placed in renovated 1920s-era buildings with ornately carved wooden balconies and courtyards. On the weekends it draws 50,000 visitors a day.

Xintiandi means “New Heaven on Earth.” It has been one of the most fashionable shopping and entertainment areas in Shanghai for two decades and has become a model for similar development throughout China. Admired for the way it creates new spaces from old neighborhoods and incorporates traditional Chinese architecture with Western touches such as lawns and lampposts, it is owned by the Hong Kong developer Vincent Lo and was designed by American architect Ben Woods who was given the commission because he promised to save of old houses in the district rather than tear them down.

Critics of Xintiandi say it is too Disneyesque and resembles an American harbor-style development. Most of the houses were demolished and rebuilt, rather than renovated.. But locals don’t seem to care too much. They enjoy the large spaces to stroll around, and gather for ballroom dancing and listening to Canto-pop. Tourist like the clubs and outdoor cafes. The 4,500 former residences who were relocated to modern apartment buildings seem to have been fairly compensated and are happy about that.

Xintiandi is part of larger project called Taipingqiao that will cover 128 acres and contain offices, apartment blocks and a 12,000-square-meter artificial lake surrounded by parkland, Development is supposed to take place gradually over the next decade. Woods is currently designing a theater district with an artificial lake to accompany Xintiandi. Web Sites: Xintiandi site ; Trip Advisor ; Travel China Guide

Xintiandi Scene

At Xintaindi there are cafes selling French patisseries, boutiques selling hippie jewelry and candles, up market bars, cafes and restaurants and the obligatory Starbucks. Xintiandi biggest draws are its restaurants. It nightclubs and karaokes are also popular. Some karaokes have private rooms with their own private bathrooms. A museum in the complex on 75 Xingye Road covers 20th century Shanghai history. Particular attention is paid to the founding of the Communist Party 1921.

The setting is within traditional Shikumen Houses (Stone Gate houses) threaded through narrow alley ways. Although you are in the heart of the new China, the flavour is very international. David Devoss wrote in Smithsonian magazine: Formerly a two-block-long lilong, Xintiandi (New Heaven and Earth) was torn down only to be rebuilt in its 19th-century form. Now the strip’s chic restaurants such as TMSK serve Mongolian cheese with white truffle oil to well-heeled patrons amid the cyberpunk stylings of Chinese musicians. [Source: David Devoss, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

“Nobody arrives at Xintiandi on a Flying Pigeon, and Mao jackets have about as much appeal as whalebone corsets. “Shanghai is a melting pot of different cultures, so what sells here is different from other Chinese cities,” says fashion designer Lu Kun, a Shanghai native who numbers Paris Hilton and Victoria Beckham among his clients. “No traditional cheongsams or mandarin collars here. Sexy, trendy clothes for confident, sophisticated women; that’s Shanghai chic.”

“Xia Yuqian, a 33-year-old migrant from Tianjin, says she knows “lots of Shanghainese women who save all their money to buy a [hand] bag. I think it’s strange. They want to show off to other people.” But Xia, who moved to the city in 2006 to sell French wine, also relies on Shanghai’s reputation for sophistication in her work. “When you go to other cities, they automatically think it’s a top product,” she says. “If you said you were based in Tianjin, it wouldn’t have the same impact.”

Theaters in Shanghai

Shanghai is probably the best place in China to see Chinese acrobatics, drama, classical music and puppetry. There are three dozen performing troupes. The Shanghai Art Theater and the Conservatory of Music host many events. Shanghai opera is dying but still can be seen at People's Opera House on Jiu Jiang Lu. Some of the major hotels host cabaret-style song and dance shows. Cathay Theater on Hualhai Road is an Art Deco building that harks back to glory days of Shanghai ion the 1920s and 30s. .

There are about 60 movie theaters. The Daguangming movie house off Nanjing Road is one of world's classiest theaters. The New Heaven on Earth shopping malls that opened in 2003 contains a nine-screen multiplex cinema. Sometimes visitors are given tours of the Shanghai Film Studio. Hair salons offer relaxing scalp massages. Dyno beach water park has a wave-making pool.

In June 2009, plans were announced to transform the area around the Majestic Theater into a “Broadway of the East” called “Drama Valley” over the next ten years. The first season featured 30 plays, most of them contemporary Chinese dramas with Broadway production such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”, the light show “Luma” and Disney’s “High School Musical” thrown in. Thus far the energy for the drive is more commercial than artistic as government control on theater remains strong.

Shanghai Acrobatics Theater

Shanghai Acrobatics Theater regularly hosts acrobatics performances. It is also a training area for acrobats, magicians and a circus performers for other venues around town. Shows are often listed in local publications. The Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe show features a human ladder eight persons high made up of performers with chairs on theirs head for the people above them and flexible young girls who squeeze into a barrels about half their size.

Shanghai Acrobatics shows are held at: 1) Shanghai Circus World, featuring ERA- Intersection of Time, a multimillion-dollar stunning acrobatic extravaganza; 2) Shanghai Centre, with shows by famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe; 3) Huxi Theater, featuring the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe, doing a humorous style of the show with Kungfu and Beijing opera acts; 4) Baiyulan Theatre, which hosts the famous "Acrobats of China" show performed by The New Shanghai Circus Troupe, China's top ranked acrobatic troupe; and 5) Charming Shanghai, featuring the the Cloud Peaking Acrobatic Troupe, whose acts include "Pole Hanging", and "Silk Strap Skill".

Shanghai Circus World (Zhabei District, between Zhabei Stadium and Guangzhong Park) is one of China’s biggest circus-acrobatics acts. It performs in a theater with distinctive architecture, splendid golden vault and seating for 1638 people. The advanced stage facilities, lighting and sound equipment enable it to be a comprehensive performance site, which holds domestic and international circus programs, acrobatics, singing and dancing performances as well as the Shanghai International Magic Festival & Competition.

Shows at Shanghai Circus World have included "ERA", one of the most popular shows, Magic Water, Wheel of Life, Space Motorcycles, Forever, Mirror Mirage, Jar Juggling and Floating Gondola. ERA is a multimillion-dollar acrobatic extravaganza and multimedia odyssey incorporating traditional Chinese acrobatic arts modern technology. ERA is a love story and also contemplative tale.

According to Circus World’s website: “ERA's acrobats are on a quest to find that tenuous point of balance, the intersection between X, Y and Z. Not only will the audience be amazed by the acrobats' control and precision, they will be enchanted by the world that is created through the use of multimedia, technology, lighting and sound effects, elaborate costumes, original live music and a lot more. As such, ERA can remain universal, without language or cultural barriers. Location: No. 2266, Gonghe Xin Road, Zhabei District Web Sites: Circus World, Shanghai Acrobats shcircusworld.com

Shanghai Grand Theater


Shanghai Grand Theater (overlooking the People's Square) opened in August 1998. A gleaming glass-and-granite structure that cost $150 million, it has a French design (by architect Jean-Marie Charpentier), a Japanese stage, American acoustics and German construction. The spectacular roof curves upwards toward the sky. The National Ballet of China, local symphonies and touring troupes perform in the 1,800-seat main hall. Two smaller halls, with 800 seats, host chamber music, dance and theater events. .

The people who run the theater are quite conservative. Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra were prohibited from playing because jazz was deemed an inappropriate art form.

Shanghai Grand Theatre (Metro Lines 1, 2 or 8, People's Square Station, People’s Boulevard and South Huangpi Rd., northern part of the People’s Square) covers a floor area of 11,528 square meters. With its unique style and beautiful exterior, the theatre is considered one of the hallmarks of People’s Square. It has 10 storeys, two for underground, two for lofts and six on the ground. It looks like a crystal palace in the light at night as the white arc-shaped roof joins coherently with the light-sensitive glass curtain wall.

The Interior of Shanghai Grand Theatre was designed by Studios Architecture. The lobby is approximate 2,000 square meters with the white as its main tone, which signifies elegant and pure. A large chandelier, formed by six pan-pipes shaped lamp, is suspended in the lobby. The floor is made of a rare marble called “Greece Crystal White”. The patterns shaped like piano digital, together with the pillar and the stairs, are full of rhythms. While being inside, it’s really like staying in a musical world. Location: 300 People’s Boulevard, Huangpu District, northern part of the People’s Square, Tel: +86 21 63868686. Tickets can be booked by calling tel. 86-21-6472-0354 Website: shgtheatre.com

Cricket Fighting in Shanghai

John Sunyer wrote in Time Out Shanghai: “At Shanghai’s Wanshang Flower and Bird Market on a sweaty afternoon in July, around 25 middle-aged men cram into a small, cigarette smoke-filled room at the back of the market. All are transfixed by two crickets fighting on a shabby brown Formica-topped table in the centre of the room. The crickets square up, bare their fangs and bump heads. The crowd tenses; the men move in closer. Seconds later, one of the crickets turns away and the fight is over. [Source: John Sunyer, Time Out Shanghai, August 2010]

“Scenes like this are a relatively new phenomenon in summer: cricket fighting in China has traditionally been restricted to the autumn months, after the inch-long blackish-brown insects are plucked from fields at the end of the summer. But for the last few years the extended season has been fuelled by breeders who raise crickets all year round by strictly controlling the insects’ temperature, humidity and feed.

“Wu Mingjie, the president of the Golden Autumn Cricket Lovers Club, says that human-bred crickets are likely to wipe out naturally-raised crickets in two to three years time. Although this means the cricket fighting season is getting longer, fewer people are now involved with the sport. ‘Cricket fighting was the game for every boy in the ’70s and ’80s,’ he says. ‘But now it’s becoming a dying pastime.’

“The Shanghai-born 36 year-old is an architect by day and cricket fanatic by night. His club was founded in 2005 and has 80 members, who meet every two weeks to talk about crickets, hold fights (with no betting) and receive lectures from cricket masters (past winners of national cricket fighting competitions). But for most members of the Golden Autumn Cricket Lovers Club, the gathering and raising of crickets is just as important as the fighting itself.

“Wu himself is a good example. Unlike most cricket fighters, he looks after his crickets until they die, even when they lose a fight (crickets never fight again once they’ve lost, and are often discarded by their owners). He names each of his 50 crickets according to how it looks: one is called Datou (big head), and another Dajiao (big feet). He cleans each cricket every two days, which involves putting the insects into small nets before dipping them in a basin filled with water.‘Cleaning them one by one takes a lot of time,’ he says. ‘That’s why I only keep 50 [crickets]. Any more and I would have to quit my day job.’

“But Wu’s club is now one of only ten cricket clubs in Shanghai. ‘Today, young people have more ways to entertain themselves,’ he says. ‘And most of the people involved in cricket fighting do it to make money rather than because of their passion for crickets,’ he says. ‘Gambling has always been associated with cricket fighting. But now, as the season gets longer, there is more gambling and more money to be made from the sport.’ Wu says this money culture makes it harder to stage fights, as the government is ‘70 per cent against cricket fighting, and 30 per cent for it.’

“Chen says he started breeding crickets two years ago for the purpose of making money. He visited Hunan, Hubei and Shangdong to collect ‘China’s best’ naturally-raised crickets to take home and breed. Today most of his crickets are sold to individual buyers – each cricket sells for anything up to 200RMB, while a rare breed can fetch 3,000RMB. ‘People pay huge sums of money for the best crickets,’ he says. ‘If a cricket wins a fight you can resell it for more money. But they become worthless the moment they lose.’ But Chen says more money is involved in arranging cricket fighting competitions, where organisers can take up to half of the takings. ‘Thankfully things as a breeder are much more stable. I can’t go to jail for this,’ he says, before admitting that he is still tempted to make a ‘little betnow and then’.”

Image Sources: 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) developers, architecture firms, tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), UNESCO, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in May 2020

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