All of us know Ningbo at some level. No doubt. We live here. It is a truly beautiful place, with our favourite bars and pubs, shining shopping malls, new Metro lines etc. The list of the convenience that modern Ningbo brings us can go on and on. However, to the people who have kept the necessary curiosity of the world around them, seeing only its image of present day is simply not enough. They want to know more about it so that one day they can tell their children, “I once lived in a place in eastern China on the coastline named Ningbo. I know that place, because I really lived there.”
Luckily we are among the people who are curious and want to learn the history of Ningbo. That is why we are going to have this new column in our magazine. It’s called “Ningbo in History”.
Well, where shall we start with? I guess for everyone, the first place we know in Ningbo is Laowaitan. So let’s start from there.
Laowaitan, or the Old Bund, also known as the North Riverbank (Chinese: 江北岸; Pinyin: Jiang1 bei3 an4; Ningbonese: kaon1 pih4 ngae1 ), is a waterfront area on the north bank of the Yong River in Jiangbei District, Ningbo.
The Old Bund has been part of the Port of Ningbo for trading since 1842 when the Sino-Britain Treaty of Nanking was signed. In 1844, Ningbo was officially opened as a trading port, the North Riverbank was hence the residential spot for foreign merchants from Britain, France and US. The North Riverbank became the first Bund in China, 20 years before The Bund of Shanghai.
In December 1861 when rebellion of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom conquered Ningbo city, the North Riverbank fell into complete control of British and French military. Hundreds and thousands of Chinese rushed into the residential spot for foreign merchants, making this area densely populated. On 13th January 1862, consuls of Britain, France and US reached an agreement, stating the boundaries of the residential area. Foreign people lived freely in this area with no interference from Qing government or the Taiping rebellion, with many kinds of privileges including having their own police force and arresting at will local Chinese people and merchants from other countries. At the same year, French tried to set up another area “governed” by French only, but failed to do so due to opposition from all other forces.
Henceforth, the North Riverbank has seen a turbulent recent history, same as the old kingdom of China, and at the same time it has begun modernization. By the early 20th century, the North Riverbank had become the main area for commerce with all kinds of businesses and merchant stores, shipping companies, night clubs and theaters, and modern streets and buildings such as British Consulate, Cathedral, Banks and Zhejiang Customs. Many of the buildings can still be seen today and some are pictured here.
However, many of the buildings have fallen, including the interesting tower pictured here. If any reader knows what this building is, feel free to write me at alan at ningboguide.com with your answer. If you’re stumped, you’ll have to wait until next month’s installment to find out the answer. Until then, stay curious Ningbo.