A Sense of Place at Jing An
Siew Hoon gets a taste of Shanghai’s past.
Dating back to the Song dynasty in 1216, it is one of the most ancient Buddhist temples in Shanghai and houses the largest jade Buddha in China.
As Shanghai’s gleaming skyscrapers vie for attention, it’s easy to forget the city’s rich history. However, when walking along The Bund, you get a sense of it from the old colonial buildings that have stood the test of time and seen the city through its tumultuous ups and downs. I often wonder what the walls would say if they could talk…
I got a sense of that history recently when I visited Jing An Shangri-La, West Shanghai. If location makes a hotel, then this one has what it takes to become the group’s signature property. The hotel has all the luxury elements Shangri-La is known for, but its sense of place makes it unique, offering the quintessential Shanghai experience with a nod to its fascinating history.
If you look down from the uppermost floor of the 60-storey hotel (also housing the largest Horizon Club of all the Shangri-La hotels) at the stunning 360-degree view of the city, you will see Jing’an Temple. Dating back to the Song dynasty in 1216, it is one of the most ancient Buddhist temples in Shanghai and houses the largest jade Buddha in China.
Although dwarfed by surrounding buildings, it seems to exude an aura of invincibility, which it has to an extent from having undergone numerous transformations over the centuries and even being destroyed by a fire. After a US$1 million restoration, its former glory was revitalised in 1983. Translated, Jing’an means peace and quiet and the temple certainly embodies that.
I learned about the Nanjing Road West area, including the land where the hotel is situated, which was owned by Silas Aaron Hardoon, a wealthy businessman and public figure in early 20th century Shanghai. Tongren Road, which separates Jing An Shangri-La, West Shanghai and the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, used to be named after him.
As with all great stories, love features in this one too. The Shanghai Exhibition Centre sits on what used to be the Aili Garden that Mr Hardoon built for his wife; its name means “Aaron loves Lisa”. The largest and most extravagant private garden of its time, it served as a private garden for the Hardoons, and also as a gathering place for politicians and celebrities.
Today, a park next to the hotel has also become a gathering place for holding concerts and is frequented by celebrities. The area is also a good example of Shanghai’s charm, blending modern buildings with traditional Shikumen lane houses and classic European architecture. Take a walk around the hotel's neighbourhood to get a sense of what it used to be.
A former residence of Chairman Mao Zedong also sits in the middle of Jing An Kerry Centre’s 3,000-square-metre piazza, which features pathways, gardens, water features and alfresco dining. Shangri-La and Kerry Properties are working with the Jing An District Government to restore this heritage home where Chairman Mao lived for several months in 1920.
Another standout feature at Jing An Shangri-La, West Shanghai is the large-scale oil painting (5.9 metres by 2.9 metres) by Master Zeng Fanzhi, a painter inspired by the natural environments, in the lobby. It’s a great example of haipai, a term to describe the unique combination of Shanghai style and Western culture. I have a feeling that the mural is destined to become one of the most “Instagramable” images in the hotel world. While I was there, I could hardly get a moment to shoot without people crowding around to take photos. Next time you’re in Shanghai, go see it for yourself.