Allure of Ningbo
Dig beneath the prosperous, modern city and you will soon find its historic side.
Today, the Old Bund still harbours old buildings in the British and Dutch colonial styles and others built using the local grey brick.
Trade has always been important to Ningbo and, with the boats, ideas have ebbed and flowed, influencing its history. Today, it is a manufacturing hub and home to one of the world’s largest ports. There are plenty of places of historical interest, many of them within the city centre. Shangri-La Hotel, Ningbo is located on the bank of the Fenghua River not far from where it meets the Yuyao River to create the Yong. From here is a commanding view over the city and towards the Old Bund (Laowaitan).
Ningbo was one of the five treaty ports opened up to foreigners in 1842 as a result of the first Opium War. Predating Shanghai’s Bund by 20 years, it is the oldest of its kind in China. Today, the Old Bund is a popular entertainment area with a mix of bars and restaurants. It still harbours old buildings in the British and Dutch colonial styles and others built using the local grey brick. One of the area’s most prominent landmarks is the Jiangbei Catholic Church, which was built by the Portuguese in 1872. Along with being an active church, it is a popular backdrop for wedding pictures.
Most of Ningbo’s city centre sights are around the Moon Lake area. The Tianyi Pavilion is home to the world’s third oldest private library, and the oldest in Asia. Covering 31,000 square metres, it is home to the gardens and former residence of Fan Qin, who started the collection. An avid reader, the former deputy defence minister started the library in 1561. Today, the collection numbers 300,000 or so books housed in a purpose-built building.
Moonlake Flourishing Gardens is a recent development built in the traditional grey-bricked san-ho-yuan style, consisting of a central building with two perpendicular wings. Similar to Shanghai’s Xintiandi, it is positioned as a high-end entertainment area with historic buildings nestled in the back alleys. The former residences of both Yang Fang and Chen Yumen are preserved in the area. Yang Fang made his fortune acting as a comprador for trade between foreigners and the Chinese. Chen Yumen is famed as the inventor of mah-jong, which he developed from a number of more complex traditional games. The terms used in the game today are from the Ningbo dialect – mah-jong itself means ‘sparrow’.
Tianfeng Pagoda whose seven storeys reach a height of 51 metres was the tallest building in ancient Ningbo. Dating back to the 14th Century, it still offers a good view. At the north end of Moon Lake lies the drum tower, which is a curious mix of traditional Chinese design with Western influences. A clock tower was added to the structure in 1935.
Today, Shangri-La Hotel, Ningbo offers some of the best views of the city. After a day of exploring, what better way to relax than at CHI, The Spa? Or if you fancy a workout, head to the fully equipped gym, full-sized pool and two outdoor tennis courts.
Thanks to the trade routes, Ningbo has always seen a flow of religion – be it Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. However, Buddhism has played the most important role in the area. Most of the temples are located in the rural areas, which make up the majority of Ningbo’s municipality. Tiantong Temple is one of the most prominent sites of Chan Buddhism and has a history of around 1,700 years.
“Ningbo has a historical link with Japan and, to a lesser extent, Korea, in terms of trade. Buddhism in Japan and Korea tended to come via the Ningbo region,” said Joseph Askew, lecturer in modern history at the University of Nottingham, Ningbo. Dogen, founder of Japan’s Soto School of Zen, studied at Tiantong.
Baoguo Temple nestled on the side of Lingshan Mountain is home to the oldest wooden building in the south of China. In 2013, the Great Hall celebrated its millennium and is the prototype for the famed Building Construction Rules published 90 years after it was built.
Ningbo is renowned for its seafood and the hotel’s Shang Palace is bound to impress. Executive Chef Fred Zhou serves the local cuisine famed for its light flavour seasoned with salt. “We don’t use heavy sauces,” Chef Zhou said. Dishes like Deep-Fried Yellow Croaker wrapped in Bean Curd Skin hit the mark.
The city’s name means serene waves and a stay at Shangri-La Hotel, Ningbo is certainly peaceful, yet within a 20-minute walk of most of the city centre sights.
Five Tips for Ningbo
• Ningbo’s city centre is quite small and is easy to get around on foot or by bicycle
• Taxis can be hard to find. The hotel staff will be happy to arrange
• Try to get a river-facing room for the best view
• Ningbo’s museum is one of China’s most famous
• Atmospheric villages, such as Ciccheng, make for a great side trip
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extremely interesting.I shall go to Ningbo within the next 2 weeks-and if the rates are good -then I shall gladly say at the Shangri- La Hotel in Ningbo.