Fuxing Island reveals its unique history

Timothy Francis Hughes
The attractive tourist destination along the Huangpu River holds secrets waiting to be discovered by fans of history.
Timothy Francis Hughes
Tim Hughes / SHINE

The landscape, pavilion and vegetation in the Fuxing Island Park make visitors feel like being in a Japanese garden.

Tim Hughes / SHINE

A mother and her child relax in the Japanese-style pavilion.

The little-known Fuxing Island in northeast Shanghai has much to offer visitors interested in the history of the city, let alone that of China. Having experienced and sometimes been at the center of major events within the country’s past 100 years, this 1.13-square-kilometer area offers beauty and nature while also providing a window into Shanghai’s rich past.

Located along the banks of the Huangpu River, the small island in Yangpu District is separated from the mainland by a canal and, until recently, was connected to the mainland by the Dinghai Bridge built in 1927. The only tourist attraction there is the Fuxing Island Park.

The isolation of the island may have been what drew those who created the park in the 1930s, then known as the Sports Society of the Shanghai Conservancy Board. The society’s possession of the property did not last long as Japanese forces seized control of the island during their invasion of China.

During this period, Fuxing Island Park underwent changes that to this day are still present and have been restored: The Japanese changed the landscape, layout and vegetation of the park. A cherry orchard was planted in the southern part. Japanese-style pavilions were erected, and small bridges were made to cross manmade gullies.

A man surnamed Zang, 55, who has worked for the park for over 10 years, says it is apparent that the park still retains its Japanese features. 

“At first sight, you may think the park is similar to any other parks in China, but if you pay more attention, you will soon realize that the landscape, scenery and vegetation make you feel like being in a Japanese garden.”

This can be even more apparent in April when the cherry orchard blossoms, something that has come to be seen as a symbol of Japan. 

According to local residents, the Japanese military even made an airplane runway along what is now Gongqing Road which could help explain why the road runs in a straight line through most of the island.

During the “cultural revolution” (1966-76), the park was renamed Gongqing Park. It was renamed Fuxing Island Park in 1977. In recent years, it has undergone major renovations, with the original cherry orchard restored and the park’s pavilions rebuilt as much of the park was neglected during the “cultural revolution.”

Fuxing Island Park holds a unique piece of history within its walls. To the northern end of the park lies the Bailu or the White Cottage, which served as a residence to various members of the Japanese military’s leadership during the war. 

Tim Hughes / SHINE

Bailu, or the White Cottage, has fallen into disrepair. A renovation project has just begun on it.

The cottage was also the home of Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek from April 26 to May 7, 1949 before he retreated and moved to Taiwan. The White Cottage was the last place Chiang stayed on the Chinese mainland.

Along with the rich history of the building, rich folklore exists regarding White Cottage. It is said that Chiang used a secret tunnel that ran underneath the cottage to come and go without others around him being aware of his whereabouts. 

During a former renovation of the structure, however, craftsmen found no sign of any secret entrance to the “famed” secret tunnel. 

Jin Geba, 75, a visitor, is surprised to learn the history of the White Cottage. 

“I have lived in Shanghai my entire life, but I did not know of the history of the cottage until today when I came across an informal description of it posted on a wall on the opposite side of the canal. We should all know about this important part of history,” he says. 

Jin makes a good point as nowhere in the park describes the historical significance of the building.

Unfortunately, in recent years the White Cottage has been neglected and fallen into disrepair, including the unique octagon-shaped room, with the original decorations, located in the western part of the cottage where Chiang enjoyed sitting. 

Owing to the history and the decrepit condition of the architecture, a renovation project has just begun on it in accordance with the surrounding park.

Tim Hughes / SHINE

Now the park is becoming a popular destination for photoshoots that seek to have a Japanese theme.

To this day, the park still holds true to its founders’ intent to use the location as a place to play sports, as there are two separate badminton courts at opposite ends of the park.

At the same time, people continue to be drawn to the surrounding landscape as it has become a popular destination for photoshoots that seek to have a Japanese theme.

From the perspective of a visitor with no insight into what makes the park unique, one may view the park as simply being small and isolated from the center of Shanghai ─ a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle. But on knowing of its rich history and legacy, they will find time well spent in a piece of Shanghai that has been at the center of the city’s history. 

Who knows, maybe on your next visit, the craftsmen renovating the White Cottage will have discovered that an old legend will have turned out to be a new piece of history.

If you go:

Fuxing Island can be reached by Metro Line 12. The park is 400 meters north of the subway station at 386 Gongqing Road, Yangpu District.

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