Factories old and new offer interesting tours

Lu Feiran
Tourism takes a unique turn through the historical and contemporary domain of factory production that built and sustains modern Shanghai.
Lu Feiran

Sightseeing destinations don’t have to be far mountains or distant seas. Sometimes they can also be unlikely places close to home. One of the most interesting in that category are factories, both past and present.

In Shanghai, many old manufacturing sites have been rehabilitated into creative zones, and many factories still in production have developed museums and activities to attract visitors.

“Creative zones modified from old plants are open at any time, but plants still in operation accept only groups on a pre-booking basis,” says Xu Kejian, director of the Shanghai Industrial Tourism Promotion Center.

It recommends several sites worth a visit. Here are some of the most popular.

Factories of the past

1933 Old Millfun

In the Hongkou District, a giant gray building that was a slaughterhouse in the 1930s now hosts workshops, studios, bars and cafés. It’s hard nowadays to imagine such a large abattoir in downtown Shanghai, but back in its day, the building’s locale was far less busy.

Now known as the 1933 Old Millfun, the building features maze-like passageways and concreate walls and pillars. Without painted walls, floor tiles or interior décor, it looks a bit rough. But keeping the original look part of the site’s allure.

The building was designed by British architect Andrew Balfour in 1933. With wide open spaces in the central part, the building allowed the whole construction to remain cool in summer and well ventilated in winter. Concrete ramps used to herd livestock are a chilling reminder of what occurred there.

Since 2007, the site has become a creative landmark in Shanghai. Movies are shot there, dramas are performed and Internet celebrities find it an ideal background for live-stream videos.

1933 Old Millfun

Address: 10 Shajing Rd, Hongkou District,

Open: 9am to 10pm

The Yangpu section of the Huangpu Riverside

The 45-kilometer-long Huangpu Riverside walkway runs through an area of old factories in the Yangpu District.

It is a historical tribute to the industrial powerhouse that began in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and helped underpin Shanghai’s economic development.

The old sites include the China Merchants Steam Navigation Co, established in 1873; the Yangshupu Water Plant that went into operation in 1881; and the UK-based Jardine Matheson Cotton Mill.

The old facilities have become an iconic part of the riverside walkway. Visitors can see the old welding docks of ship-repair factories and the British-style construction of the water plant. Pipes and steel frames form the landscape. Walking along the trail is like a trip through a museum of modern industrial history.

Address: the Huangpu Riverside from Huaide Road to Dandong Road

Factories old and new offer interesting tours
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The Yangpu section of the Huangpu Riverside

Red Town

The site of a former cold rolled steel plant of the Shanghai No. 10 Steel Factory has been turned into a creative zone known as Red Town. The area is now undergoing another restoration, and all the old buildings, covering an area just over the size of a standard football field, will be retained.

The name might come from the look of the red-brick buildings. The original interior, including gray cement columns and steel-bracketed ceilings, give the venue a somewhat cold atmosphere.

In recent years, Red Town has also come to be known as the Shanghai Sculpture Space. Sculptures on the central lawn of the area, mostly in modernist and post-modernist styles, seem to work well with the old factory buildings and also will be retained.

Red Town will be a centerpiece of plans to turn the area into a comprehensive CBD area focusing on the creative arts.

Red Town

Address: 570, Huaihai Road W

Factories old and new offer interesting tours
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The Red Town

Factories of the present

SAIC Volkswagen Automotive Co

As one of the first Sino-foreign joint automobile ventures in China after the country opened up to the outside world in 1978, SAIC Volkswagen Automotive Co in Anting in the Jiading District displays its best vehicle production technologies to tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Visitors can view the development of electric cars at one of the world’s top plants for green vehicles and can watch efficient assembly lines of skilled workers and robots. The quality-control hall exhibits different models of cars produced in the plant.

Meanwhile, visitors in Anting can also go around the Shanghai International Automobile City to complete a car-themed tour. The Shanghai Auto Expo provides the opportunity to try out an electric vehicle driving in the park, while the Shanghai Auto Museum tells the full history of automobile development with an exhibition of vintage cars.

Visitors can also go around to the Shanghai Circuit, site of the annual Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix.

SAIC Volkswagen Automotive Co

Address: 5288, Cao’an Highway, Jiading District

Open: 8:30am-10:30am, 12:30pm-3:30pm, Monday to Friday

For tours, groups of about 10 people have to book a week ahead of time. More information is available on the hotline 5465-4890.

Shanghai Shenxian Liquor Plant

From outside its gate, the Shanghai Shenxian Liquor Plant in Fengxian District looks like a traditional Chinese garden instead of a modern factory. Inside, visitors can see the process of turning grain into alcohol.

In the production area, visitors can view the different vessels used to process various grains from northeastern China, including wheat and sorghum. In the cellar, row upon row of liquor bottles are stored, aging for 10-20 years.

A cultural gallery in the plant displays the history of Chinese liquor, showing how ancient Chinese distilleries worked and how liquor played a role in ancient societies.

The plant, which had a history of half a century, started from several small family distilleries in the district.

In 1958, the Fengxian government decided to merge them into one company. The Shenxian brand today is one of the most popular for white spirits in the city and has been designated an “intangible cultural heritage” of Shanghai.

Shanghai Shenxian Liquor Plant

Address: 2888, Xinsiping Highway, Xintuan Town, Fengxian District

Open: 9am-16pm, Monday to Saturday

Tour groups need to book a week ahead of time through the hotline 5464-4890 or 5753-6059.

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