Rivers of the World – Part 2 – China
Shanghai’s 15 mile link to the South China Sea is via the Huangpu (“yellow bank”) River. The much smaller Suzhou Creek joins the Huangpu in the heart of the present day city at the northern end of the Bund and runs in an east-west direction, linking Shanghai inland to the ancient city of Suzhou and beyond to Lake Taihu.
Shanghai was founded in the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279) and became important as a port from 1291 based on its conduits for trade with the surrounding regions which were China’s richest for cotton and agricultural production.
Surprisingly, given the different sizes of the two rivers today, the Huangpu used to be a tributary of Suzhou Creek. Maps from the 11th century show the Woosung (as Suzhou Creek was then called) to be an immense sheet of water up to 5 miles wide and the Whuangpu (as the Huangpu was then known) was then an insignificant canal linking the village of Lungua directly to the sea.
But following an enormous flood in 1403 the Emperor embarked on an extensive dyke-and dam-building programme and diverted waters from the Woosong and in this process the Whuangpu was widened and deepened too. By 1569, the Woosung had contracted significantly and the Whuangpu became the larger river.
After the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, China was forced to open to international trade and Shanghai became a key port. At that time, international communities were allowed to self-govern in separate areas of the city and Suzhou Creek formed the boundary between the British concession (on its south bank) and the American settlement (on the north). Both concessions were merged into the International Settlement in 1863 and, when the Japanese invaded Shanghai in 1937, the river once again formed a boundary, this time between the combined international settlement on the south and the Japanese concession on the north.
When foreigners arrived in large numbers in Shanghai, the Woosung became known as Soochow (or Suzhou) Creek after Suzhou, the ancient city in Shanghai’s neighbouring Jiangsu province.
Huangpu and Suzhou Creek full factsheet from Rivers around the World project