Bridge of Opportunity

Ningbo, China’s ‘Calm Wave,’ is looking to catch up with Shanghai

By: Gary Bowerman

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Ningbo is looking to greatly increase
its share of China’s tourism.
Calm Wave” is a rather pleasant name for a city especially one located along China’s pulsing east coast. Yet the calmness and tranquility of Ningbo, a laid-back, green city in coastal Zhejiang province, could easily have been punctured.

When China began opening up to the world in the late 1980s, Ningbo was a strong candidate to become the nation’s east coast financial, commercial and shipping center. Instead, that accolade was given to Shanghai. Ningbo, meanwhile, settled into a thriving niche as one of China’s most successful high-tech manufacturing and import/export cities. Trade, rather than tourism, was its thing.

But the government realized something was missing: tourism revenue. Ningbo’s seaport ranked in the world’s top 12 provides fast access to the Zhoushan archipelago of islands, including the Buddhist retreat and tourism magnet of

Putuoshan. Many of the islands will be developed for tourism and watersports and Ningbo is surrounded by pretty canal villages, ancient ruins, accessible mountains and beautiful Dongqian Lake.

In addition, links between Shanghai and Ningbo are set to increase. Next year, the world’s longest sea bridge, measuring over 22 miles, will span the Bay, cutting driving time to about 2½ hours.

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Ningbo’s Drum Tower is an eclectic
example of different influences on the city.
To the Sea
Given its name and location, Ningbo’s wealth has always been related to the sea. The city’s original settlement was built at the confluence of three rivers: the Yong, Fenghua and Yuyao, which flow into the sea. This area, known as Sanjiang Kou (Mouth of Three Rivers), is the heart of modern Ningbo, with attractive gardens, riverside walkways, bridges, retail malls and the buzz of a city on the way up. Several new hotels, including Shangri-La, are being constructed here.

From the river mouths, I followed a path across the Xinjiang Bridge to see where Ningbo’s port history comes into even stronger focus. Standing alone on a small green is a magnificent Catholic Church, built by Portuguese traders during the 17th century. Just past the church is an even more potent symbol of foreign domination of China’s east coast.

The grand riverfront Bund is said to predate its Shanghai counterpart by around two decades, though the area only began to develop after the British navy bludgeoned its way into Shanghai in 1842, forcing China to concede five treaty ports Shanghai, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Guangzhou and Ningbo to the British, French and Americans. Just as in Shanghai, many foreign companies, banks and consulates were built along the Bund in the late 19th century.

Though different in style, the buildings along Ningbo’s Bund have been similarly restyled, and the area is now a thriving district of bars, restaurants and galleries. It’s also a popular location for pre-wedding photo shoots: Wandering around, I stumbled across several local brides and grooms, dressed in white wedding dress and dapper lounge suit, posing against the scenic backdrop.

Two new Bund attractions also merit a visit. Facing the river, the Ningbo City Exhibition is a fascinating three-floored showcase of the history of the city and port of Ningbo, as well as its ambitious urban and tourism development projects. Two doors down is the post-modern hardwood exterior of the Ningbo Museum of Art. Designed in warehouse-chic style with high ceilings, raw concrete walls and oak paneling, this is one of China’s finest contemporary arts spaces, hosting a broad range of Chinese and Asian art and photography exhibitions.

From here, I took a cab ride across town to Ningbo’s cultural pride and joy: the Tianyi Pavilion, one of China’s oldest private libraries. A series of photogenic temple-style pavilions is set in beautifully manicured gardens filled with rounded arches, lanterns and mini courtyards.

Feeling culturally and historically refreshed, I stepped back into modern-day Ningbo with a short walk along Zhongshan Lu. The city’s broad main boulevard is flanked by large malls and filled with heaving traffic, much the same as its counterpart thoroughfares in cities across coastal ‘New’ China. At the junction with Gongyuan Lu, I encountered an unusual site. The grand yellow Drum Tower is built atop an old city wall in traditional style with slate roofs that turn upward like the bows on a ship at each end. However, grafted onto the top is a red-brick, western-style clock tower. Though certainly unorthodox, it stands as a hybrid landmark for a historic city whose modern development offers a tangible blend of “old” and “new” China.


Where to Stay: Howard Johnson is creating modern four- and five-star properties all across China. The one in Ningbo, opened in late 2006, is a contemporary-style, 450-room hotel with fine facilities and a central location close to the Tianyi Pavilion.

For More Information: Ningbo Guide is a monthly English-language city guide, magazine and Web site.

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Hangzhou Bay Bridge
Built at a cost of USD1.6 billion and spanning 36km in length, the Hangzhou Bay Bridge will link the cities of Shanghai and Ningbo from late 2008.

Ningbo Lishe Airport
Located a 20-minute drive from downtown, the modern Ningbo Lishe Airport has frequent daily flights to major cities in China and Hong Kong.