The area known as Xujiahui has a rich history dating back to the nineteenth century when Saint Ignatius Cathedral was built on land donated by the family of Xu Guangqi, Shanghai’s most notable Catholic convert and the area’s namesake. The cathedral, which still stands today (though renamed simply ‘Catholic Church’ by the local authorities), was part of a one-square-mile complex which covered much of present-day Xujiahui and included orphanages, schools, monasteries, libraries and the Xujiahui Observatory, all of which were built by French Jesuits during the time of French occupation of the French Concession.
Following the Second World War and the establishment of communist government in China, most of the Jesuits retreated to Catholic enclaves of Macau or Manila. Many that remained were imprisoned for decades. The estates and large houses in the area were converted into factories and the area remained an industrial centre until the 1990s.
Xujiahui’s state factories were sold off in the late nineties and subsequently torn down, initiating a fundamental transformation of the area into the commercial hub that it is today. Though not as radical as Lujiazui’s transformation, the Xujiahui of 15 years ago would be all but unrecognisable compared to what it looks like today. The subdistrict’s epicentre at the corners of Huashan Lu, Caoxi Lu and Zhaojiabang Lu is one of the city’s most striking, with towering digital advertising reminiscent of Tokyo or New York. As one of the city’s main shopping areas, all manner of shops and services are on offer.
Expat accommodation in the area is a mix of luxury and mid-level high and mid-rise apartment blocks. Prices vary broadly – as one might expect with such a mix – from RMB10,000 for a simple one bedroom apartment, to RMB80,000 for a multi-level 600+ square metre luxury townhouse. The services that come with accommodation in this area also vary widely but you can expect – at a minimum – to have a swimming pool, fitness facilities and children’s play areas.
The center of Xujiahui lies precisely at the southwest corner of the French Concession. Guangyuan Lu and Wuzhong Lu to the north, Xietu Lu to the south, Kaixuan Lu to the west and Wanping Lu to the east form the borders of Xujiahui.
Xujiahui’s location near the south-western corner of the French Concession means that foreign-friendly local medical facilities in the French Concession such as Huashan Hospital at 2 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu and Ruijin Hospital at 197 Ruijin Er Lu are not far away.
New Pioneer Medical Center and International Peace Maternity Hospital are closer at 910 Hengshan Lu and offer reliable medical services, however most expats living in Xujiahui will opt for making the trip to Hongqiao or Jing’an where the main expat health service providers have clinics and hospitals.
There aren’t any international schools and only a few expat-oriented preschools and kindergartens in Xujiahui. Hongqiao, however, is not far away, thus access to premium international education can be considered good. Commutes to schools in Hongqiao can be as short as 15 minutes depending on the school and where you are located in Xujiahui. On average, expect about 20-25 minutes.
In general, Xujiahui is walkable from most of the popular expat residences; however, cycling takes some steely nerves, given the volume of traffic in parts of the area.
Metro Line 1 runs through Xujiahui Station in central Xujiahui and provides convenient access to Huaihai Lu which bisects the French Concession, while Metro Line 9 runs the length of Zhaojiabang Lu along the French Concession’s southern boundary. As long as you are prepared to transfer, you can reach every major area of the city.
In reality, as with most areas, expats usually have drivers or they are taking taxis. You should note that Xujiahui is a very busy area of Shanghai and is worse than other areas for getting taxis during peak hours, due to the number of people.
Shops and Services
The Grand Gateway, Oriental and Metro City department stores have an absolutely dizzying array of shops services and restaurants on offer. If you can’t find it there you simply aren’t going to find it. In addition, there is a fantastic electronics market in Metro City where you can barter for virtually any gadget imaginable.
Living on the doorstep of the French Concession means that the best nightlife and dining that Shanghai has to offer is all within easy striking distance. The Bund and all that it has to offer is about 15-20 minutes by taxi depending on traffic.