People’s Square, a big city square covering an area of 1,506,947 square feet (140,000 sq m) and located in the centre of the city of Shanghai in Huangpu District, is known as the essence of the people's life in Shanghai. It is the site of Shanghai's municipal government headquarters building and the point of demarcation of East Nanjing Road and West Nanjing Road, with Tibetan Central Road in its east, Huangpi North Road in its west and Yan'an Gaojia Road in its south. Apart from being a breathing space for the old and the young alike, in practice, the standard reference point for the measurement of the distance of almost all the highways in the Shanghai municipality is set in the north of the square, near the fountain.
Before 1949, the combined area of the Shanghai People’s Square and the People’s Park was occupied by a famous horse racetrack, built in 1861 and owned by the Shanghai Race Club, which was known as the best racetrack in the Far East. However, gambling and horse racing ceased to continue at the onset of World War II, which was not permitted to re-commence, even after the war. During that period, the prohibition was imposed by the Republic of China, a sovereign state recognised as the official designation of China when it was based in Mainland China, before the relocation of its central government to Taiwan. Nevertheless, after the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the new Communist rulers also continued the ban.
Ultimately, the government of the People’s Republic of China took over the ground in 1949, when People's Avenue, including the spectator stands for use during parades, was built across the centre of the area and its north side was turned into the People’s Park and the south into the People's Square. However, the former clubhouse building remained untouched and was turned into the Shanghai Art Museum. Much later, by the end of 1993, through a comprehensive process of reconstruction, the portion of the former horse racetrack turned into the large People's Square, became the lung of the city of Shanghai, one of its most significant landmarks and a popular meeting place for the people, a place to spend their time leisurely. The reconstructed People’s Square had been presented to the world as a focus in Shanghai municipal development history.
During the major changes in the 1990s, the Shanghai Municipal Government was moved here from the former HSBC Building in Bund and the Shanghai Museum was shifted from its former site in a former office building, located to a prominent central position in the square, with large fountains immediately to the north. While the Shanghai Grand Theatre is located on the northwest side of the square, Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall is on its northwest and the beautiful building of the Central Plaza is located on the West side of the square.
Designed by Jean-Marie Charpentier, a French architect and urban planner, the crystalline palatial building of the Shanghai Grand Theatre houses the Shanghai Opera House and some other performing companies. Covering a total area of 676,005 sq feet (62803 sq m) and consisting of 8 floors above ground and 2 floors below ground, it contains the Auditorium, the Buick Theatre and the Studio Theatre, along with the Ballet Rehearsal hall, Band Rehearsal hall, VIP hall, Exhibition hall, Souvenir shop, Coffee bar, Banquet hall and parking garage. Since its opening on 27 August 1998, it has staged performances of operas and ballets, musicals and symphonies, chamber music and Chinese operas.
Just at the east of the Shanghai City Hall, stand the six storey building of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall with two basement levels, displaying the urban planning and development of Shanghai. Regarded as an essential visiting point for those interested in the evolution of the city, the hall was officially opened to the public on 25 February 2000. The theme of the building is the city, people, environment and development and its top is designed in the shape of a white magnolia, the flower of Shanghai. Due to its multiple functions, which include exhibition, reference, research, communication, recreation and entertainment, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall is regarded as a window for Shanghai to communicate with the outside world.
The Shanghai Museum, located in People’s Square was founded in 1952 and was first opened to the public in the former Shanghai Racecourse clubhouse. After the reconstruction of the square, the new building of the museum, designed by local architect Xing Tonghe, in the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel called a ding, was constructed on the current site and inaugurated on 12 October 1996. The five storey building of the museum with a round top and a square base, symbolises the ancient Chinese perception of the world, as round sky and square earth. Famous for its large collection of rare cultural pieces of more than 1200 pieces, the Shanghai Museum is considered one of the first world-class modern museums in China.
Often compared to Times Square, the People’s Square in Shanghai presents a picture of a busy crowded location throughout the day, like its New York counterpart, mainly due to its nearness to Nanjing Road, the main shopping district of Shanghai, which attracts over one million visitors daily.