As with most of modern Shanghai, the territory of Yangpu has been formed by sediments deposited by the Yangtze River over many centuries. It was probably in the shallows of the East China Sea as late as the late Tang Dynasty. During the Northern Song the Wuyu River (吴淤江) entered the sea somewhere around modern Wujiaochang (五角场). Daoist and Buddhist temples are known to have been established in the vicinity around this time. In 1404 the Huangpu River shifted to its present course, entering the Yangtze River around Wusong (吴淞口). Toward the end of the Ming Dynasty villages along the river flourished, engaging in agriculture, banking, textiles and water-bourne trade.
In 1842 the Treaty of Nanjing saw the opening of Shanghai as a treaty port. In 1899, 10.89 km2 (4.20 sq mi) of what is now the south of modern Yangpu District was partitioned to become part of the International Settlement. Factories were constructed soon after in the area, especially along Yangsupu Road. Textile, papermaking and shipbuilding industries were established by the early 20th century. In 1929, the Wujiaochang farmers' market ("Pentagon Plaza") was constructed in the north. Later, during the Japanese occupation from 1937 to 1945, barracks and houses were built in the area. In December 1944, Yangsupu District was established with an area of 7.7 km2 (3.0 sq mi).
Its name was changed to Yangpu in 1949 and its area increased progressively afterwards. Over the next few decades, a number of neighbouring districts were abolished and annexed by Yangpu. During this time heavy industries became a characteristic part of Yangpu. The present territory of Yangpu District was formed after the incorporation of Wujiaochang District (then of Baoshan county) in 1984. In 1993 territories east of the Huangpu River were designated part of the Pudong New District.
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