Shanghai is the biggest and most prosperous city in China. Shanghai is also China’s most populous city, with over 20 million inhabitants, which also puts Shanghai on the world map as one of the world’s largest cities in terms of population.
Taking advantage of the booming world trade after China’s opening towards the West, the Chinese government adopted economic liberalizations during the 1990s which led directly to the intensive development of Shanghai’s port facilities, such that by 2005, Shanghai had become the world’s “largest” (i.e., most heavily trafficked) container port. But this booming commercial hub, which began as a simple fishing village, then made a name for itself as a producer of – and eventually a major exporter of – textiles, also has a rich cultural heritage, as the following historical background details. Today Shanghai port is still the biggest container terminal in China shipping and ports.
Certain districts of Shanghai, which has variously been called the “Paris of the East” and the “Pearl of the Orient”, have achieved world-class status in their respective spheres. For example, the wharf area called The Bund became for a time mainland China’s largest financial hub, corresponding to London’s financial center (called simply the “City” in British business parlance). The geographical site of the Bund corresponds to the former British Settlement in Shanghai, which was part of the afore-mentioned humiliating concessions forced upon China (and to think that such a negative event could lead to the happy ending that the Bund has become!). The Bund is home to a number of international banks and trading houses, a newspaper, two clubs – including the Masonic Club – and the British and Russian Consulates.
As well, the Xintiandi is a large, care-free – and car-free – maze of malls where boutiques, entertainment venues and sidewalk caf?es abound. It is especially popular with foreign tourists. Then there is the Pudong area, so named because it lies on the eastern side of the Huangpu – or Huang Pu – River, opposite the Puxi area (“dong” means “east” while “xi” means “west”), on the western side of the river. Pudong has replaced the Bund as Shanghai’s – and therewith China’s – financial hub. For example, the Shanghai Stock Exchange is located in Pudong, which has also been declared a special trade zone. Pudong has a skyline that is almost as distinctively “financial” as the skyscraper skyline of Manhattan, with it’s famous Wall Street renomm?.
West of Shanghai’s “Old Town”, and hidden in the back streets immediately north and south of Huaihai Street – Shanghai’s premier shopping street – is the former French Concession (the British and American Concessions eventually merged to become the International Concession, while the French, who were invited to join the International Concession, declined, preferring to maintain their separate “quarter”) with tree-lined streets, behind which trees are a multitude of caf?s, bars, and other entertainment “joints”, many of which stem from the 1930s. For example, there is more Art Deco in Shanghai – even today, i.e., in spite of the current modernization craze that is sometimes neglectful of cultural history – than in Eritrea’s Asmara, Morocco’s Cassablanca, New Zealand’s Napier, or even in USA’s Miami, in Florida, which embraced Art Deco with seeming abandon.
At the western end of Shanghai is a major collection of Western-style restaurants and bars. Continuing southeast is Xujiahui with its massive shopping intersection. Farther south lies Shanghai Stadium. Western Shanghai is dominated by Hongqiao, a hyper-modern zone of Hotels , conference centers, and business offices. Farther west lies Gubei, an expat “quarter”. In contrast, northeastern Shanghai has an industrial feel, yet is home to several universities. Further northwest still is Zhabei and Shanghai’s Train station.
The visitor to Shanghai will be pleased to know that street names are given in Pinyin (Chinese rendered in a Western alphabet), which makes navigating a breeze. Moreover, many of Shanghai’s principal streets are named after other prominent cities and provinces in China.