Shanghai sits on a one of the tributaries of the Yangtze River (also spelled Yangzi or called the Chang Jiang River). The name Shanghai means "city on the sea", and the city first became famous as a seaport. Although China's recorded history dates back thousands of years, Shanghai really only became prominent in the late 19th century. After the first Opium War, Great Britain made Shanghai a treaty port, thus opening the city to a melting pot of cultures. The British, French, and Americans each had their own sector of the city to administer, independent of Chinese law.
Shanghai earned its nickname, the Paris of the East, because of its outstanding art, architecture, strong economy, and openness to the West. However, Shanghai quickly became a city of vice and indulgence, with the contrast between the very rich and the very poor too dramatic. This disparity may have led to the first meeting of the communists in Shanghai in 1921, and the next two decades the country was racked by war. The split between the Nationalists and the Communists in 1929 led to the city (and the rest of mainland China) being closed off to the rest of the world. Shanghai's music, fashion, and culture gave way to the drab gray look of Communism.
Today Shanghai is again one of the most open cities in China, and it is rushing to regain the international flavor that made it a world-class city before the revolution. The motto of Shanghai seems to be business, business, business. Deng Xiaoping, China's leader in the last decade of the 20th century said that if China is a dragon, then Shanghai is its head. Today Shanghai seems to be more like New York than Paris, and its new nickname, the Pearl of the Orient, is closely linked to one of the city's symbols, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the tallest in Asia.