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Shanghai - Exciting Chinese Port of Call

Shanghai History and Overview


Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai Pudong area and the Oriental Pearl Tower

Shanghai Photo (c) Linda Garrison
Shanghai is one of the most well known cities in China, and is undoubtedly the center of the country's economic resurgence. Shanghai does not have the exciting ancient history of other Chinese cities, nor does it have magnificent Chinese imperial buildings. Shanghai does have the largest population of any city in China (16 million people) and is growing so fast that new mega-skyscrapers seem to be sprouting up everywhere. In 1987, the city had about 150 high-rise buildings, Today, Shanghai has over 3,100 high rise buildings, and may surpass Hong Kong in size and economic importance in the next decade. The new Shanghai World Financial Center is one of the world's tallest buildings (at 1506 feet and 94 stories).

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.

Things to Do and See in Shanghai

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