Shanghai Travel Guide
Shanghai is the largest and most prosperous city in China. With the location on the east of Center China, Shanghai is a coastal city (the name itself means "on the sea"), but one which also lies at the mouth of a sizeable river: the Huangpu River. The Yangtze River itself empties into the sea just north of Shanghai. Indeed, the entire region of Shanghai - Hangzhou is characterized by water, with several larger and smaller rivers as well as ponds and lakes, of which West Lake is the most renowned. Though not the capital, Shanghai is 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 government of the PRC 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.
Shanghai's origins date back as far as 5800 years ago, during the Neolithic Period of the Stone Age. The earliest traces of civilization present in this area have been unearthed from a village by the name of Songzhe, in what is the present-day Qingpu District of Shanghai, and from which village the name "Songzhe Culture", which spanned the period BCE 4000-3000, roughly, derives. The artifacts unearthed include hard pottery (vessels mainly) and even prototype porcelain, as well as stone implements. The Songzhe Culture marks China's transition from a martriarchal to a patriarchial society.
During the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period, corresponding to the first half of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty (the second half being the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period), Shanghai belonged within the state of Wu, which was eventually defeated and usurped by the state of Yue. Yue was itself later partitioned between the states of Chu and Qi, with Shanghai falling within the domain of the former. It was during this period that Shanghai first achieved significance, since the King of Chu appointed Huang Xie as his prime minister, bestowing upon him the title of Chun Shen, and bequeathing Chun Shen a fiefdom, whose capital would thereafter be named Shen.
The city of Shen later became the city "on the sea, or Shanghai, during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty. The name "Shanghai" was borrowed from one of the small feeder creeks of the Huangpu River, which flowed through the city of Shen on its way to the Yangtse River, into which it emptied (the creek is still there of course, the only change having been that the ciy of Chen became the the city of Shanghai). The name stuck; the city, which even then was increasingly becoming an important merchant port, has been known ever since as "Shanghai".
Shanghai continued to expand during subsequent dynastic periods. During the Mongol Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty, for example, an official shipping administration was set up in the city to facilitate trade, which was mainly between Shanghai and other Chinese port cities at the time, while during the Han Chinese Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, Shanghai would develop into a major center for textile manufacture. However, it was during the Manchu Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty that Shanghai became an important international trade port; under the reign (CE 1661-1722) of Emperor Kangxi, an official Customs Department was set up in Shanghai.
Unfortunately, it was also under this same Manchu rule - albeit, during the last half of the 19th century - that China was later subjected to humiliating trade-based territorial concessions, brought on, some historians believe, at least partially by the arrogance of China's Manchu rulers, whose behavior in matters of international relations - most notably in matters of trade - displayed an attitude of superiority that grated on other nations, and which at least one of China's nearest neighbors, Japan, considered ill-founded, as the Japanese - who were struggling with their own international "superiority complex" - saw the Manchus as semi-barbarians.
The Eight-Nation Alliance that forced the humiliating concessions upon China included Japan, which, curiously enough, only a few years earlier had itself been brought to its knees in matters of international trade by American and European forces during the middle of the 19th century, at about the same time that the ignominious Opium Wars - in which the Chinese were in effect being forced to officially countenance British trade in opium - were being waged by the British against China. It was not a good period for international relations, but it perhaps provided impetus to the 1947 international trade agreement a century later, the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which would eventually become the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1995.
Another major event helped to characterize Shanghai as a bustling center of commerce and banking: the arrival, in the 1920s and the 1930s, of some twenty thousand so-called White Russians (persons sympathetic to a restoration of the tsarist monarchy after the formation of the U.S.S.R.) and Russian Jews sought refuge in the city. These "Shanghai Russians" represented the second-largest contingent of foreign residents in the city, the largest contingent being Japanese citizens.
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 cafées 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 renommé.
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 cafés, 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.
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