Shanghai

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Shanghai's city center is relatively small and easy to navigate. It consists of two basic districts, Puxi (western town) and Pudong (eastern town) which face each other across the Huangpu River. As a general rule, Puxi is the embodiment of 'Old Shanghai' and Pudong is the embodiment of a 'New Shanghai'. Perhaps because of the stark contrast of the modern and historic architecture that lie on either side of the river; namely the early 20th century architecture of the Bund on the Puxi side, and the most conspicuous modern architecture of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Grand Hyatt Hotel on the Pudong side.(Of course like every other rule, there are exceptions to this one.)

15 years ago, Pudong was nothing but farmland but in an attempt to elevate the level of Shanghai to a major ranking Asian commercial center, the Chinese government has pumped loads of money and devoted much effort to attract foreign investors to build it up to what one sees today. Because of its rapid growth, it is speculated that more than half of the office buildings in Pudong remain empty. However, anticipating an explosion of domestic and international commercial influx, growth seems unceasing and construction continues round-the-clock.

Puxi is where the majority of the city center lies. With a grid-like city plan, it's not difficult to find your way around Shanghai. The city is broken up into areas that range from the traditionally Chinese Yu Yuan Gardens to the modern urban bustle of Huai Hai Road.

The Bund - Definitely one of Shanghai's major highlights, the Bund is an impressive showcase of Shanghai's colonial past. Beautifully preserved art deco and neoclassical buildings face the waterfront and Pudong on the other side. They now house headquarters of major banks and corporations. When lit up at night, the buildings create a romantic view, which draws young lovers all year round. For a taste of nostalgia, visit the Peace Hotel, once Shanghai's premier hotel ' THE place to stay ' during Shanghai's Colonial heyday.

Jingan District - People's Square, a large park, is a peaceful oasis in the middle of hectic downtown. Also a cultural stopover, it is the site of the impressively designed Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Grand Theatre. Underground, beneath the park, is a shopping mall popular with the young and trendy. For those who want more gaudy fun, there is the Great World Entertainment Center which has karaoke, Beijing opera acrobatics and more.

Nanjing Road - A commercial section of Shanghai that stretches east to west. On the western side is the massive Shanghai Center, a multi-complex that houses the Portman Ritz-Carlton, commercial businesses, consulates, as well as a shopping mall. On the eastern side is a stretch of Nanjing Road that has been made into a pedestrian only area. This section of the street has been a commercial center since the 30s as one might tell from the commercial front signs which have sprouted almost organically since then. Once the major shopping street of Shanghai, Nanjing has somewhat faded in glory with the advent of Huai Hai Road, but it's still worth visiting. Especially at night when it's in its full neon-lit glory.

Old French Concession Area - A charming section of the city characterized by leafy tree-lined streets, beautiful, old crumbling European architecture, and crowned by the chic shopping street Huai Hai Middle Road. Flanked with upscale boutiques and shopping centers, this is the place to burn serious cash. On the low end is Huating Market, a bustling open air market where shoppers bargain hard with the vendors. The nostalgia of old Shanghai can be felt even more strongly by visiting the residence of Sun Yat-sen and his wife, Soong Qing Ling. Their home has been beautifully preserved and visitors can walk the grounds.

Pudong - Chiefly a financial district, there's really not much to see or do in Pudong. But one can admire the sleek modern high-rises in the area - as well as the frenetic rate of construction. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, supposedly the largest structure of its kind in Asia, and a symbol of Shanghai's prosperity looms high over the city. Visitors are welcome to ascend the tower for a bird's eye view of Shanghai.

Yuyuan - A part of the Old City that belonged to Chinese rule in colonial Shanghai, this place still retains traditional Chinese charm. Popular with tourists, this is one of the few areas in modern big city Shanghai that feels "Chinese." Visit the shopping bazaar, Yuyuan Gardens and Huxinting Teahouse.

History of Shanghai

Once known as "Paris of the East," Shanghai in the early twentieth century was the most glamorous, decadent and cultured city in China and all of Asia. After years of being closed off to the rest of the world, Shanghai is rapidly regaining its reputation as a cosmopolitan city. While Beijing is the capital, recognized as the center of politics, culture, information, and academia, Shanghai is widely regarded as the financial center of China, a progressive enterprising city, open to new ideas.

Unlike Beijing, Shanghai's history does not date very far back. Until 1842, it was a small sleepy fishing village. Shanghai, in Chinese, means "by the sea." Its advantageous location, on the banks of the Yangtze River delta, would soon propel it to prominence.

Up until 1842, China and Britain were engaged in a bitter conflict. Britain was smuggling opium into China. While Britain was making a financial killing, hundreds of Chinese were becoming addicted - leading to social decay and degradation, much to the concern of the Qing Dynasty rulers. China responded by dumping British opium into Hong Kong, which subsequently set off two opium wars between the two nations. At the conclusion, a humiliated China was forced to admit defeat to the better armed British armies. As part of Britain's terms, China was forced to give up its sovereignty on Hong Kong as well as other advantageous treaty ports - Shanghai being one of them. Other Western powers soon joined Britain to lay claim on the precious land.

After the war, Britain declared Shanghai a treaty port, and the sleepy village was suddenly transformed into a city with many foreign influences. The British, the French, and the Americans each took up autonomous concession zones in the city, each of which were independent of Chinese law. Each brought their own colonial influences to the city, which can still be seen today in the European architecture of the buildings on the Bund and in the old French Concession area.

Shanghai soon became an important industrial center and trading port in China, drawing hundreds of people to the city. Those times were prosperous times, and Shanghai gained its reputation for being one of the most cultured and sophisticated cities in the world. The rich, foreign "taipans" led self indulgent lives by gambling in casinos, going to cabarets and spending money in brothels.

But while the rich got richer, the poor got poorer. Many local Chinese lived in absolute squalor and poverty. With weak and corrupt Chinese rule and rampant exploitation by foreigners, it was inevitable that rebellion and revolt would take place. It had its roots when the declining Qing Dynasty was overthrown, and the Nationalist Party took over, declaring a new Republic of China with Sun Yat-sen as president. Marxism soon became a popular ideology among Chinese intellectuals, and in 1921, the Communist Party was first formed in Shanghai. Among its member was a young Mao Zedong. The Communist Party and the Nationalists initially formed an uneasy alliance to reunify China under Chinese sovereignty. But Shanghai would have to weather another invasion by the Japanese during World War II. Afterwards a power struggle between the Communists and the Nationalists forced the Nationalists to flee to Taiwan.

In 1949, the People's Republic of China was declared under Communist rule by Mao Zedong. And Shanghai's reign as the most cosmopolitan city in China ended. Political infighting and power struggles within the Communist Party led to further chaos for the country. After Mao's death, Deng Xiaopeng rose to power, and in 1979, he initiated a program of market liberalization and reform to kick-start China's economic development. Shanghai was to especially benefit from the reforms. In 1990, Shanghai was chosen as the city to drive China's economic progress. And it has responded with a booming construction industry, increasing private businesses, rising personal incomes and growing foreign investments. Currently, it is the one of the most industrial bases in the country. With its economic progress, Shanghai is also undergoing a renaissance revival in its arts and culture, signaling a return to its triumphant days in the past.

 

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