When Shanghai was first found, it was far from obvious that the world would one day hear its roar. Since its humble beginnings, though, Shanghai has seen dramatic changes, spinning along the edge of fortune’s wheel.

Huangpu River of Shanghai

The financial capital of China, Shanghai, which means “go to the sea” in Chinese, is a city of 23 million that truly remembers its extraordinary history. Divided in half by the Huangpu River into Puxi (the west of the river) and Pudong (the east of the river), the Shanghai story is one of millions made the mirage lost. Pried open by the British guns into the First Opium War (1840-1842), this once sleepy fishing and weaving village gained notoriety as the “Paris of the East”-a colonial city of commerce, vice, money and political intrigue. More recently, Shanghai has benefited from China’s economic reforms, rapidly rising as the shining “Pearl of the Orient.”

  newest lujiazui, Shanghai Lujiazui, Shanghai

Dynamic is perhaps the best word to describe Shanghai today. Since the 1990 opening of the Pudong Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the city has found itself with building cranes whose numbers rival those of North America. Towers of glass and steel sprout up amidst ivy covered colonial villages and old Chinese homes. Displaying all the contrast of modern China, teeming neighborhoods and birch trees are woven together by elevated highways and modern skyscrapers. Worldly travelers brush elbows with migrant workers; students and artists mingle as they pursue their dreams of wealth. Today, Shanghai seems to become a city of nothing is impossible.

Its earliest history could be dated back to 5900 BC. and it developed into a key cotton exporter under the Song Dynasty. And in 1553, Ming Dynasty, a 3.7-mile-long wall with six gates and 20 archers’ towers was erected to defense itself from the Japanese pirates. In the middle of 17th century, a customs house was set to increase the trade of silk and tea, and the population in 1685 was just around 50,000, perhaps no one at that ever imagined some day three centuries after, it increase by 500 times.

old port in Shanghai taking drugs, Shanghai

Before its colonial period arrived, Chinese tea, silk and porcelain were highly demanded in UK. But China would trade them only for gold. A massive trade deficit built up and the British sought a product that they could balance the trade, the opium. These cheaply-produced drugs, when they were first uploaded from its birthplace, the colonial India, it disclosed its magic mask to the naive Chinese, and gradually this forbidden pleasure virally took over the whole county, and the Qing government had to face the crucial problem when they saw quantities of silver flowing out.

First Opium War, ShanghaiBut it was too late when China first realized all of this. The result of the First Opium War was 1842 Nanjing Treaty, which granted the opening of five ports, Shanghai, Ningbo, Fuzhou, Xiamen and Guangzhou. In another word, the door of China was broken.

Shanghai started its “new era” since then, when the British, French and Americans began their own concession construction. And during the Taiping rebellion, farmer refugees all rushed into Shanghai, while the business people sought a good opportunity to lease the tents built in the their purchased land to them, which eventually began the birth of urban Shanghai.

Shanghai concession badge

The 1863 formation of the Municipal Council gave Britain, France and America a free hand in administrating and governing Shanghai. That same year, America and Britain solidified their partnership by the formation of the International Settlement, jointly ruling with their own brand of colonial law and order, while France continued to developed its own concession.

The falling of the feudalism seemed have no impact to the Shanghai’s development, on the contrary, this city was fully blending with the western influence. Legal vagaries gave Shanghai a reputation as a city of adventures. Missionaries, merchants, grafters, gadflies and even gangster of all stripes flocked here with population touching its new record, a million.

Paris in the east, Shanghai

Shanghai kept its development model as “The city that never sleeps” till 1937, the peace and tranquility was broken by the Japanese invasion. As the occupied city by the Japanese, this particular place at that time had become into an area where five different forces conflicted, they sometimes cooperated and sometimes killed each other. These five forces were, the Japaness, the Japan-supported puppet government, called the Wong’s administration, spies from Chongqing, Chiang Kai-shek’s fellows, spies from the Communist Party and the local gangs.

Dancing girls at night, Shanghai

The victory of the World War II did not bring a long-dreamed peace to Shanghai, as the the civil war broke out between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party, another four years conflict really ruined Shanghai not only exteriorly, but also financially. The Nationalist leaders, including Chiang Kai-shek, when seeing the tendency of their collapsing, have all wired and transferred the public fund and wealth into their private account and fled to Taiwan. Shanghai was left as a messy stand when it was taken over by Mao’s troops.

In Chinese books, you can always see the comment like this, When Shanghai was taken by the people, it had its new era arrived. The brothels and opium dens were shut down with the addicts receiving rehabilitation and the prostitutes job training. Child labor was  banned, slums eliminated and inflation got slowed.

The traditional socialist way in Mao’s time did not bring any hope to Shanghai, on the other hand, its yesterday glory was turning dimmer and dimmer, the “Paris in the East” was gradually fading from everybody’s memory.

Dengxiaoping and the Oriental Pearl, Shanghai 220-2071

But the god seemed really “pamper” this city. Deng Xiaoping, the liberal leader of the post-Mao’s time, has swept economic reforms of the early 1980’s sought to open China and bring wealth back into the nation. With his successors continuing his policies of economic development, Shanghai continues to experience massive growth. The city has been propelled so forward that it does not even have time to look back. Today, everyone feels so grateful to Deng’s philosophy, and impressed by his courage and foresight.

is098r0h0Pudong, the east of the Huangpu River, used to be the vegetable garden of Shanghai. Today its skyline now looks like the backdrop to a sci-fi movie. Three of Asia’s highest towers, the Jin Mao Tower, International Financial Center, Shanghai Center, top its glittering skyline. By capturing much of China’s foreign and domestic investment, Pudong is at the forefront of China’s giant economic machine. Its broad avenues are lined with glittering office buildings overlooking their forerunners along the Bund.

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