The Consulate General of Switzerland in Shanghai - Commercial Section
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ISSUE N° 1 January, 2002

 Aims and Aspirations of Shanghai

Introductory Remarks

In many respects Shanghai is an untypical Chinese city. During the long course of Chinese history it was never chosen as a capital though it had received township-rank already in the 13th century. The proximity to the more important city of Nanjing kept Shanghai from becoming an important place itself. This changed in the mid-19th century, among other things also due to the fact that the city was opened to foreign commerce with the treaty of Nanjing in 1842. The end of the Qing dynasty in 1911 finally brought an opening which assured sustained economic development. The following description of the city in 1928 by the foreign historian F.L. Hawks Pott in his "A Short History of Shanghai" (p. 1) is an accurate account of the development the city had gone through by that time:

"Shanghai is a very cosmopolitan place, a meeting-ground for people from all countries, a great and unique city, one of the most remarkable in the world."

In this rich countryside of Central China industrialization created an important middle class. On the one hand this class was proud of its Chinese origin, on the other the strong Chinese identity and its accompanying self-assertion allowed a spiritual opening towards non-Chinese cultures quite rare in the rest of China. Beijing being the political centre of the Middle Kingdom since the 14th century and Guangzhou the port under pressure from foreign political and cultural influence, Shanghai seemed to present a natural equilibrium between Chineseness and openness towards the outside world. Shanghai's confidence in its being Chinese and metropolitan at the same time was strong enough to survive Western colonialism. The economic opening of China and the fact that the economic weight of the city allowed more and more Shanghai leaders to the power centre in Beijing, brought the final turnaround for the city on the Huangpu river. Probably the most decisive factor, apart from the new economic wealth, was the return of Hongkong to mainland China. Many Shanghainese who had left their mother-town at the end of the forties for financial and political reasons, returned now to try their luck in a city offering new economic possibilities.

"Bamboo Sprouts After a Spring Shower"

Shanghai's development started therefore quite late, compared to the economic development along the Chinese coast. The change of hands in Hongkong seems to have brought the necessary dynamism and the credits for an upsurge, which has not stopped since its outset in the middle of the nineties. Within six years the face of the city has completely changed. Like bamboo sprouts after a spring shower, high-rise buildings shot out of the ground. Shanghai's TV tower and the Jin Mao Building are already today the second and third highest buildings in Asia. The plans to build the Global Finance Centre were not shattered by the September 11 events. On completion, the tower will be the highest building in the world. 

Other constructions lead into the future, too. The Transrapid, the maglev train developed by German industry, will be built to link the new airport in Pudong with the city centre. If successful, the line will be continued up to Beijing, allowing a travelling time of around three hours, compared to the sixteen hours by normal train at the moment. The plans to construct one of the biggest deep-sea ports will also guarantee that the city will become one of the world's foremost financial and trading places. 

Interesting are also the strong efforts to use culture as a prime instrument for getting worldwide attention. Obviously Shanghai does not only try to imitate New York in dubbing its own city park "Century Park", but also in trying to build up an international scene for venues of world-famous orchestras, theatre groups or ballet ensembles. Although prices can easily go up to US$ 150.-, the tickets of this kind of events are regularly sold out weeks before the event. The lack of a strong historic past allows this city an astonishing openness towards other cultural currents, a characteristic for which the city was known already in the twenties and thirties. In these cultural efforts the aims and the aspirations of Shanghai are felt most vividly. 

Aim and Aspiration: to Become a World Metropolis

The way to a world metropolis may still be very arduous. Especially when looking at farther aspirations like the ones to become a top world finance and trade centre, the opening of China will have to continue uninterruptedly. What is even more important, it has to gain in depth. But the clear signs of things under way cannot be overlooked. There is a Shanghainese society developing, which strongly resembles the initially mentioned quote by Hawks Pott from the twenties. It is not Soviet Communism or fascism in Europe, the main reasons for a strong foreign immigration to Shanghai in the twenties and thirties, which are the root developments today. The main reasons for Shanghai's internationalization lie in the globalization of world economy. Globalization guarantees not only a steady influx of foreign direct investments, but more and more an accompanying influx of expatriates of all walks of life as well. The growing wealth of the town on the Huangpu has again reached surprising levels, the new middle class is clearly on an impressive shopping spree- no longer only for refrigerators and air-conditioners, but for apartments and cars as well. According to banking circles around 10% of the population of 15 million inhabitants would clearly fall under a Western heading of a wealthy middle class today. The ground for a further, solid growth of the city is therefore prepared and the aspirations may well become reality in a future not too far away.



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