Shanghai: Gateway to the New China


I was raised in cities but nothing could have prepared me for Shanghai, whose official population is 16 million, but whose unofficial population is 20 million because of another 4 million who arrive each Monday from the outlying provinces to work in the city’s booming construction industry and factories and then return to their provinces on weekends. I recently attended an academic conference in Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China and got my first view of the New China whose motto is “Ancient Yet Modern”  – thousands of years old and today on the cutting edge in science, technology and industry.  China is developing a dynamic free market economy while working to control for the negative social effects of rapid economic development.


Shanghai is located in central eastern China on the coast of the East China Sea.  It was a fishing town since the 900’s A.D. and its residents had many contacts over the centuries with fishermen and traders from Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.  The British forced their way into Shanghai with the Opium War and the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Following the British imperialists were the French in 1847 and the Japanese in 1895.  These powers divided the city into settlements that were autonomous from Chinese law and thus created China’s first special economic zone.  Ironically, more than one hundred years later, Shanghai and surrounding areas have become the special economic zones behind China’s new economic boom and science and technology development.


Shanghai has been a city of big money and big ideas for the past century and a half.  By the 1930’s it was called the Wall Street of East Asia with numerous international banking and investment houses and it had the tallest buildings and most automobiles of any place in Asia.  However, along with economic development came opium, intrigue, exploitation and vice.  After Mao Tse Tung defeated the imperialists and unified China in 1949, his new government quickly moved to eradicate Shanghai’s slums, to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of opium addicts and to stamp out child and slave labor.  Probably because of its colonial past, Shanghai was the city where the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 and also where the Cultural Revolution began in 1966.   In the early 1950’s, shortly after China’s independence, Shanghai became the first city in China to get a full-fledged university and it was the ancestor of the East China Normal University where I attended the conference.


The city of Shanghai is the symbol of the new China with its high science & technology, high investment & industry and accompanying high-rise buildings.  The city is a work in progress and everywhere are new buildings growing up into the skyline under the hands of millions of construction workers.  Shanghai’s Pudong district is a newly constructed city of sprawling industrial parks, commercial areas and housing that runs from modest apartments for workers to luxury villas for wealthy investors.  The Pudong International Airport, completed in October 1999, is a 2 billion dollar work of architectural art and is one of the most practically designed airports I have ever visited. The city is woven together by a modern freeway system that, as you can imagine, is packed at the normal peak times of the day, but taxis have a way of weaving in and out and getting you where you want to go in a reasonable time.


Shanghai is only a city but it looks more like a small province -- it has 18 districts and one county; 144 townships and 99 subdistricts which are in turn divided into 3,407 residential communities with 2,699 sub-townships.   But it is the downtown Huangpu district of Shanghai that is the pride of the Shanghainese. It is here on the banks of the Huangpu river that old meets new with Bund Street containing classic colonial diplomatic, commercial and residential buildings just across the river from the modern Oriental Pearl Tower and cluster of beautiful high rises comprising the Shanghai International Convention Center and the Shanghai Securities Stock Exchange.  The Pearl Tower is the tallest tower in Asia and the third tallest tower in the world and from its highest viewing level you can see all of Shanghai for many miles around. 


Three other areas that I toured in the Huangpu district were Shanghai Museum, Nanjing Road and the Yuyuan Garden.  The newly constructed Shanghai museum has a total of 11 galleries including galleries for ancient Chinese bronze, sculpture and ceramics as well as Chinese painting, jade, calligraphy and coinage through the ages.  Nearby Nanjing Road looks like the classic “Chinatown” and is a colorful and lively shopping and dining feast for tourists, and bargaining is the norm while shopping here.  The Yuyuan Garden is a Ming dynasty era garden that takes you back into time in the midst of surrounding modernity.  It was built in the 1530’s by a nobleman for his parents in their old age.


Throughout its long history China has always had a deep respect for and value of education and the educated person, and nowhere is this more evident than in Shanghai.  Shanghai’s leadership in science, technology, industry and commerce rests upon an impressive foundation of 17 universities within the city


The East China Normal University, where I was attending the conference, has a large beautiful campus in the heart of the city with about 10,000 students. And along with the16 other universities, Shanghai’s educational infrastructure covers all the important areas in science, technology, engineering, business and economics, education, medicine, social sciences, arts and humanities and physical education.    


The People’s Republic of China is poised to be a global economic powerhouse and it is important for the FSM, which already has well-developed ties with the PRC, to continue to increase its knowledge and understanding of this nation and its people.  For example, there are currently only a few FSM citizens who can speak, read and write Chinese and there is a need for some more.  Many Chinese universities have Chinese Studies institutes and programs that attract foreigners from all over the world to pursue degrees that combine the study of Chinese language, history and culture.  In conclusion, China is a close neighbor to the FSM and there are opportunities for FSM citizens who can facilitate trade, investment, diplomacy and social exchange with the Chinese and thereby bring benefits to the FSM. Education is the key to unlocking these doors of opportunity.



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