Shanghai “Shanghai was above all a young city. It had all the disregard and even contempt for tradition that new cities and societies usually have, and a desire to be up- to-date and fashionable in all things.” (Tales of Old China).
Shanghai - “Where East Meets West” “Shanghai is like the emperor’s ugly daughter; she never has to worry about finding suitors.” “Half Oriental, half Occidental; half land, half water; neither a colony nor wholly belonging to China; inhabited by the citizens of every nation in the world but ruled by none, the emperor’s ugly daughter was an anomaly among cities.” (Dong, 2)
A City Caught Between World Powers “The strange fruit of a forced union between East and West, this mongrel princess came into the world through a grasping premise - the right of one nation to foist a poisonous drug upon another.” “…within decades, she had become Asia’s greatest metropolis, a brash, sprawling juggernaut of a city that dominated the rest of the country with its power, sophistication, and most of all, money.” (Dong, 2)
Held by European Imperialism “What pangs of regret and remorse ought to be awakened among these proud, unenlightened men, when, in their moments, if any, of honest reflection, they cast their eyes upon this ‘Model Settlement,’ and perceive that a handful of outer barbarians have done more than they themselves, with their highest efforts, have achieved anywhere in their own wide Empire during all the untold centuries of its fame.” (John Thompson, circa 1870)
A City of the Future “The energy, the atmosphere, the hope the possibilities, the past, the future, it is all here. Downtown Shanghai makes you feel that finally, after centuries of trying, China may be on the edge of greatness once again.” (Gifford, 8)
Shanghai - Who are you? You, whose enfeeblement is remade into youth, again and again you reinvent yourself. You have staunchly maintained your identity as Chinese, Russian, Jewish, and European. You are something new to all, everything to none.
Yours is a city with divers faces. You have welcomed many to your shores – no passport needed for those seeking refuge during times of strife. All you have required is a piece of their culture to add to your own. Your multi-colored mosaic of mismatched pieces is woven together from the Threads of All Who Live Here.
Yet not always was this a welcome haven for the “Barbarians” who dared to traverse your shores. Those who would desire to heave the drug Opium into your gates were notoriously successful at wrenching open your doors to Thrust Themselves In.
From that point you have never ceased changing. You were home to those who used you for trade; yet their extraterritoriality meant little benefit for your natives. Your meager farming village grew into A Metropolitan Haven of Vice, Greed, and Capital. Your name invoked the image of notorious Licentiousness, Wantonness, and Profligacy.
You grew into a cosmopolitan rendezvous for East and West – The Bund, Nanking Road, Avenue Joffre, all upscale richness born and cultivated by your European gigolo. You “stooped to conquer” – you became the “Whore of Asia” in order to gain the status as “The Paris of the Orient.”
And yet your image would keep altering, beyond your control. In times of early communism you lost your gilded edge and put on the mask of Plainness and Comradeship, Maoism and Peasantry. You would later be punished for your ties to the Gang of Four and wait in the wings to gain the sophisticated status you knew would once again Be Yours.
Today you are unmatched in all of China. You have earned Legitimacy as the financial capital of the Middle Kingdom. Yet, you are shape-shifting once again as you hurl forward into The Future. Your progression knows no bounds. You are the iconic city of a thousand faces – Wretched, Ugly, Beautiful, Lovely. Who will you be next? --Kelly Neely
Works Cited Dong, Stella. Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City. HarperCollins, June 2001. Gifford, Rob. China Road: A Journey Into the Future of a Rising Power. New York: Random House, 2007. “Old Shanghai Introduction.” Tales of Old China. China Economic Publishing. http://www.talesofoldchina.com/shanghai/intro.php. 3 May 2009. Neely, Kelly. Original Photographs. Shanghai, China: April 2008. Thompson, John. Quoted in Dong, Stella. Shanghai: The Rise and Fall of a Decadent City. HarperCollins: June 2001.