Postcard from the Expo: Shanghai: world city? (1)
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Jul. 3, 2010 (Xinhua News Agency) -- Postcard from the Expo: Shanghai: world city? (1) Editor's note:

The 2010 World Expo has turned Shanghai into an international carnival. Xinhua News Agency is inviting participants and visitors to share their "postcards" from China during the Expo. Contribution can be impressions of the Expo or of Shanghai or other parts of China, as well as stories, written reflections, travelogues, comments or any other observations relating to the 2010 Expo.

SHANGHAI, July 3 (Xinhua) -- The following is a contribution from Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and corporate strategist, and author of the book "How China's Leaders Think: The Inside Story of Reform and What This Means for the Future".

Dr. Kuhn's special television series on Expo and the Future of Shanghai, entitled "Expo's Meaning, Shanghai's Mission," is being broadcast on CCTV News internationally and in China. The contribution first appeared in Chief Executive magazine.

Postcard from the Expo: Shanghai: world city?

Shanghai's ambition? World city! Can Shanghai break into the big leagues of New York and London? China's leaders have given Shanghai a mission: Be a world city! What does this mean for China? For other countries? Is there a looming "China threat"? Or an emerging "China model"?

For more than a millennium, China's economy was the largest on earth, and China's science was centuries ahead of Europe's. But then came 150 years of foreign oppression and domestic strife, with all manner of devastation and misery. Now, as China ascends back up to great power, Shanghai, China's largest and most advanced city, seeks to become a world city.

I'm in Shanghai for Expo 2010 Shanghai, watching all nations ratify China's emergence and assessing Shanghai's increasing prominence. Expo is a remarkable gathering of all the world's nations to make the cities of the world more sustainable and more livable.

Here's my hunch: To see Shanghai today is to visualize China tomorrow.

Shanghai's epic story is a unique amalgam of East and West, a historic combination of cultures and traditions -- just like Expo. Ironically, it was through distasteful historical circumstances that Shanghai came to engage and embrace the West.

Beginning with the Opium Wars in the 1830s, foreign armies, particularly the British, attacked a self-isolated, self-weakened China, bringing the once-proud Chinese empire to its knees. The invaders forced degrading "Concessions," sections of cities sliced off and ceded to foreigners. Shanghai was carved into French, British, and American Concessions (the latter two combined into the International Concession). The Chinese became second-class citizens in their own country. It was humiliation.

However, the foreigners built schools, hospitals, electrical plants, and waterworks. There were sewage facilities and paved roads, concrete and iron bridges, trams, busses, and automobiles. Shanghai became the most modern city in China.

In the 1920's and 30's, Shanghai was the "Pearl of the Orient" or the "Paris of the Orient." Ballroom dancing in elegant hotels epitomized the era. The famous Bund, with its European-style architecture along with Huangpu River, was the center of city life for foreigners and upper-class Chinese. All the while, the poorest classes, living in shantytowns on the margins of the city, barely able to feed their children, became the mass base for the Communist revolution in the 1940's.

But with modernity came decadence and debauchery. Shanghai became a center for smuggling opium. Mafia-like gangs controlled the rackets:prostitution and gambling as well as opium. Any who crossed them suffered extreme violence.

In 1937, as part of Japan's vicious determination to conquer China, the Japanese army invaded and captured Shanghai. Although not suffering the brutal, systematic rapings and killings that people in other cities did (notably in Nanjing, not far away), Shanghai people endured terribly bitter times. After Japan was defeated, the Communists won the debilitating civil war, taking the mainland in 1949. The Chinese people "stood up" in the world and were filled with hope. But then, less than a decade later, ideological extremism visited misery on millions, first with mass political campaigns (denunciations), then mass famine ("Great Leap Forward"), and finally, China's decade-long descent into chaotic madness ("The Cultural Revolution" 1966-1976).

Today, Shanghai's GDP is eight times that of 20 years ago. Across the Huangpu River from old Shanghai, Pudong is a developmental miracle. Catalyzed by reform, which was initiated in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping (two years after the death of Mao Zedong), Pudong has become a world center of finance and trade, a massive economic bridge linking China with all nations. Pudong is China's new kind of revolution, where some of the most modern skyscrapers in the world, headquarters of major financial institutions, look down as if menacingly on the historic Bund, dwarfing the older, smaller buildings. (More)

 

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