Sometimes referred to as the Paris of the East, the city of Shanghai is a place blooming with so much life and diversity. It is a city with a rich multicultural backdrop- a city where the traditional culture meets modernity and the traditions of the east exists in peace with those of the western. It is a city where the traditional Shikumen buildings proudly stand side by side with the skyscrapers of the modern world.
Shanghai is China’s largest city with a total area of 7,037 square kilometers. With a population of 23, 019,148 people as of the year 2010, it has the largest population among the cities in China. At the same time, it is also the largest city proper by population in the world. Along with cities Beijing, Chongqing, and Tianjin, Shanghai is one of the four province-level municipalities of China. It is also the center of the country’s economic, financial, and commercial worlds, and is no doubt one of the most important Chinese cities.
The city’s name, when translated from the Chinese language, means “above the sea.” Several historians say that the city got its name from the fact that it was literally above the sea in the earlier times. Shanghai is considered a peninsula, located on the Yangtze River Delta. On its north and west is the island of Jiangsu, on its east is the East China Sea, and on its south is Zhejiang. It is situated where the Yangtze River- hailed as the longest river in Asia- connects with the East China Sea.
History and Economy
Shanghai has a rich history that spans over two thousand years. The first evidence of settlement that manifested on the area goes way back from the 5000 BC. It was not, however, until around the 5th to 7th Centuries that its development as an important fishing village started. The development of the fishing village- situated in the area where the Huangpu River meets the Suzhou Creek- was due to Shanghai’s location.
During the 12th Century, Shanghai developed into a market town. The city largely benefited from its close proximity to Hangzhou, which was then the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. By the year 1292, Shanghai became a county seat.
The Ming Dynasty entered world history during the 14th century. During this time, in defense against Japanese pirates called the Wokou, there was a city wall built to surround Shanghai’s Old Town. By the 15th Century, the people of Shanghai had their first encounter with members of the Jesuit order. Jesuit Priest Matteo Ricci was the missionary who converted a Shanghai scholar named Xu Guangqi into Catholicism. Xu Guangqi’s baptism resulted to his bequeathing a portion of his land to the Catholic Church. The portion is today known as the Xijiahui, which means “Xi Family Village.” The Ming Dynasty was ending at around the year 1664, but it did not end without Shanghai turning into a vital center for the production of cotton and textile first.
By the end of the Qing Dynasty- during around the 18th and 19th Centuries- Shanghai’s economy significantly bloomed. This growth began as Shanghai started to gain more recognition from Europe because of its good port location. Export products such as silk, cotton, and fertilizer were popular during around this time even in areas in Polynesia and Persia.
The 19th Century was an important period in Shanghai’s history because of the occurrence of the First Opium War, which started in 1839 and ended in 1842. The events that lead to the war began in 1832 when the British East India Company wanted Shanghai to be a trading center for products such as silk, tea, and opium. The local officials of Shanghai opposed this, which pushed the British to wage the war and to force their British opium to be imported to China. The military force of the Qing Dynasty was not powerful enough to defeat the British force. The war ultimately ended when the Treaty of Nanking was signed, which allowed the British to put up concessions in Shanghai and five other cities and to ignore Chinese laws. The Americans and the French followed the British and established their own concessions in the years that followed.
The 1930s saw Shanghai as an important financial hub in the Asia Pacific area. It was then the most modern Asian city and the most important port. Trading and banking firms from all over the world were present in the growing commercial world of the city. Exchange of products like silk, porcelain, tea, and opium continued.
In 1949, the Communist took over the city and its financial institutions. Many foreigners left the city during this time causing the global impact of the city to decrease. During the years 1966 to 1976, the financial industry continued to suffer as the Cultural Revolution forced thousands of locals to work in different Chinese rural places.
The Shanghai economy was revived upon the arrival of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Economic reforms were introduced and the economic state of the city regained its health. Presently, Shanghai is playing well in the economy field. It is considered as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia and is continuously growing quickly in modernity. In 2011, it ranked 5th in the Global Financial Centre Index published by London.
Being a city with economic stability, Shanghai’s education system is considered one of the best in China. The fact that it was the first city in the country that used a 9-year mandatory education system shows the system’s value for progress. There are more than 930 kindergarten schools, 1200 primary schools, and 850 middle schools in the city. Over 30 of the country’s top universities can be found in it. One major achievement of Shanghai’s education system was being able to bag the top spot on a test conducted by Program for International Student Assessment in 2010. According to the results, students from Shanghai scored the highest all over the world in assessment tests in subject areas Math, Reading, and Science.