Shanghai, that shining city — and oh, that iconic view. China’s ‘second capital’, Shanghai has long been the nation’s economic powerhouse — its strength based in finance, including the largest of China’s 3 stock markets linked as of 2014 with that of Hong Kong, as well as in tourism.
Along the Bundy, Shanghai’s neoclassical architecture from its colonial past provides a stately feel. In fact, the city has one of the world’s finest arrays of art deco architecture, a celebration of the city’s multiculturalism in the 1920s-1940s. Today’s Shanghai continues to display innovation in its modern buildings, some of which could even be considered ‘cutting edge’ — and a far cry from the austerity of Beijing.
One such example of Shanghai’s innovation is the Fosun Foundation building, part of the Bund Finance Center. Three layers of steel pipes veil the structure, rotating to suggest a theatre curtain. The building is a nexus for art and culture, with a stated emphasis on innovation — not a value commonly associated with today’s China.
A sense of humor is on display in Shanghai, too, and even a sense of irony, a characteristic not generally associated with Asian cultures. The city has a strong emphasis on the arts, and exhibits here its willingness to have a gentle laugh — at itself. In a face-saving culture, this is not inconsequential.
Shanghai is also a city of music, from its world class Symphony founded in 1879, and its Grand Theatre , one of the world’s best, to its underground music scene, considered one of the most cutting edge. The city also has a long love affair with jazz — including some musicians who’ve been playing it almost since jazz began.
Another way that Shanghai broke the mold was in taking in Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the 1930s, when other countries increasingly refused to do so. In fact, the city was the only place that would allow them to enter without documentation, recognizing the desperate nature of their circumstances. Shanghai had an existing Jewish community of a few thousand people who immigrated in the 19th century — and saved the lives of an estimated 20,000 more.
Shanghai is known the world over for its shopping opportunities, from the famed Nanjing Road and its night shopping to the luxury brands on Huaihai Road, to its Yuyuan Market or Bazaar seen here. Though highly touristic today, it is a longstanding market area, just outside beautiful Yu Garden and in the heart of Old Shanghai — and near the Old City God Temple. The traditional buildings reveal not only souvenirs but antiques, local products, and other windows into Shanghai culture.