Shanghai is the most western city in the East
When I first arrived in Beijing last year, I realized that I was apparently poorly prepared for this city. I imagined a stormy megalopolis crowded with people, where the verticals of huge skyscrapers intersect countless horizons of multi-level autobahns, where the ultramodern technologies of one of the most advanced countries of the world meet the traditions and color of one of the most ancient civilizations. My imagination drew a mixture of the scenery from the movie “Blade Runner” with the images of modern Asian cities that I saw on TV.
By no means do I want to say that Beijing disappointed me – not at all, it was just here that I first understood what the concept of “Asia” means in the urban dimension. Here, a lot of money meets with bright poverty. Along with luxurious high-rise buildings and wide highways, there can quite easily exist small dirty markets where you can buy fruits and different ones from trays – by weight, entire areas of one- and two-story houses – hutuns – some represent the traditional Chinese style, while others look more like favelas . Along with luxurious Maybahs, three-wheeled loud electric transducers are passing here, and more extravagant lovers of modern Asian fashion are only residents of small provincial Chinese cities who have come to capital to earn extra money. Yes, apparently, Beijing bears exactly that heavy burden of the status of “capital” – the capital of the Communist Party, according to official ideology, the PRC. He is somewhat more formal, harsher and grayer from other cities in China. Here, the tall dark cubes of modern office buildings, as well as epic sizes, ancient imperial palaces and temples crowd out everything bright, modern and creative that can come from the outside. In addition, here, as I remembered, the inhabitants of the provinces flock to “work”, somewhat lowering the average cultural level of the city’s population – hence other problems. Here, there is a rapid mixing of everything that is in China.
Of course, I did not see many Chinese cities, but from this we can conclude that China is very different, and it is difficult to deduce something average and characteristic from all its provinces and megacities. But all the time I heard stories about Shanghai. Fashion, beauty standards, style and standard of living, infrastructure solutions – in all of this, Shanghai is a legislator, which at least all of China is guided by. Perhaps that is why all my Peking acquaintances are quite jealous of Shanghai, feeling a strong competition for Beijing. Therefore, I simply could not go to this advertised city.
Taking advantage of the nationwide Chinese autumn holidays (Day of the PRC, as well as the traditional Autumn Festival, known for its “moon cakes”), my girlfriend and I went to Shanghai. And it was here that I realized that reality can surpass the imagination. That modern Asian city, which I painted for myself before my first trip to the PRC, turned out to be embodied in Shanghai … But here, apparently, a little digging into history should be made.
Shanghai is also divided by a tributary of the river. Yangtze – p. Huangpu. It was this that determined the fate of Shanghai, which became one of the key trading cities for the West and was subjected to its extreme influence. In the nineteenth century after the First Opium War, Great Britain and the United States obtained the rights to own enterprises, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, and also to use ports for duty-free trade. This enslaving treaty for the Chinese government, which was in effect until the middle of the twentieth century, played a key role in the image and status of modern Shanghai – it has forever become a center of international trade. I also recall that Shanghai was the only city in the world that certainly accepted refugees during the Holocaust: from 1933 to 1941. almost 30 thousand Jews from Europe arrived here. Today in Shanghai there is even a thematic Museum of Jewish refugees.
A whole district – the French concession – is dedicated to the centenary of managing the economy of foreigners in Shanghai. It was she who became the first point of our short acquaintance with the city. We did not plan our trip as a tourist intensive, but rather as a promenade in the most interesting areas of the city. In addition, visiting popular temples during national holidays meant getting stuck in a lively congestion of tens of thousands of tourists.
The French concession was founded in the middle of the 19th century and was a kind of autonomous formation of the French in Shanghai. Today it is a long, narrow, cozy streets, built up with two-three-story houses and planted with plane trees.