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Shanghai History

Shanghai,whose name means “by the sea” began as a quite fishing village in the 11 century. For centuries Shanghai existed as a small village supported by fishing and textiles. But Shanghai’s destiny was to become one of the greatest cities in the world, “the Paris of the East”. Shanghai’s location made it the gateway to the Chang Jiang, the Yanzi River, China's main waterway, which completes its 5,500-km (3,400-mi) journey to the Pacific at Shanghai. By 1853 Shanghai had become the largest port in China. By 1900 the sleeping fishing village had swelled from fifty thousand to one million. By the early 1900’s Shanghai was the busiest port in all of Asia. Because of Shanghai’s long and historical past, it is a mixture of incredible cultural landmarks. Shanghai mixes a living museum of centuries-old cultural landmarks, with historic architecture of China, Britain and European influence. The result is a modern city with mystical roots, pockets of narrow back streets, and an old world feel that no other city in Asia quite matches.

In the 13Th century Shanghai and the surrounding area grew into one of the richest areas in China because of cotton. Cotton flowed across the Shanghai region creating a white river of wealth that continued for centuries. During the period of Southern Song Dynasty, Shanghai became very important as a port. In 1292, it became an administrative county, and in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it became the center of China's textile and handicraft industry. It was here that the first factory was built in history.

In the later period of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Shanghai was an important regional port for the Yangtze and Huangpu River creating great wealth for the Jiangsu province and Zhejiang province in business and trade, although the Sino-foreign business was still forbidden at that time. The golden time of Shanghai came about in the 19Th century as the city's strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze River made it an ideal location for trade with the Westerners. At the time of Song Dynasty (760-1279), to the south of the Songjiang River, a small town named Qinglong was born. For awhile Qinglong served as the shipping center of the region. But European and Asian ships preferred the Bund of Huangpu River because of the convenient transportation's it allowed. The Bund is an Anglo-Indian term for the embankment of a muddy water front. The muddy banks of the Huangpu River gradually grew to become the most famous part of Shanghai and eventually replaced Qinglong Town as the central port. The area is renowned for it mixture of stunning European and Asian architecture. The famous poet of the Song Dynasty, Mei Yaocheng recorded there were 22 bridges, 36 mills, 3 kiosks, 7 pagodas, 13 temples and thousands of houses, so it is also called “small Hangzhou”. Hangzhou, located south of Shanghai which because of so many similar features, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in China. 

During the time of Opium War in the 19th century, due to the defeat of the corrupted Qing government, China was forced to sigh a series of unjust and humiliating treaties, which opened a new era of China’s backwardness and humiliation such as Treaty of Nanjing, Treaty of the Bogue, Sino-American Treaty of Wangsia. After the first Opium War the British named Shanghai a treaty port, opening the city to foreign involvement. Shanghai turned into a city carved up into autonomous concessions administered concurrently by the British, French, and Americans, all independent of Chinese law. Each colonial presence brought with it its particular culture, architecture, and society.

Shanghai’s beauty and grandeur was built on the backs of Chinese who were worked as near slaves or actual slaves. The Bund which was the center of this exploitation and at the north-western end by the British Public Gardens, for decades had at its entrance no Chinese and No Dogs allowed along with a list of other unwanted. But many native Chinese residents still chose to live in the foreign settlements. Thus began a mixing of cultures that shaped Shanghai's openness to Western influence. Shanghai became an important industrial center and trading port that attracted not only foreign businesspeople (60,000 by the 1930s) but also Chinese migrants from other parts of the country. 

The Paris of the East became known as a place of vice and indulgence. Amid this glamor and degradation the Communist Party held its first meeting in 1921. In the 1930s and 40s, the city weathered raids, invasions, then outright occupation by the Japanese. The party was over. By 1943, at the height of World War II, most foreigners had fled and the concessions had been ceded to the Japanese, bringing Shanghai's 101 years as a treaty port to a close. Despite the war's end, fighting continued as Nationalists and Communists fought a three-year civil war for control of China. The Communists declared victory in 1949 and established the People's Republic of China, after which the few remaining foreigners left the country. Closed off from the outside world with which it had become so comfortable, Shanghai fell into a deep sleep. Fashion, music, and romance gave way to uniformity and the stark reality of Communism. 

The decades from 1950 to 1980 passed by with one Five Year Plan after another, and were marked by periods of extreme famine and drought, reform and suppression. Shanghai's industries soldiered on during these years; the city remained the largest contributor of tax revenue to the central government. Its political contribution, however, had far greater ramifications: the city was the powder keg for the Cultural Revolution and the base of operations for the infamous Gang of Four, led by Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing. The so-called January Storm of 1967 purged many of Shanghai's leaders, and Red Guards in Shanghai fervently carried out their destruction of the "Four Olds": old ways of idea, living, traditions, and thought. 

In 1972, with the Cultural Revolution still raging, Shanghai hosted the historic meeting that would help lay the groundwork for the China of today. Premier Zhou Enlai and U.S. president Richard Nixon signed the Shanghai Communique, which enabled the two countries to normalize relations and encouraged China to open talks with the rest of the world. Twenty years later, the 14Th Party Congress endorsed the concept of a socialist market economy, opening the door ever wider to foreign investment.

Currently, Shanghai has become one of China's most open cities in ideology, society, culture, and economy, trying to go back to the internationalism that defined it before the Revolution. Shanghai's path to this renewed prominence began in 1990 when China's leader, Deng Xiaoping, chose it as the engine of the country's commercial renaissance, aiming to rival Hong Kong by 2010. Having embraced competition and a market-driven economy in a few years, it now hosts the nation's stock market, accounts for around one-fifth of the country's GDP, and acts as the most important base of industry in China. 

Today, beauty and charm coexist with kitsch and commercialism. From the colonial architecture of the former French Concession to the forest of cranes and the neon-lighted high-rises jutting above the city, Shanghai is a city of paradox and change.


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