Shanghai is located in the middle of the Chinese Eastern Seaboard. It is equidistant to Beijing and Hong Kong. The city’s history is best characterized by its location on the Yangtze River Delta. Meanwhile, Shanghai is centered on the Huangpu River, which splits the city in half and its size extends outwards in all directions. The vast majority of Shanghai’s land area is flat with the exception of a few hills that protrude throughout the city.
Known for its rich water sources, China’s interior is easily accessible and finds itself exposed to the sea trade and foreign imports. This results in Shanghai being the world’s largest port, many times exceeding London’s volume of shipments.
Shanghai, although now a mega-city, has experienced an exceptionally diverse history, of universality, since its emergence. The concept of gaige kaifang is a Chinese term that was born out of a need for reform within the system of the city. Although the term is expressed to mean different things, the common term is explored as an Open Door policy within the city’s government. The government emerged in the ‘90s as less of an equality based system to more of an economic-based system. From this came a “thriving international financial and commercial city at the center of a socialist market economy” according to Deng Xiaoping, the de facto leader of China during this era of infrastructural progression in which Shanghai became a model for an international mega-city within the Republic of China. Between the 1950’s and 1980’s, Shanghai’s infrastructure had not improved in any manner—instead, that same infrastructure had deteriorated due to overuse from an increase of inhabitants. Gaige kaifang was, in a way, a savior of China’s infrastructure and allowed for an international growth where foreign relationships became more impactful than ever.
By 1997, Shanghai became a metropolis packed with foreign exhibitionists, bringing in foreign-made products, and foreign attitudes toward a growing city. Although this growth sparked an inter-connectivity from Shanghai-outward, an expansion of human activity does not exist without the further improvement of the infrastructure within the city. Globalization, then, subsists as a spectrum. It acts within the city as its main attraction to international agents that come to see its crucial development. The infrastructure that Shanghai has created was the strongest understanding to how an economic hub should exist in the world. An infrastructure doesn’t imply a typology that is common to a city, like a freeway, road, etc; it implies a completely new typology that informs daily life and encourages a fast paced society within the city. Shanghai, nevertheless, has a slate for globalization to truly prevail, where diversity already exists and infrastructure has already developed. Shanghai, as a city can support a globalized world; meanwhile, it exists as a model that many cities have taken after to support and advance this idea of globalization that has taken over our world.
Shanghai has been deemed an important international coastal port for over 2200 years in the Song and Yuan Dynasties. The direct translation of shàng/zan means “upon” and hai/hae means “sea”, which combined is “Upon the Sea”. The city’s simple translation has a deep history of sea trade and its prosperity within the economy.
In 1421, the Ming Dynasty’s capital transferred from Nanjing -- which was the main city a part of the Shanghai district -- to Beijing. The result of this change impacted the sea trade of the city with an adverse effect. Additionally, Zhu Di, the emperor of the Ming Dynasty set imperial prohibitions on the sea trade, due to his infatuation for Beijing and hope for it to prosper past Nanjing’s apparent success In reaction, this exclusion led to Shanghai’s decline of sea trade and 3 centuries worth of stale economy within the city.
In 1684, the Kangxi Dynasty’s emperor, Xuanye, decided to conclusively lift the sea trade restrictions in order to improve the economic relations of the Chinese Empire. Fortunes improved in Shanghai and the sea trade prospered as it had previously. Shanghai’s prosperity was created from its inward innovation by truly taking advantage of its geological wealth.
Shanghai in the 1830s attracted more Western foreign exhibitionists than every before. Furthermore, those that visited described the city described it as a prosperous trading city. While substantial British trade commenced, European residence in Shanghai was limited to only a 24-acre site in Canton, with trade conducted under strict government regulations.
By the 1880s, an outline of a European town had begun to emerge with over 100 foreign residents, protestant missions, and commercial houses. The British, American, and French zones amalgamated to form International Settlements within China, where the foreign community set up their own Municipal Council. Shanghai therefore grew from a simple international port to a prosperous and truly great city of the world. By 1930, Shanghai had become the major industrial, commercial, and financial centre of China and was the 7th largest city in the world with around 3 million residents. The city developed a major ‘civil society’ composed of both non-governmental and private economic activities in this political society.
In 1945, after the Anti-Japanese War, the Nationalist government regained control of Shanghai. The city under Mao rule was a semi-colonial, cosmopolitan city that represented both a threat and an affront to the new Nationalist government. This resulted in authorities establishing highly effective means of organizational control and surveillane in the city, limiting its ability to grow and prosper. For over 3 decades after the Communist Party took power, Shanghai laid at the heart of China’s centrally planned socialist economy. The city’s previous role as an international financial and commercial centre was subordinated to a primary role as a domestic industrial power.