Shanghai then and now

A readers sent me these photos he took from the window of his shanghai apartment.

shanghai then.jpg

shanghai now.jpg

The time between the two photos (which you can click to enlarge) is a mere 24 months. Amazing to consider that this kind of dizzying development is ocurring all over Shanghai; who knows what it will look like in a few years?

The Discussion: 43 Comments

Great pictures, but as it says elsewhere:

“Runaway fixed-asset investmentโ€”the construction of unneeded factories, office towers and resortsโ€”combined with sluggish consumer demand, has knocked the Middle Kingdom’s macroeconomy severely out of whack. ”

December 2, 2005 @ 8:05 am | Comment

Great photos. Thanks to the reader for sending them in.

I read somewhere that Shanghai had only one skyscraper in 1985. Now (if I remember correctly) the figure is about 2,000 with another 2,000 in the planning stage.

I have a mate who I went to university with. There’s a chance that his company might send him to Shanghai next year. The last time he visited Shanghai was Christmas 1992. The last time he visited China was summer 1993. To say that he probably won’t recognise the place might be an understatment.

December 2, 2005 @ 8:21 am | Comment

“…who knows what it will look like in a few years?”

– Crap.

December 2, 2005 @ 8:41 am | Comment

That’s right Martyn. And there are thousands more planned. I think we read the same article…..the one that said Shanghai was sinking by up to 1.5 cm/y in some places because of such a large number of buildings being built. Can you imagine a city sinking at 1.5m (almost 5 feet) per century? I’m not saying this to be negative in any way. It just goes to show how much stone (cement) is being put on the site. The BBC URL below says it all very concisely.

December 2, 2005 @ 9:41 am | Comment

Interesting photos. However I really hope that things slow down a fair bit in China – otherwise a lot of the country’s natural heritage will be concreted over.

December 2, 2005 @ 1:59 pm | Comment

“…who knows what it will look like in a few years?”

– Crap.

Haha, indeed. I cannot believe there are still people how “great” Shanghai is. By every standard, it is still behind most majo r world cities by at least 20 years, not to mention its terrible pollution.

If you go to Tokyo or Taipei or Singapore, you’ll realize that Shanghai is too trivial to even be compared with them, not to mention the generally less cultured and vulgar behavior of the Chinese people.

There’s a joke on the Taiwan TV during one of its talk shows, “In China, rich people wear pajamas”

December 2, 2005 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

“…who knows what it will look like in a few years?”

– Crap.

Haha, indeed. I cannot believe there are still people how “great” Shanghai is. By every standard, it is still behind most majo r world cities by at least 20 years, not to mention its terrible pollution.

If you go to Tokyo or Taipei or Singapore, you’ll realize that Shanghai is too trivial to even be compared with them, not to mention the generally less cultured and vulgar behavior of the Chinese people.

There’s a joke on Taiwanese TV during one of its talk shows, “In China, rich people wear pajamas”

December 2, 2005 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

By the way, I never said I like the way Shanghai is developing, just that the rate of development is amazing. For better or for worse. I’ve written many times about what a waste of money I believe a lot of this development has been.

DN, I think you are wrong and unfair to trivialize Shanghai’s importance. Even if it’s not our favorite city, there’s no question more US companies are now setting up shop there than in Tokyo or Singapore. It’s where the money is. It may sink and it may suck, but there’s no denying its strategic importance and the fact that for now it’s the place to be.

December 2, 2005 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

Shanghai is many things, but it is certainly not “trivial”. And it has a great many problems, but it is not the provincial craphole that some posters are portraying it as being.

As for the “uncultured and vulgar” behavior of the Chinese…right, and I’m sure the denizens of New York or Chi-town or LA are all paragons of comportment and dignity.

December 3, 2005 @ 1:17 am | Comment

This Angeleno is a paragon of comportment and dignity…except when I’m driving.

December 3, 2005 @ 1:46 am | Comment

Never been to Shanghai, but a long time in Beijing (where I no longer am, Thank Goddess) gave me some nervous habits as a pedestrian, which no US city ever gave me. Same goes for London and Moscow – neither of those cities’ streets ever tensed me up like Beijing streets did.

New Yorkers and Londoners and Muscovites might not generally be paragons of comportment, but yes actually most of them DO have better manners AND more generosity of spirit than Beijingers – although I can’t say anything about Shanghai.

In a crisis, on the street, I’d trust a Muscovite stranger to help me before I’d trust a New Yorker – and London is third on that list, because most Londoners will leave strangers-in-crisis to their fates, although in a civil way. A good New Yorker would be less civil but more helpful than a Londoner – and a good Muscovite would not be “civil” at all, but he’d actually pick you up and take you home if you really needed it. (Actually this is even more true of Leningrad. Leningrad (oh alright, St Petersburg, but many prefer the old name) is the perfect city: It’s like Paris without so many Parisians.
๐Ÿ™‚ – Leningrad has the beauty and cosmopolitanism of Paris, but with far more warmth of spirit, and far less effete snobbery.

But I’d hate to be alone and in a crisis in the streets of Beijing. No mercy there.

In my experience, the best place to be a stranger, alone, in acute crisis, is St Petersburg. The Angels come out of the nooks and crannies there.
It’s a city with a cruel history, but the flip side of that coin is a long history of struggling for some kind of survival with transcendent compassion…..

…but Beijing was never a city dedicated to any kind of Humanist Dream, like St Petersburg was and is…. ๐Ÿ™‚

December 3, 2005 @ 3:18 am | Comment

No doubt the relatively small apartment blocks with red tiled roofs will be demolished soon to make way for something five times as tall.

December 3, 2005 @ 5:28 am | Comment

Never been to Shanghai, but a long time in Beijing (where I no longer am, Thank Goddess) gave me some nervous habits as a pedestrian, which no US city ever gave me. Same goes for London and Moscow – neither of those cities’ streets ever tensed me up like Beijing streets did.

New Yorkers and Londoners and Muscovites might not generally be paragons of comportment, but yes actually most of them DO have better manners AND more generosity of spirit than Beijingers – although I can’t say anything about Shanghai.

Ha! Jaywalking is an institutionalised artform in New York. One witnesses the dance of death between pedestrians and cabbies all the time.

I guess I’m either biased, or desensitized, or both. Shanghai and beijing streets seem to me no worse than the streets of new york city, and the people there no more jaded and surly. Though, between Shanghai and Beijing, I’d rather have Beijing. It has more caracter, and Beijingren can startle you with their friendliness as much as with their rudeness. Shanghairen, once they notice that you have a non-local accent, will not even attempt to mask their disdain. ‘Course, both cities run rings around Wuhan, where my mum’s parents live – smoggy, fugly, a cultureless, souless industrial complex wannabe. So, you know, unless you’ve stewed your summers away in Wuhan, don’t knock Shanghai. Just enjoy the pretty Shanghainese girls and its veneer of Western sophistication.

Never been to St. Petersburg. Or Russia, for that matter. After eight years in the hinterlands of Canada (Winnipeg! to ice what Hell is to fire! ), I’m tired of cold countries.

December 3, 2005 @ 5:50 am | Comment

i have been to Shanghai for 3 times. the rapid development of shanghai have impressed me deeply. i admitted that shanghai is one of the rapiddest development city in china in an economic way.. ONLY IN AN ECONOMIC WAY.

December 3, 2005 @ 8:09 am | Comment

Pudong can be pretty awful…just a lot of new money floating around and phallic buildings. Puxi, though, is still worth a visit. For me, Shanghai is an easy city to be dazzled by (I remember when I was six, and travelling from Podunk, China to Shanghai for the first time), but a harder city to love.

The overdevelopment has been getting out of hand for quite a while now. But what can urban planners do? There is only so much space, but there are so many people, and it’s an economic hub, and everybody congregates along the coastal east, anyway.

Also, forget what I wrote about the Shanghainese girls. They aren’t worth it if that’s what you’re in Shanghai for. Sure, they’re good-looking, but you could find girly-girls in nearby Suzhou or Wuxi who are equally pretty but a lot less pretentious and uppity.

December 3, 2005 @ 8:31 am | Comment


Very interesting points you made, and you might be right for the most part. And as I said, I’ve never been to Shanghai, and as you said, you’ve never been to Russia.

So this is a fair dialogue now, and maybe both of us are right in different ways.

All I can say about my best exemplar of a great city – Leningrad/St Petersburg – is that some Leningradskiis saved my life when they had no reason to – in fact, they put themselves in danger for my sake, even when they were strangers to me – and, although I cannot prove it, I doubt that I would ever have my live saved, so heroically and with perfect charity, by anyone in Beijing or Shanghai. Or New York. Leningrad people are special – and they are special because their city, and their parents and grandparents, held their ground to defend Civilisation in 1942 etc……ALL children and grandchildren of the Siege of Leningrad are children of heroes, as far as I’m concerned……

Maybe I’m wrong about Beijing and Shanghai. But what I CAN say categorically, is that there are many Angels hidden away in obscure places in Leningrad. So, here I will not criticise any Chinese city – but I WILL praise the Saints of Leningrad!


And – and yes this is getting into intuition and mysticism, but still – every city has a particular spirit, and anyone with good intuition can sense it…..

….at least in MY experience:

1. The spirit of London is (as the 17th century astrologer William Lilly said): very Mercurial. London is ruled by Mercury, the god of words and of thieves and of constant change. I forget the Londoner who said this, but ONE Londoner wrote about how London just “talks and talks and talks…” like Mercury. ๐Ÿ™‚
And that’s what’s so special about London, it’s a city where you can always find a good conversation, even it it’s cruel in other ways.

2. New York’s spirit was defined by F Scott Fitzgerald in “The Great Gatsby”: a city of overly confident merchants who have not yet accepted their limitations: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”

3. ALSO, the spirit of New York was described wonderfully at the end of William Styron’s “Sophie’s Choice”, as a half-Medieval, Gothic city of the European New World, but I can’t bother to look up those lines now. But for now, I will mention that at the end of “Sophie’s Choice”, the protagonist looked EASTWARD across the Atlantic, to Europe – in 1946 – as a symbol of America’s return to the Old World. New York embodies that, in many ways – the nexus between the “Old World” and the (formerly) “New World”

4. Moscow always felt both heavier AND lighter to me than St Petersburg.
This is hard to explain, but let me try:

….Moscow evolved slowly, as a consciously, deliberately Christian city, very consciously in resistance to the Mongols and their half-pagan Tatar allies of Central Asia. The spirit of Moscow is STILL – to this day – very consciously a spirit of resistance to barbarian invasions (including the Nazi invasions, although most Russians have high respect for Germans today….)

….the spirit of Moscow feels like a fortress against all enemies of the heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, and Christendom. I know that’s not politically correct, but it’s true. Moscow assumed the title of the “Third Rome” after Constantinople fell to the Muslims around 1450, and Moscow is STILL like this, in spirit. It is like a fortresss, defending Europe’s heritage against the East and the South. Even now, most Muscovites would agree with me about this.

…..Ah, but St Petersburg is categorically a European city of the Modern Age. Nothing more or less.
St Petersburg was founded in 1703, very intentionally as a city of the Modern Age of the West, a city which would represent everything Russia had inherited from ancient Greece and Rome….

….but, it is not possible for ANY city to represent Western Civilisation in any perfect way. And so, the spirit of St Petersburg seems, to me, to be struggling all the time, very heroically…

….the spirit of Moscow – or even of London – could have survived the Nazi attacks. But St Petersburg could not. St Petersburg was, and is, a quintessential city of the Modern Age of the West. And that is why Hitler wanted to destroy Leningrad entirely. Hitler did not want to destroy London or Paris or Moscow – but Hitler HATED Leningrad, and he ordered his armies to destroy it…

….because Leningrad represented the height of Modern European civilisation – and that is ALL that Leningrad represented – and THAT is why Hitler hated it so much….

…and so, that is why I am so sentimental about St Petersburg.
And I have friends there, whose fathers fought at the siege of Leningrad. (Not to mention other firends of mine in Leningrad who saved my life.)

Ah, well. Anyway, just rambling on about how every city has its own spirit. And my favorite city in the world is St Petersburg, for many reasons. To me, it represents the defiant survival of everything that was best in Europe in the Modern Age. Not to mention the Saints who saved my life there……. ๐Ÿ™‚

….ah, I think I must go to the Russian consulate here in China, and get a visa so that I can visit Leningrad again during the winter break….I must visit some Angels there, to pay back my debts to them…… ๐Ÿ™‚

December 3, 2005 @ 9:16 am | Comment

Ah, sorry if I’m bending the rules of blog courtesy here, but on a thread below “Harbin, Anatomy of a Coverup”, I’m having a (courteous) debate with nausicaa about the difference between ancient Russia and ancient China – so I want to draw others’ attention to it, if that’s alright?

My main point in this argument, is that there has been, and is, something extraordinary in Western civilisation, which the Russians have been right to defend….and I know it’s politically incorrect, but I also know that it’s true………

December 3, 2005 @ 10:20 am | Comment

You what really scares me? Thinking what all these buildings will look like in 10 years.

And come on, as ‘exciting’ as it is, Shanghai can’t hold a candle to New York or London. Not even to Beijing, frankly. Rabid real estate speculation and mindless amounts of tall buildings do not a great city make.

When the novelty of the ‘modern’ skyline wears off in China, what will Shanghai have left to say for itself? Not much. Pudong, as ‘nice’ as it looks from across the river (if you consider gaudy Jetsons lightshows to be nice), is an absolute wasteland of vast boulevards and windswept nothingness. I expect that all the Western hacks tripping over themselves with ‘city of the future, gleaming towers’ talk have never even set foot across the Huangpu. Pudong accomplishes 3 things:

1) It makes Puxi a suddenly attractive place
2) It shows you why master plans can be a very BAD idea
3) It confirms the human obsession with surface appearances

In fact, Shanghai is so fascinating solely because it offers such a drastic demonstration of Chinese conceptions of ‘modernity’; unfortunately, the modern in China sure ain’t pretty.

Shanghai, the world’s most expensive propaganda poster.

December 3, 2005 @ 10:21 am | Comment

I have to put in a good word for Beijingers here. The majority of people I’ve encountered there are friendly folks, under the gruff. Maybe being the typical-looking American woman speaking a little Chinese helps.

New York is a funny place. Best memory – the year I turned 30, my best friend and I decided to take trains and skateboards across America (with stops to visit old boyfriends along the way). We were struggling with all our crap at the subway station on the way to Amtrack. This young guy who looked like trouble wanted to “try” our skateboards. And this little old lady, about five feet tall, bundled up so she was shaped roughly like a brick, comes up and starts harranging the guy in this Noo Yawk accent – “You leave them alone! Stop bothering them! Get out of here!”

It was pretty funny.

December 3, 2005 @ 10:32 am | Comment

The golden pyramid on top of the building in the newer photo is very Chinese. ๐Ÿ™‚

According to a NYTimes article a few weeks ago, Shanghai now has 4,000 hi-rises (18 or more floors) with designs to build 1,000 more by 2010.

A lot of the newer high-rises here are much better looking. The ones appearing in the last couple of years (e.g. the “trellis tops”) are typically more restrained, more stylish, and less … “Romulan.” Also, some of the “tile towers” which are now about ten to fifteen years old are getting new, more attractive facades. The newest crop of skyscrapers are also generally pretty good-looking, with a number of really impressive ones.

Of course, there is the terrible news about the mammoth World Financial Center, now under construction. It looks like it’s true, they changed the plans for the circular hole piercing the top, it looked a little too much like “a Japanese knife” plunged into the heart of Shanghai. So the shape was changed to a trapezoid. Now the completed tower will look just like … a giant bottle opener! It’s really sad, quite a price to pay for racism.

I’m often haunted by the sense that the Shanghai may be just reaching the peak of its appearance. All of these new structures which suddenly appeared are all going to suddenly become old at the same time.

Maintenance can be more of a problem in China, that combined with sometimes lower quality standards has me worried that a lot of these glittering hi-rises are going to be looking pretty down-at-the-heels in a decade or two. But for now, eveything’s new, so this might be a good time to check out Shanghai (Other Lisa!).

December 3, 2005 @ 4:28 pm | Comment

Looking forward to it, Shanghai! I haven’t been there since 1993…

December 3, 2005 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

“And come on, as ‘exciting’ as it is, Shanghai can’t hold a candle to New York or London.”

Really, I have visited New York. And I think it’s pure trash. The majority of buildings in New York look like ghettos to me. And there’re some areas in New York that strangers should NEVER step foots on (unless you drive a car by). Los Angeles has more beggars and hobos than some big third-world cities (well, I saw horde of them in downtown, indeed, among the cities that I’ve been in, LA has the biggest crowd of beggars I’ve ever seen). And BTW, if American cities are so great, why do Americans flow to the suburban to live ? Having lived in America as an expat, I think that the majority of big American cities are in total disintegration (rampant crimes, drugs, gangs, immingrant enclaves, prostitutes, etc…). Behind the clamor of New York are the shambles (I bet New Yorks has higher homicide rate and more prostitutes than Shanghai, apparently more gangs, more drugs usage, I don’t know the real statistics, though, so forgive my ignorance) that very few Westerners mention when they criticize Beijing or Shanghai. So these comments on New York are my “complimentary” counter to these chauvinist pigs.

Judging on these aspects, Beijing and Shanghai are in much better shape than LA or New York. What Beijing and Shanghai need is a cultural manner (cultural manner plays a big role in the traffic problems) and some more fashion shows. Other than that, I don’t see any other problems for Beijing and Shanghai to become world best cities.

Never been to London or any European cities, so I don’t judge that. But having been to America, I know that very few Americans opt for living in big cities, which the majority, including New York, are trash.


December 3, 2005 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

Oh, heavens, T., that’s quite a statement. Have you checked real estate prices in cities like New York and Los Angeles? Believe me, a lot of people choose to live in these places, because in spite of the problems, there’s a cultural and economic vitality that you don’t find out in some big-box, strip-mall exurb. Have you been to San Francisco? San Diego? Boston? Portland?

I could go on.

I do think that many European cities have done a much better job of human-scale living, of creating good environments to live in, than American cities or Chinese cities. And Chinese cities have a long way to go. Simply building skyscraper upon skyscraper does not create a pleasant living environment or real community. I do understand the housing shortages and the need to modernize – I was in Beijing in 1979 – but so much of this modernization has destroyed the bonds of community that used to exist, even though the infrastructure was far from ideal.

Just so you know I’m not a China-basher, I like Beijing a lot and visit there whenever I can. I don’t think at this point I’d want to live there because it’s just too big, too crowded, too polluted and too crazy. The smaller scale city I first visited is gone. And I don’t like high-rises and shopping plazas very much. But I love the people, the culture, the history.

BTW, speaking of China development that I think was well-done, I recently visited Xian, and I thought the new park and planned community by the Big Goose Pavillion was really nice. It’s the kind of open, civic space that’s lacking in China for the most part. People were just hanging out, socializing, enjoying themselves. Urban China desperately needs more spaces like that, more parks, more public gathering places where people can mingle without an admission fee.

I live in Los Angeles, in Venice, which is a very nice little community by the beach. I’m really spoiled, I admit it.

December 4, 2005 @ 1:02 am | Comment

London is crappy, in my opinion. I haven’t lived in it, which would probably be nicer, but I go there a lot, and every time I do I wonder why I made the effort. There’s not much I like about it.

New York is great. T, I understand what you’re saying – I myself will say that New York has more nutballs than any other place I’ve been (there’s a brilliant David Cross sketch in which he says – the thing I like most about New York is that every five minutes you’re confronted with a terrible dilemma: do I look at the most beautiful woman in the world, or the craziest guy in the world? – which is so true) but I love new york because unlike anywhere else I’ve been, you can get any kind of food you want there – AND IT’S AUTHENTIC. and you don’t have to pay too much for it.

Korean, Chinese (various), Mexican, Southern cookin’, Japanese, Italian, Somalian, Thai, Peruvian, you name it.

There are very few places on earth like this. I’ve been to a few major cities – although not anywhere as many as Other Lisa or Richard I’m sure – Beijing, Melbourne, Sydney, Barcelona, London, Edinburgh, Athens, Berlin, Boston, Seattle, New York, Philly, DC, Tokyo and the ONLY one that has immigrant communities from every corner on the planet cooking authentic food is New York. Well, San Fran and LA might have it too, actually, but I haven’t been there.

December 4, 2005 @ 3:27 am | Comment

To Other Lisa: I’ve been to Sacramento, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C, Portland, Seattle, New York, San Jose, L.A, Atlanta, and Spokane. As far as I observed, Americans tend to avoid living in the inner city (where mostly poor people and immigrants live). They seem to live in the surrounding suburban cities. And as a general rule, the bigger the city, the worse it becomes. Portland is very nice, probably because it’s so small (about 400,000+, maybe). And in my opinion, there’re only two cities in America that are on bar with Beijing, Shanghai, and other 5 million plus cities in China (in term of population). These two are L.A and New York. And the general trends that I described in my above post are true for both of these cities (from what I observed). These trends can apply to the majority of cities in U.S as well.

I know you’re a nice person, Other Lisa. But there’re so many China-bashers on this site that I feel entitled to bash back (well, sarcastic comments annoyed me).

TO THE DUDES THAT ARE CHINA-BASHERS OUT THERE: Oh boys, I live in America long enough to understand social problems of America. If you want to bash, we can bash each other for days. So keep your tone a little bit down when you talk about foreign cultures and countries. Be a little moderate, be nice, be critical. Don’t behave like trolls with satirical comments that imply China-bashing. You have an equivalent on the other side of the Pacific (if you want).

December 4, 2005 @ 4:16 am | Comment

I pity the foo’ that China-bashes around Mr. T

December 4, 2005 @ 10:14 am | Comment

I guess it depends on what you want, ultimately. Many people prefer living in suburbs, and many others prefer living in cities. I know for me that you couldn’t get me in one of those suburbs if I had any say at all.

We are having a wind storm today but I am still going to walk down to Main St. to my favorite pub for lunch and a Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale with my friend…yes, some people DO walk in LA!

December 4, 2005 @ 12:59 pm | Comment

p.s. I’d actually like to find a smallish/medium sized city in China that’s pleasant to live in – any suggestions?

December 4, 2005 @ 1:25 pm | Comment

T, you saw a very different NY from the one I saw, and I’ve lived there for many years. Were you in the Bronx or Manhattan? Seriously, NY is one of the most beautiful and luxurious cities in the world, and it’s near impossible to get an apartment there. Its architecture is magnificent. Its artistic life is unequalled. Thee are some pockets that are still run-down and gross, but these are very few and far between. Even Harlem, often maligned, has a lot of beauty. Where did you stay? What parts of the city did you dislike the most? I am very curious.

December 4, 2005 @ 5:05 pm | Comment

Other Lisa,
One list of smallish/medium cities you may consider:
1.Zhu Hai ( in Guan Dong province);
2. Hai Kou ( in Hai Nan province);
3. Han Zhou ( in Zhe Jian province);
4. Xia Ming( In Fu Jian province);
5. Da Lian ( In eastnorth china)
6. He Fei( In An Hui province)

December 4, 2005 @ 9:28 pm | Comment

Jeffrey – thanks so much for that – I’m copying and saving.

Can you tell me where they speak the most “standard” (which for me is Beijing) Mandarin? Probably Da Lian, right?

And where do you think has the nicest weather? I have heard that Da Lian’s weather is nicer than you would think, given that it’s so far north. I’ve always lived near the ocean too, so that’s appealing to me.

December 4, 2005 @ 9:56 pm | Comment

I think Richard W was in Da Lian, wasn’t he?

What’s the smallish city outside of Shanghai? suzhou? that’s supposed to be really nice I think. historic centre, relatively clean, middle class/not too industrial. Am I right?

December 5, 2005 @ 12:16 am | Comment

Suzhou used to be called “China’s Venice,” and the historic part of it was really picturesque (even if the canals were kind of polluted). They were in the midst of a major building effort when I was there in 93, setting up industrial complexes around the outer city. It was pretty crazy. I think they do a lot of electronics manufacturing there, or am I completely crazy?

I hear Hangzhou is still very attractive, but also kind of expensive.

Chinese classmates recommend Xiamen.

December 5, 2005 @ 1:03 am | Comment

What about QingDao?

It’s #1 on my list of cities I plan to visit. I always hear such nice things about it, from Chinese and foreigners alike. Lots to offer, nice climate, rolling hills with lots of treees, modern city with pockets of 19th century German architecture, beaches, and even a beer festival.

December 5, 2005 @ 1:35 am | Comment

Hey T,

Well, just because I prefer New York or London to Shanghai does not make me a China-basher, nor does it make me American. In fact, I live in a wonderful ‘small’ city called Montreal.

But back to your points- yes, American cities have serious social problems. But are you trying to tell us with a straight face that Chinese cities DON’T? C’mon. In a lot of instances it is worse in China, because everything is always ‘swept under the rug’ for the sake of appearances. Do you think all those shiny empty condos were built on empty lots? Pudong is always said to have “risen from empty farmland”- yeah, if empty farmland has 100,000 people on it.

Go a bit outside the glass and glitter of downtown China, and you’ll find all the desperate living, rundown neighbourhoods, crime, drugs and prostitutes your heart desires (actually, for the last three, you can pretty much find those in all the shiny five-star hotels too).

Say what you want about urban problems in the US (because it is in your full right to), but at least most people living there will readily admit they exist. In the long term, urban China’s “everything’s fine! nothing to see here!” attitude could be more troublesome for the cherished social stability.

And besides, just because I think Shanghai is overrated doesn’t mean I don’t like Chinese cities- I thought Beijing was great, loved Xi’an, Chongqing, Kunming, fell in love with Xiamen and Qingdao- hell, I even liked Jinan! But that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. But what city doesn’t??

Loving your country doesn’t mean being blind to its reality. It means recognizing shortcomings and working to fix them (and yes, Canadian cities have lots of problems too, want to hear about them?).

December 5, 2005 @ 8:36 am | Comment

Shanghai, Qingdao is on my list as well. I’ve heard a lot of great things about it. And yes, a beer festival!

December 5, 2005 @ 10:27 am | Comment

I can agree with “T” that New York City has more violent crime than Shanghai, but New York is “pure trash”??? I finally visited New York in 2002. It surpassed my very high expectations, I was bowled over.

I have heard similar things to T’s comments from Chinese who visited Europe and thought it was nothing special, “just a lot of old buildings”. One of my students spent a year in London, summed it up as “boring”.

I think many Chinese automatically equate “new” or “modern” with “good”, and “old” with “undesirable”, so they are not terribly impressed with historic architecture. Chinese seem to judge a city more by it’s modernity, maybe not so surprising for a nation that is rapidly modernizing.

Comparatively, I think westerners put a good deal more emphasis on the cultural aspects of a city. In this regard, I’m afraid Shanghai really is rather far behind other comparable cities elswhere.

Maybe Shanghai can soon grow a world-class culture, I’m really not sure. A central gov’t can’t issue an edict to create culture, the people must be very actively involved to make this happen. Yet, very few people I meet in Shanghai seem much interested in any kind of serious cultural activity (I don’t count shopping or watching DVDs at home).

Finally, I would have to say I’m VERY skeptical that New York has more prostitutes than Shanghai. In fact, I would go so far as to say that few western cities can match typical Chinese cities in that regard.

I have at least four hooker shops within ONE block of my respectable middle class Shanghai apartment building. I don’t know any significant western city with this kind of density of prostitutes.

December 5, 2005 @ 11:30 am | Comment

Qingdao is beautiful, but saturated with Chinese tourists. And frankly, if I wanted to live in a beach-resort type of coastal city, I wouldn’t go to China.

Suzhou is somewhat overrated, but still charming in many respects, as is Hangzhou. Dalian is a great rec (and for that matter, until recently, so was Harbin…*sob*)

I must put in a good word for Kunming, however. Temperate weather, laid-back atmosphere, breathtaking landscapes (and of course ethnic exotica if you want to make like a big honkin’ tourist)…oh, Kunming.

Btw, whoever it was upthread that said New York has the most authentic ethnic cuisine…feh. They put pickles in their burritos, man, pickles. That’s gotta be a crime or something, you know?

In fact, I live in a wonderful ‘small’ city called Montreal.

Montreal, how I loved thee. Eat some more poutine and bagels for me, please.

P.S. Oh god, the first snow of the season just fell. Now I miss Canada even more… get me out of DC, this soulless hellhole.

December 5, 2005 @ 12:16 pm | Comment

Also, Suzhou is not the “Venice of the East” – no, no, no, that honour belongs to Lijiang. Get there before overdevelopment and the stampede of Eurotrash backpackers ruin it.

December 5, 2005 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

Nausicca, I was in Kunming, um…well, a long time ago (1980). It was my favorite place in China. More recently I visited Chengdu, which I really enjoyed (Gordon probably has a more “reality based” perspective). Lijiang has been on my list for years. Since it looks like my next trip I’ll be flying into Shanghai, not quite sure what I will do but I may focus around there…though I might make it up as far as Dalian.

As far as beaches go, I live in Venice, and I’m from San Diego, so I am very spoiled (as previously mentioned).

December 5, 2005 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

I completely agree with Shanghai Slim. I think this sort of discussion all comes down to different cultural perceptions of what makes a good or attractive urban experience. In China, ‘good’ urban seems to be equated with truly colossal buildings, radical newness and more elevated expressways than you can throw a traffic jam at. Personally, I prefer culture, vibrant street life (which China still has a lot of, mind you), interesting architecture- heck, anything that isn’t just a row of concrete blocks surrounded by a ring road.

In many respects, Chinese cities are now more ‘modern’ than a large majority of their Western counterparts. It’s because, in China, EVERY block needs to eventually become some highrise condo, EVERY neighbourhood has to make way for Golden Wealth Happy Shopping Gigaplex, EVERY street should be thirty lanes wide, etc. From that perspective, it’s no surprise that many Western cities are considered old and crap. What make New York are its crazy neighbourhoods (yes, many of them with OLD buildings), not the height of its buildings, although that is still high up there when considering the initial ‘wow!’ factor.

The problem with huge Chinese cities is that, after you get over the initial ‘wow!’ factor of density, crowds and dizzying heights, in many ways there just isn’t much to do if you don’t like shopping. Of course, this is changing, but you can blame socialist industrialism for that one and, more lately, the emphasis on economic rather than social or cultural development.

December 5, 2005 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

I would recommend Xiamen above most other coastal cities. It’s also a lot cheaper than the urban hellhole topic of this thread, Shanghai. But… as someone said above… I would not, in any case, recommend China as a prime location for romantic coastal living.

December 5, 2005 @ 6:59 pm | Comment

“I have at least four hooker shops within ONE block of my respectable middle class Shanghai apartment building. I don’t know any significant western city with this kind of density of prostitutes.”

That’s nothing. I’ve seen streets with 20 or more brothels in them all cleverly disguised as all nigh hair dressers.

It’s no wonder all of the men in China seem to have short hair.

A least I managed to put a stop to the ones who kept phoning me up at three AM asking if I wanted a massage.

December 6, 2005 @ 2:06 am | Comment

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