Home Culture & Lifestyle SHANGHAI: China’s allure, wonder and awe

SHANGHAI: China’s allure, wonder and awe



May 2016

From Ikenna Emewu in Shanghai

With the number and preponderance of highrise towers and bridges in Shanghai, it is possible up to 30-40% of Shanghai population, live, work and move above ground level.

The phrase from an online article last year announcing the plans to open the Shanghai Tower, that the city is one of the most vertical cities of the world is just as true as apt. Shanghai is definitely vertical. Spires of several towers compete for height as they jut upwards to touch the sky.

Seeing Shanghai amazes you; but hearing the details of the city’s rise to its present height makes you ask how possible.

At the foot of the 120-floor Shanghai Tower that officially opened last year, the world’s second tallest structure with five other floors below ground level, as you watch the large screenplay of the growth and changes of Shanghai, you can’t help but question the possibility. But Shanghai and its story are real.

The wall-size digital 3D screen scrolls a simulation of the changing face of Shanghai since 1840, the earliest time the outer world noticed and commenced heavy international trade using the Shanghai Ports. Then the seashore by the Huangpu River was a cluster of moored fishermen and traders’ boats, a ramshackle place. The change picked speed and transformed into the most spectacular skyline of the world, one to the east of Huangpu known as Pudong and the other to the west called The Bund.

Shanghai is at the mouth of the great Yangtze River, the water course on which the civilization of China has been built over thousands of years. At Shanghai, Yangtze, after travelling the entire China vast landscape empties into the Pacific Ocean, and the history of China’s development is that of allegiance to the great river. Chinese scholars would say that Yangtze started in China and ended in China, and therefore at the centre of all China is. Leveraging on the seaway advantage, Shanghai became an early economic centre as port city. Today, Shanghai has grown and bloated to something so larger than the creators of the city would have imagined. It is one of the few cities today with two international airports, a testimony to the volume of business there.

High level and modern development of Shanghai started at The Bund, west side of the Hangpu River that divides the sprawling city into two unequal parts. That was the side foreigners planted earliest banks and trading companies in the 19th Century. The Bund has also grown large but more horizontally, compared to the Lujiazui vertical cluster of Pudong on the east of Hunagpu River. The full name of Pudong in Chinese – Pudongxinqu, sounds as complex as its skyline is awesome. It simply means Pudong New District or Area.

Yes, it is actually new as later explained by one of the brains that created that wonder called the Pudong Miracle. He is Mr. Zhao Qizheng. The academic, technocrat and journalist, is a vector of original ideas and with the drive to execute it. He is a Shanghai native and one of the known names in the leadership of China. Presently, he is the Dean of the famous School of Journalism of the Renmin University of China, Beijing, the most prestigious journalism institute in China.

Daily Sun had a personal audience with him during which he told the story of how he conceived the idea of the Pudong wonder and executed it as Deputy Mayor of Shanghai.

Zhao’s story is that of dreaming big and acting big too. When he conceived the idea of turning things around in the modest Pudong, his dreams were accepted by the China central government that gave him all the backing. But that was not so with the outer world that he needed to invest in the Pudong project. So he had a hard task convincing them. But at last he did because: “We made sure we matched our words with deeds. We first made infrastructure available for the coming investors. While they raised a lot of issues on the challenges, I always encouraged them to come first and as they did, what they saw on ground from us that took care of most their fears convinced them that we meant business. That way, those that came first convinced others that we are real.

“That plan was part of the original agenda of China to elevate the Shanghai city to world class in a special way. At the beginning, China opened up and Shanghai became hub of factories and manufacturing lines. But with time, we felt the trend should change to something higher to make the city the financial centre of the world and China. So we started adjusting the plans,” Zhao explained.

During a drive round Shanghai a day after meeting Zhao, the tour guide took us round the economic wonder of Pudong. He pointed out that Pudong boasted of several five star hotels, top class hospitals, institutions, financial firms, service outfits and highbrow residential highrise quarters. The tour guide explained that ten years earlier, the whole zone was a bay for industrial production. Shanghai city planners mowed them down, moved them to other parts of China and rebuilt the entire place to high class service commercial and economic area. That is what it is today.

Implementing an idea

Zhao laced the visit to his office of the Shanghai Public Diplomacy office with fanfare. At the 34th floor, he handed yours sincerely the Key to Shanghai, as the leader of the African journalists. But that was not the excitement. To me it was about Nigeria doing like Shanghai. He later gave me a copy of his book on how his ideas and works built China.

Leafing through the book: Shanghai Pudong Miracle, some vital points popped out. First is that Shanghai had the backing of Chinese government to build. The city had a master plan and did its best to carry it through. And that it accomplished.

Zhao stated in reference to policy steadfastness and prudence that: “Although foreign investments played a great role in Pudong’s economic development, the government did not lower its threshold indiscriminately. It followed a clear guiding principle of dos and don’ts and carefully selected foreign investment items with an eye on the area’s long term interests and the requirements of globalization.”

Policy hub

Shanghai serves China another prominent purpose outside business and economy. The Chinese Executive Leadership Academy in the same Pudong district has been the spot for the training of technocrats and leaders that run China.

At an interactive with the head of the academy, Mr. Zhao Leji, a professor of Law in his office during a visit, he noted that the academy remained the major place for training China’s public and private sector officials on policy directions and implementation and every official must attend it before climbing to a top management position.

A wonder

You can’t go to Shanghai and not feel the awe of the wonder city. Shanghai, China’s port city, China’s centre of commerce and economic activities is place that brims with excitement that would make you ask how the city moved that high and fast. It feels like a place out of this world with its amazing skyline, wondrous structures and man-made mountains standing in very close and tight clusters and layers of motor bridges that overlap and interlock. At some places, Shanghai flyovers come in five and four layers. The multiple layered network of bridges is just the commonest features.


But before long, after some visits to the movers and shapers of Shanghai, Daily Sun got a better glimpse of what China and indeed the world today call the Miracle of Shanghai.

The city ranks at par with New York in volume and tempo of business. It is one of the top cities known for finance and high-tech business in the class of Tokyo, New York, Seoul and London. Shanghai has a population of about 25m people.

Knowing Beijing, its status and today as the world’s city with highest cluster of billionaires and then the height Shanghai has gone makes you understand better what China is made of. Shanghai floats in the sky and bears down on other cities with its splendor.

Defining landmarks

Historically and in present time, Shanghai is full of landmarks that stand it out among the greatest cities. But don’t be fast to run to the conclusion that Shanghai is out of this world. It still remains the normal human city no matter the extent of sophistication. Those that know the city would still caution you to beware of strangers on the street, especially in those very busy areas of The Bund district. At the Shanghai Central Hotel area, a downtown of many parts, all manner of hustles go on from the very decent to the very immoral. Street shows in the well lit streets and towers at the night make the recreation squares a delight to visit, but with a caveat of carefulness. Even beggars are there in the street corners, as some ‘massage’ agents pester strangers for business patronage. When you pay closer attention, you discover the real meaning of the massage treat they solicit you get.

During a visit to the Yuyuan Market area, the first word from a native was “be careful with you phone and who you talk to. It would be better you avoid strangers as much as you can. The beautiful Yuyuan comes alive so well at nightfall when the light that lines the ends of the buildings, traditional China architectures that define the true Shanghai come on. It is a market that boasts of every little commodity you might need from jewelry to traditional souvenirs, food, clothing and many others. You walk through the narrow alleys of the market rubbing elbows with others. And foreigners have the delight of visiting the market that also serves tourism needs. The security caution notwithstanding, you can’t just resist the splendor of Yuyuan and would feel like visiting Shanghai again because of it, Yuyuan is sure one of the diadems on Shanghai crown of attraction.

Dining in the sky

What China knows best to do is carving the art and business of tourism into everything they do and into every landmark they have. Shanghai is not left out in this tradition.

To have dinner up at the peak of the Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong, by the Huangpu River, a tour guide was on hand to take the visitors round and explain things. She even rides the lift with you explaining every detail including the acceleration of the high speed lift.

In a matter of seconds, you arrive the peak of the tower and stand on the circular restaurant revolving floor.

Sitting up there and looking down to the river below and other dwarfed towers makes you feel you are dining in the sky. While the round floor slowly moves you, and looking out of the glass walls deep down, it is only people that have no fear for height that cope.

The Pearl Tower stands some 468 metres high or 1,536ft hurtles at an alarming speed that you notice on the wall panel and feels it actually moves that fast. The architecture is great and definite and the beauty of the Tower comes alive at night when the lights that clad it in different hues come on. From the river below, you feel enraptured, looking at the tower at night.

There are three large spheres, including the top sphere, known as the space module, and it is in one of them that the restaurant is located; at dinner hours, the restaurant floor is packed tight with tourists. The tower has been open to use by tourists in the past 22 years within which it has hosted about 73 million visitors, according to the records of its managers.

At the street opposite on the same Lujiazui square are the three office block towers on Shanghai that are actually the tallest buildings in the city. They all line the shore of the curvy Hangpu.

There are three very tall buildings standing next to the other. They are the Jin Mao Tower,  Shanghai World Financial Centre and the tallest of all, Shanghai Tower, a building that is only second tallest in the world.

A Wikipedia piece describes the tower so well: “It is the tallest of a group of three adjacent supertall buildings in Pudong.”

The high speed lift takes just about eleven seconds to hit the apex of the tower where you stand to look far below at the top of the other high rise peaks looking stunned. They line the waterfront of Shanghai. They define the affluence Shanghai is today and stand as the pride and testimony of the innovation China started and executed by Zhao’s team in just few years.



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