Shanghai literally means the city by the sea. The sprawling metropolis started out as a tiny fishing village 800 years ago in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), when China was ruled by Mongolian leader Kublai Khan. At this same time, explorer Marco Polo was undertaking an epic journey around Asia (lasting 24 years!), in which he traveled across the whole of China and even hung out with Kublai Khan! And it was to be another three centuries until Christopher Columbus landed on the coast of America.
Shanghai, which is roughly as old as Sydney and Los Angeles, doesn't boast as long and rich a history like Beijing and Xi'an, but it has undoubtedly become the most vibrant and exciting city on the China mainland.
The eastern city lies between China's long coastline and the Yangtze River, the longest river in China. After China lost the Opium Wars in the late 19th century, foreign countries forced the Chinese government to sign a deal which made Shanghai one of the first Chinese cities to open up to foreign traders.
The foreign powers divided the city into several parts, infusing very different cultures onto every street corner of the city. The prime example to visit is the Bund where British, Grecian and Italian architectures form the city's most famous scenic spot, although you will be harassed by beggars!
In 1935, American magazine Fortune described Shanghai as "the fifth city of the earth, the megalopolis of continental Asia, inheritor of ancient Baghdad, of pre-War Constantinople, of 19th Century London, of 20th Century Manhattan." This may not be the case now, but it's still pretty impressive!
Thanks to its ideal location, vast and intelligent labor force and efficient government, the city is once again the economic center of China and the fast-rising star on the west coast of the Pacific.
Shanghai's gross domestic product reached 912.5 billion yuan (US$114 billion) in 2005 and the average annual earning per person was 50,000 yuan. The city's economy has continued to expand at double-figure rates for 11 consecutive years.
By 2006, 124 international enterprises had set up their regional headquarters in Shanghai, such as commercial giants General Electric Co., Intel, Pfizer and F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.
Shanghai is also perpetuating its leading role in China's financial market. It hosts the bigger one of mainland's two stock exchanges, the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The Shanghai Gold Exchange is China's sole bourse for precious metals, including gold and platinum. And the Shanghai Futures Exchange is the biggest among the three futures bourses on the mainland in terms of trading value.
The city is excitedly preparing to host the World Expo in 2010, in which more than 120 countries will participate. All of the nations will contribute a unique perspective on the Expo's theme –
Better City, Better Life. By 2010, the city expects to complete 11 new subway lines and a connection to Hangzhou via a 450 kilometer per hour maglev train. More than 70 million visitors will flock into the city over the five-month period.
The city is divided into two parts by the
Huangpu River: Puxi (west of the Huangpu River) and Pudong (east of the
Huangpu River). Puxi is the older part of the city and hosts the majority of shops, restaurants and museums. Pudong is the modern part, and is recognized for its rather unusual yet extremely impressive high-rises such as Shanghai's tallest building, the
Jinmao Tower, which looks like something out of Batman, and the
Oriental Pearl Tower, which looks like it belongs on another planet!
Shanghai lies at 31°14' north latitude and 121°29' east longitude. Neighboring provinces Jiangsu and Zhejiang are two of China's most wealthy provinces, if not the most beautiful.
Shanghai is surrounded by many picture-perfect water towns, such as Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shaoxing. Canals, rivers and lakes dominate the scenery and provide a breath of fresh air when you need a break from the metropolis.
Neighboring cities and towns
From Shanghai, you can travel to any one water town during a weekend or visit them all in one week, but be warned if you're here for only a short time - once you've seen one, you've seen them all! Coaches and trains transport travelers between Shanghai and neighboring towns and cities every day.
Spring (March to mid May): The most pleasant time of year, but the shortest season. Wear a thin jumper and possibly a light coat in the evenings. Sunglasses necessary!
Summer (late May to mid September): Often painfully hot and humid. Thin, airy clothes a must! Also the season of rain and storms so make sure you have waterproofs which are widely available and cheap at convenience stores. It's extremely important to keep hydrated – drink lots and lots of water.
Autumn (late September to early December): You will gasp a sigh of relief when autumn arrives! Conditions become far more comfortable and you'll finally be able to turn the air conditioning off.
Winter (mid December to February): It can get very, very cold – you will be surprised! Unfortunately, thermal underwear is required for a few weeks. Invest in thick coat and make sure you have adequate bedding as Shanghai doesn't have central heating.