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Last updated : Nov 2009
Shanghai Travel Guide
Shanghai Travel Guide and Shanghai Travel Information - TravelPuppy.com
'Cultural treasure-house of East Asia'

City of sin and decadence in the 1920s and 30s, theatre of brutal conflict during Japan’s ‘China Incident’, birthplace of Chinese Communism and the Cultural Revolution, flag bearer of contemporary China’s market reforms, inspiration for melodramatic novels, films and cocktails – Shanghai is possibly the most evocative city for a visitor in the whole of China. Beijing may be more purely, mysteriously Chinese however only Shanghai has such a heady brew of half-digested images and preconceptions.

As the second city of the oldest surviving ancient civilisation, Shanghai is surprisingly new. Literally ‘On the Sea’, Shanghai is a port city on the Huangpu River, where the Yangzi River flows into the East China Sea. The used to be marshland until the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1126), when refugees from Mongol and other nomad invasions settled in the area. By 1291, Shanghai was a county capital. The thriving city got its wall in 1553 (prophetically, against Japanese pirates) and a customs house in 1685. Shanghai was only thrown into the limelight in June 1842, when a British seaborne force invaded it during the First Opium War.

One of five cities forced open to Western colonial trade by the Treaty of Nanjing, Shanghai gained foreign districts which came under control by the colonial powers – the British and American Concessions (combined as the International Settlement) and the French Concession. This hybrid city thrived as the focus of Chinese colonial trade and Qing Dynasty China uncomfortably coexisted with Western power for almost 100 years.

Presently, the Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai’s Old Town is all that is left of the city’s pre-colonial past. Colonial is evident in the period architecture in the French Concession, as well as the grand old buildings – the Customs House, Peace Hotel and Shanghai Club – on the grand parade of the Bund. Across the river from this view of the past is Shanghai’s future, the Pudong New Area, with the shockingly modern Orient Pearl Tower, with its museum that traces Shanghai's rise against seemingly insurmountable odds.

By 1937, Shanghai became the fifth largest city in the world and unquestionably China’s most advanced, home to a thriving ethnic mix of East and West and sheltered by its colonial status from the political storms raging in the rest of China however already swelled by refugees from the mounting conflict with Japan. In August that year, bombs (actually Chinese) were dropped on the foreign concessions for the first time. The Westerners began departing and by the start of the Pacific War in 1941, there were only few Western nationals remaining for the Japanese to intern. The Americans and British surrendered their colonial rights in 1943, to their new allies, the Nationalist Chinese, who took control over Shanghai following the Japanese surrender in 1945. But, four years later, the city once again fell to the Red Army.

Under Communist control, Shanghai’s businesses were nationalised but the city was fairly quiet until the Cultural Revolution, when Mao Zedong designated it his power base for his ‘Gang of Four’ and his campaign against the Beijing leadership. In 1966, a People’s Commune – founded Paris-style – maintained power for three anarchic weeks before Mao released the army on it. Shanghai remained a hub for Cultural Revolution excesses until the death of Mao in 1976. Reconstruction proceeded peacefully and, in 1989, Zhu Rongji, then the mayor, brought student demonstrations to a fairly bloodless end, unlike the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing.

From 1990, Shanghai once again set the pace for China as the new leadership began relentless development of the Pudong district, in an economic renaissance that culminated in China’s admission to the World Trade Organisation and the achievement of the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing in 2001. With Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji originating in Shanghai, the city is arguably contemporary China’s de facto capital and definitely its leader into the new millennium that the Chinese leadership hopes will be theirs.

Shanghai endures climatic extremes, with bitterly cold winters and hot and humid summers. The best time to visit the city is during the autumn or spring months.
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