Getting Shanghaied

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
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Trip End Jul 24, 2007


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Monday, July 2, 2007

(Pictures to come)

Compared to Suzhou and Hangzhou, Shanghai lacked the long history and poetic scenery that have inspired scholars, artists, and poets.  In fact, Shanghai was just a sleepy fishing village along the Huangpu River when King Wu built his rampart in Suzhou in the Warring States Period, or when Su Dongpo, the great poet of Sung Dynasty, governed Hangzhou.
 
History found Shanghai when the British demanded it as part of the concession that China made after the Opium War (1842).  After that, the French, American, and Japanese all occupied an area of the city at one time or another.  The city also served as a safe haven for white Russians fleeing from the 1919 revolution and the Jews from the Nazis in World War II.  Reluctantly or not, Shanghai played an important part in the Chinese and world history in the 19th century, and the events have made it the most international of all major cities in China.
 
I found three must-see places for students of Chinese language and culture, especially for those on a short-term study abroad trip: 1) the Bund, 2) the Shanghai Museum, and 3) the French Concession.
 
No one comes to Shanghai without taking a walk down the Bund.  It was, and still is, the most prosperous section of the city, and possibly the entire nation.  Western buildings were erected by the British and French along the Bund during the 19th century, and, as Bobby said, from an angle the Bund may be taken as any western port cities.  The Peace Hotel, built by Victor Sassoon, a British hotelier living in Shanghai in the early 20th century, tells the story of the old Shanghai.  It is closed for remodeling currently, so I guess I will make another trip to visit the interior next time.  Other buildings along the Bund also exude international or colonial flavor to them and are full of history.  It is wise to bring a guidebook with you when you try to identify the buildings on the Bund.  Across the Bund is the newly developed section of Shanghai.  Most postcards of Shanghai feature the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Jinmao Tower, once the tallest building in Asia.    Not much history there, but it is interesting to look at the Bund from the other side of the Huanpu River.
 
The second place worth visiting is the Shanghai Museum.  No, it does not give you the history of Shanghai, but its collection of the Buddhist sculptures and the ceramics of the Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties is very impressive.  Located in the People's Square, the museum was renovated a few years ago.  I find the exhibits exceptionally well organized: they are displayed chronologically through the history and make sense of the artistic development along with the historic backdrop.    A tour of the ceramic hall, for example, not only takes you through the different types of techniques and characteristics, but also gives you the sense of history that was behind of the addition of a certain color (e.g., due to a trade of minerals with the Middle East) or a certain glaze (e.g., the preference of the emperor).  Every exhibit comes with a clear summary in Chinese and English.  One can easily spend a whole afternoon here!
 
The last place not to miss, if you only have a couple of days in Shanghai, is the French Concession.  As a lay person of architecture, I cannot quite discern one Chinese brick from a French stone.  However, one will not miss the European influence upon entering the Ruijing Hotel, once the estate of the Morriss family, who founded the North China Morning Post.  The immense lawn and the courtyard are no doubt French, including an archway that leads to the back that once had a stable for raising race horses and dogs.  For lovers of early 20th century Chinese literature, there are also places where the writers and artists used to stay, especially during the early period of World War II.  The former residence of the founder of Republic of China, Sun Yat-Sen, is also in the French Concession.  After visiting the residence and the neighboring museum, I can see even more clearly the role Shanghai played in the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and the turmoil that followed.
 
Most non-Chinese travelers and guidebooks have not been impressed by Shanghai, mainly due to the fact that it resembles just about any metropolitan cities of the world and that its attraction lies in economic development and modernity.  I beg to differ.  Granted, it doesn't have the intricate gardens as in Suzhou and the serene West Lake in Hangzhou, but Shanghai is a great place to study Chinese history from late 19th century and onward.  Its place in history may have arrived late, but its time has just begun.
 
I am flying to Beijing today to begin my training course in Teaching Chinese.  Let's see how different it is from the CELTA teacher training course!
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