If anyone were to visit China for the very first time, Shanghai is a city on the “must see” list. And to those who have been to Shanghai, for only one time or many times, they would all agree that it is a beautiful city, with all the high rises throughout the city, representing the modern day economic development of the past 30 years; contrasting against the old buildings on the Bund alongside the Huangpu River, representing the once proud history of the city. Shanghai is not only a city for tourist; it is also an international commercial center. The Pudong International Airport is among the largest and best organized airports in Asia, while the new deep-sea port in Pudong has replaced the original Port of Shanghai along Huangpu River. Shanghai is not only a world-class city globally; it is also the leader and “dragonhead” of the economic development of all inland cities along the Yangtze River; which is why shopping remains a main event in Shanghai.
If Beijing, the capital city, is known for its Peking Duck, Shanghai is famous for its dumpling—Xiaolungbao. To the American tourists, one can easily find a MacDonald, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks on most streets (or blocks) in Shanghai to satisfy one’s craving for fast food and coffee (or latte). If one is really sick of eating Chinese day in and day out, one can find Tony Roma, California Pizza Kitchen and other respectable Italian restaurants in five-star hotels such as The Portman by Shangri-la and Hilton. And, if one is really into Chinese cuisine, Peking Duck by Quanjude (the original Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing) is available in Shanghai, and some of the best restaurants serving Cantonese, Qiuzhao, or other regional cuisines. Mexican is perhaps the only American favorite cuisine not well represented in Shanghai—Taco Grande is the sole representation. The irony is that taco is not even Mexican.
For sightseeing, Shanghai is limited to the Yu Garden and Xintindi in the city, and Zhouzuan in the suburb. It is interesting that while Shanghai has a very rich history dating back over a hundred years, this is not a city that offers much to see in terms of historical remnants. Yu Garden has although a long history, but it has been completely re-modeled to become a tourist attraction. Xintindi is a newly developed hot spot for modern entertainment, filled with restaurants and bars. The attraction of Xintindi is built on the foundation of some very old buildings meant for preservation, but remodeled and renovated to successfully become a tourist attraction. Zhouzuan, on the other hand, is perhaps the only historic site. A city built alongside the Suzhou River known as the Venice of China. While all the buildings maintain the same ancient architectural design, one can easily notice that they have all been renovated, even the cobblestone narrow streets and alleys.
Today, nowhere in Shanghai can anyone detect any signs of the small village that Shanghai was, once upon a time. Prior to the 19th century era, before the formation of the city, Shanghai was merely a small fishing village and was considered a part of Songjiang county, governed by the Suzhou prefecture. (Songjiang is now one of the 18 districts within Shanghai.) The importance of Shanghai did not grow until the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. While the Qing emperor didn’t see the strategic importance of the city, the foreigners, especially the British recognized the strategic location of Shanghai at the mouth of the Yangtze and Huangpu rivers, a perfect location for international trade. Included in the treaty, Shanghai and several other cities were opened for international trade; and thus began the destiny of Shanghai to become one of the most important cities in the world before the “liberation” by the Communist regime in 1949.
Although the Chinese economic reform started in the late 70s, it was concentrated in the southern cities in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Shanghai was not permitted to initiate economic reforms until 1991 and even then, the actual reform did not begin until early 1992 when Deng Xiaopeng visited Shanghai and “encouraged” local government to speed up the economic reform process. Since then it has experienced continuous economic growth of between 9 to 15 percent annually and quickly surpassed early starters of Guangzhou and Shenzhen to reclaim the leadership position in economic development in China. Foreign direct investment in Shanghai has been among the tops in the nation, dominated by Chinese-American, Hong Kong and Taiwanese investments in the beginning and followed by American, German, and Japanese and Korean in the later years.
Looking back at the two different stages of economic boom in Shanghai, two common denominators have played critical roles in the transformation of Shanghai from a quiet small fishing village to one of the top cities in the world—foreign investment and migration of population from neighborhood cities and provinces to fulfill the labor needs. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation building on the Bund, still a significant landmark of the city, was located in the former British Concession, occupied and ruled by the British in the 19th century. The Okura Garden Hotel, formerly the French Consulate, on Maoming Road, was located in the former French Concession, occupied and ruled by the French in the same era until the “liberation”. In the “second coming”, it was again the Hong Kong investors who noticed the absence of office buildings, that started the commercial build-ups of skyscrapers in Shanghai on both sides of the Huangpu River (Pudong and Puxi).
Human resources have always been the most critical element in a successful economic development. In fact, it is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ syndrome. In the 1800s, when the British, American, French and Japanese each claimed their respective concessions, it also marked the influx of migrants from Europe, North American and Japan. Included were a large group of Jews, known as the “Shanghailanders” along with Chinese from neighborhood villages and provinces, all looking for a piece of the opportunity that the city presented. Most of the foreigners left Shanghai when the city was “liberated” in 1949 but the Chinese stayed and called themselves Shanghainese, even though they weren’t—the original inhabitants were people living on the east side of the Huangpu River (Pudong).
Another influx of migrants from mostly neighborhood cities, towns and inland provinces came during the ‘second coming’. Since 1992, when Shanghai embarked on its economic reform under the guidance of Deng Xiaopeng, the need for labor rose and soon the demand for all kinds of labor can only be satisfied by ‘out-of-towners’ (waidi-ren). As the country continued its economic reform and mobility of the people continued to increase, Shanghai became a Mecca for out-of-towners to try their luck for that pot of gold. According to the 2000 census, the population of Shanghai is roughly 17 million. More than 5 million of them are people who work and live in Shanghai “undocumented”, representing the floating population of temporary migrant workers from Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. What is interested to note is that the Shanghainese today strongly regard the ‘waidi-ren’ as inferior. They have obviously forgotten that they too, were once upon a time considered as inferior because they were ‘waidi-ren’ too!
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Several hundred miles south of Shanghai, near the border of Kowloon peninsula, lies a newly developed city—Shenzhen. In the late 1970s, singled out by the late Deng Xiaopeng, Shenzhen was transformed to become the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of China from a small fishing village. The SEZ was created to be an experimental ground of capitalism in socialism with Chinese characteristics. Shenzhen was chosen for its proximity to Hong Kong, then a British colony, to attract industrial investments from Hong Kong since the two places share the same language, dialect and culture. The concept proved to be a great success and Shenzhen eventually became one of the fastest growing economies in the Pearl River Delta region.
To most people in Hong Kong, Luohu was the more recognizable ‘city’ not only because of its proximity, being adjacent to the Kowloon peninsula, but more of the status as the gateway to the mainland. Today, Luohu is the financial and trade center, and one of the six districts of Shenzhen, and still one of the several gateways to the mainland through Shenzhen—the other two is by bus via Huanggang and by boat via Shekou. As a result of the fast-paced economic development in Shenzhen, especially when many of the Hong Kong labor-intensive industries moved to Shenzhen for its low cost labor, the immediate impact was the vast migration of people to Shenzhen from all over the inland cities and provinces such as Sichuan, Henan, and Hunan. With 17 million population today, the vast majority are from outside of the immediate Shenzhen vicinity. While there are many foreign investments in Shenzhen, mostly from the immediate neighborhood of Hong Kong, the infrastructure are all locally invested and built. In other words, one would not find any trace of historic sites or remnants in Shenzhen, or architecture of any kind that indicates foreign presence at one point or another. Shenzhen is a modern city built from scratches by the government of People’s Republic of China, along with the people who wanted a new life in a new place. That explains one very interesting characteristic of Shenzhen—average age of the population of Shenzhen is below 30. Of the 17 million population, only 1.2 percent are aged 65 or above. Another interesting fact is that in 2002, Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce estimated approximately over 7,000 Hong Kong residents commute daily to Shenzhen for work and almost 2,500 students from Shenzhen commute to Hong Kong to school.
In the 1990s, a famous line referring to Shenzhen is “one high-rise a day and one boulevard every three days”, illustrating the pace of its development and economy. Among them, Shun Hing Square is the 8th tallest building in the world. By design as a SEZ, Shenzhen is a major manufacturing center in China. Successful high-tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE and many other foreign IT companies have all made Shenzhen their respective homes. As a result, Shekou, the seaport in the Yantian district has claimed the top spot in export and import for the past nine consecutive years, and Shenzhen was ranked second in industrial output.
While Shenzhen claims a tourist industry, it can only offer man-made theme parks such as the Wonders of the World, Splendid China and the Safari Park, Happy Valley and the Chinese Folk Culture Village. Due to the proximity to Hong Kong, Shenzhen has fast become the home of many labor-intensive industries for Hong Kong; adopting a very similar life style as well as preferences. This is mostly evident in the food industry. The Hong Kong style Cantonese food is predominantly displayed in Shenzhen along with many other regional cuisines from China as well as other parts of the world. In Shekou, there is a residential area with few commercial buildings, features many western-based restaurants
Also from Shekou, fast ferries link Shenzhen with Zhuhai, Macau, Hong Kong International Airport, Kowloon peninsula and the Hong Kong island. In addition, a metro system with two lines connecting Hong Kong to Shenzhen—one from Louhu to the Window of the World, and the other from Huanggang to a point further north of Shenzhen. Since 2003, the road border crossing with Hong Kong at Huanggang has been opened 24 hours a day. The journey can be made by private vehicle or by bus.
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Shanghai and Shenzhen seem to be two fast economic developing cities and have undergone major transformation to modernization on the surface. However, the underlying contrasting similarities and differences present a very interesting case study for some people. Unlike some of the ancient cities such as Beijing, Nanjing, Xi’an and Chengdu, with rich historic background and civilization, Shanghai and Shenzhen were merely small fishing villages until it was being developed for commerce—Shanghai by the British and other foreign powers during the Qing Dynasty and Shenzhen by the PRC government on some 30 years ago. In international trade, Shanghai claims the highest traffic for container shipments while Shenzhen claims the busiest feeder service for both export and import shipments. As a small fishing village, both cities lack the human resources to sustain the demand for manpower and rely heavily on the migrating population from neighborhood and inland cities, counties and provinces. And here, in the people of the two cities, lies the biggest difference between Shanghai and Shenzhen.
The early immigrants of Shanghai have lived in the city for generations and therefore, they claim the identity of ‘Shanghai Ren”. These are the people who have completely assimilated to the culture of Shanghai, which is very international, and unfortunately, also very discriminating. Perhaps it is because of their insecurity, many Shanghai-ren have developed a sense of superiority and tend to discriminate against anyone who is not a Shanghai-ren. To the new immigrants, it is therefore imperative to learn the Shanghai dialect so that they will be more receptive by the Shanghai-ren. Interestingly, these new immigrants eventually developed the same sense of insecurity and superiority complex and begin to discriminate the newer immigrants. It is perhaps this interesting sense of insecurity and superiority complex that gives the city of Shanghai an unfavorable reputation to many other cities in China, most notably, Hangzhou and Beijing.
In contrast, the history of Shenzhen although dates back a long time as a small fishing village, the modernization process has been very young indeed. Many of the “Shenzhen-ren” has yet taken up the identity of being a Shenzhen-ren since most of them are still in the first generation of immigrants. The sense of equality is clearly displayed in the interactions among the people in Shenzhen. Whether one is originally from Henan or Sichuan, Shanghai or Hunan, Wuhan or Guangxi, they all look upon themselves as living in Shenzhen, making a living in Shenzhen, supporting their respective families in wherever they came from, and one day, hope to return to wherever they came from with a fortune. There is a severe lack of the sense of belonging. They are travelers, and Shenzhen is merely one of the stops in their respective life’s journey. As a result, there is no urgent need to learn Cantonese dialect, Putonghua is just fine. Given the proximity to Hong Kong, and the origin of Shenzhen’s original inhabitants, one would be surprised to find out that Putonghua is the single language spoken and Cantonese dialect is barely used.
One may say that the culture in Shanghai is significantly defined by the immigrants in Shanghai, as in the importance of the Shanghai-ren identity; while in Shenzhen, it is still a virgin land for immigrants and therefore, the importance of the Shenzhen-ren’s identity is still unclear. Whatever the reality maybe, let’s hope the Shenzhen-ren will maintain their openness to receive waidi-ren as equal and do not discriminate against them while finding their identity.