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  Home China Blog Articles ► Essential Travel & Historical Guide To Shanghai

historical shanghai guide


Shanghai is China’s largest city by population, in fact it is the largest in the world and is the financial capital of the Middle Kingdom. It is a must-see on most China tours or holidays. Nowadays it has a population of nearly 25 million and as well as being a world financial centre, it is also the world’s busiest container port. It’s recent history has been intertwined with that of the Western European powers and Communist leaders but it has a history that covers over a thousand years and is very much in sync with the changes that have occurred in Modern China. Here’s a brief look at that history.

Shanghai's Growth through the Dynasties

By the 12th Century Shanghai had become a small market town or “zhen” as it is known in Chinese. It continued to grow and by the end of the 13th Century had been promoted to the status of a county seat or “xian” helped by being so near to the Song Dynasty capital of Hangzhou, some where that is now only forty five minutes away by the ultra modern bullet trains that connect the two cities.

Throughout the coming centuries Shanghai would continue to grow and during the Ming dynasty it had become important enough for the Huangpu river to be dredged. Little did they know then the future the river would have to play in the future of the city and China and how many of us would enjoy gazing across it while taking one of those evening strolls along the Bund looking at the enormous towers that stare back at you across the river. By 1664, the end of the Ming dynasty, Shanghai was a major cotton and textile producer.

British and French influence in Shanghai

By the time of the late Qing Dynasty Shanghai was challenging the more established city of Suzhou for the size of it’s economy and had attracted the interest of the British East India company which had explored the surrounding area of the Yangtze River looking for a trading post. Local officials were none to keen on this and rebuffed the British. The British were insistent on selling their Indian opium and eventually the First Opium War began. They swept the weaker Qing armies aside and Shanghai was opened up to foreign concessions. It’s hard to think of the sinister beginnings of the French concession when visiting it in Shanghai, certainly being one of the nicest parts of Shanghai these days. It was around this time, 1846, that the Richards Hotel, the first of its kind, was opened. Later known as the Astor House, this place will be very familiar to those who travelled with the China Travel Company as it is still the hotel we most commonly use in Shanghai due to its wonderful location on the Bund.

Modern Shanghai

In the modern day Shanghai is still probably mainland China’s most international and progressive city and it’s power has never been greater, especially since Shanghai’s own Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji came into power and promoted the skyscrapers of Pudong to be built. The feeling is that the city will continue to grow and may eventually come to outgrow it’s traditional rival Hong Kong as the hub of East Asia. Whatever happens its a first class city to take in in any China tour and a great place to end a week or two travelling around China.

Article posted by Phil Stanley: 24th April 2014

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