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A Shanghai High

Shanghai skyline
I want to thank Susie Berteaux  for being the guest blogger for the last two excellent posts,  “Fairy Tale Updated” and ” Go for Broke”, while I was having a wonderful two-week adventure in China. Shanghai, our first gateway city to China — aka “the Paris of Asia”– is renowned for its historical landmarks: the Bund, the Yuyuan classical Ming gardens, the French and British Concessions, as well as the extensive and growing skyline, the “showpiece” of the booming economy of mainland China.  
Shanghai is bisected by the Huangpu river,  a tributary of the famous Yangtze, and a wonder to behold at night. Riding on a boat with about a hundred Chinese tourists, we looked to the left to see what 19th century Shanghai looked like–Parisian in feeling–and to the right to see what the 22nd century might be.  Shanghai is “Paris meets Blade Runner”.  Words cannot describe the dazzling light show on the facades of 127-story gravity-defying skyscrapers with images projected and controlled by computer programs. They are jaw-dropping, stiff-neck inducing miracles of architectural design! These buildings are so unbelievable they looked like a movie set for “Mission Impossible”.  No wonder American action films (including the new James Bond movie) are partly filmed on location in Shanghai! Despite meteoric redevelopment, the old city still retains beautiful traditional buildings, both European and Chinese.  One of the most interesting in the Bund was the secret meeting place for the first Congress of Mao Tse-tung, carefully preserved with rare photographs of Mao and his key advisors.  Additional photographs of American and European politicians with Mao are also prominently displayed. During the Second World War  20,000 Jews fled Hitler’s regime to seek refuge in Shanghai and formed a vibrant community centered on the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which is preserved as part of  Shanghai’s complex religious past.  (There is also a Muslim Street and mosques in the area.)

Shanghai Museum foyer

From neoclassical to art deco, Shanghai’s rich collection of architectural styles are visual teasers.  Award-winning international post-modern buildings are being constructed by the hundreds per year in this thriving metropolis of 25 million people. In recent years, a large number of architecturally distinctive– even eccentric– buildings have sprung up throughout Shanghai. Among the noteworthy examples of contemporary architecture is the Shanghai Museum, designed by prominent local architect Xing Tonghe.

Shanghai Museum exterior

Designed in the shape of an ancient Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) bronze ritual vessel, the Shanghai museum has an entire floor (out of five floors) devoted to these exquisite 4000 year-old artifacts.  This is the best collection in the world. The building has a round top and a square base, symbolizing the ancient Chinese perception of the world as “round sky, square earth” and was partly designed by a French architectural team as well.

Shang Dynasty bronze


There is no way to truly communicate to anyone the splendor of this city, like no other I have ever visited.  Seeing is believing. This was a Shanghai high–a razor’s edge of fantasy and reality!

Comments (4)

  • How interesting!
    What a great trip for you especially, having worked so much with this culture.
    Beautiful sights; hope to visit one day.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Lucky you. When I was in Shanghai about 20 years ago there was nothing like what you describe. We saw bicycles, bicycles, bicycles. And smaller, though contemporary buildings. Think of all the coal those lights must cost. Oh dear. J

    • Yes, China is the world’s second-largest electricity consumer, after the US, but with a population almost five times larger (1.3 billion people). Shanghai derives the majority of its electricity from the hydroelectric power generated by the Three Gorges Dam. There wasn’t a bicycle in sight–too dangerous, I think. But there were quiet, electric motorcycles and the noisy, gas-driven ones as well. We did see the pollution brought about by coal production outside Xi’an, the city of the renowned Chin Dynasty terracotta warriors.

  • Hey welcome back, Diana. Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for your take on S. I knew nothing about the city, and appreciate hearing about its many wonders. Looking forward to hearing about more of your experiences.

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