I know quite a few cities where people can breathe so easy and free. Where I can feel specific mood and enthusiasm with every fiber of my soul. Where its nice to observe roads and houses, parks and monuments, young and old residents. Where noises of a big city charge with additional energy rather than bother. Where odor waves changing each other bring you to an embankment, a cluster of restaurants and markets or some store of antiquities. St. Petersburg in Russia. Nagasaki in Japan. New York in America. Jerusalem in the Holy Land. Shanghai in China.
First I felt the spirit of this city almost 20 years ago when at dawn of my first day in Shanghai I left the Peace Hotel located on the well-known Bund embankment. Hundreds of people deliberately made Tai chi chuan exercises, fenced with wooden swords, synchronously danced. There were people of different age and in different clothes. No commands were heard but people moved all in one and at the same time everyone remained an individual personality. Nobody bothered each other and everybody felt good. I admired that impressive picture for a long time and I thought that I saw a materialized Shanghai spirit that had turned this fishing village into the biggest city in the world over a number of fast centuries.
The Shanghai spirit is a spirit of business. When foreigners came to China in the middle of the 19th century, the city quickly became one of the trading and industrial centers. Berths and warehouses, textile factories and shipyards, shops and banks promptly emerged along the Huangpu River that is open for marine vessels. These days, Shanghai experiences a second breath. Its container port is the largest in the world. Its integrated iron-and-steel works and shipyard are the biggest in China. The automobile factory is number three in the PRC and Shanghai Stock Exchange is number three in the world. In 2011, Shanghai’s GNP reached USD 300 billion and the population - 23 million people!
The Shanghai spirit is a spirit of patriotism and heroism. In the 1930ies, Japanese troops attacked this city twice. The most murderous fight took place in the autumn 1937. The Japanese Command sent as much as 280 thousand soldiers, big air and naval forces to this key sea port and industrial center. The Command promised to conquer Shanghai in three days but heroic defense lasted for three months. These terms should be compared with the period of resistance of the Western forces to Japanese. The blockade of Hong Kong lasted for a period of December 8 – 25, 1941 and finished with capture of the English garrison. Just a few days were needed to defeat the British forces in Malaya. Singapore, “unassailable fortress” of Great Britain surrendered in 6 days. The resistance of huge Dutch East India (Indonesia) against Japanese lasted for about two months. Nearly 4 months were required to defeat all American troops in the Philippines.
The Shanghai spirit is a spirit of big policy, intrigues and secret plans. It is this city where the Communist Party of China was founded with the participation of secret representatives from Comintern in 1921. For years, Shanghai was a center of resident agencies and agents of major foreign intelligent services. Legendary Richard Sorge started his Asian carrier in this city. Shanghai students and intellectuals actively participated in the revolutionary movement, transferred leftist attitude to the peasant majority, elevated their minds, and complemented the life of their leaders with famous beauties. The wife of Chiang Kai-shek, longstanding leader of Kuomintang China, then Taiwan, was a daughter of Soong May-ling, Shanghai banker. Actress Jiang Qing came from Shanghai to mountain caves of Yan’an; she became Mao Zedong’s wife and created her own Shanghai Group within the party, which was on the verge of seizing power in the country after the end of the “reddest sun”. In 1976, Shanghai workers were given weapons; they were called to give fight to counter-revolutionaries who had arrested Jiang Qing and other members of the “Band of Four” in Beijing. By some miracle, no bloodshed happened.
The miracle occurred once again in 1989 when young people from other cities of course including Shanghai joined the protests of Beijing students on the Tiananmen Square. The local authorities succeeded in solving the problem peacefully and Deng Xiaoping, as an expression of his gratitude, designated Shanghai leader Jiang Zemin to the post of the leader of the entire China. Over ten years of reforms that were most successful for the country, natives èç Shanghai played key roles in the party and government.
The Shanghai spirit is a spirit of adventures and risky undertakings. “If the God lets Shanghai to exist further,” a hopeless European missionary once said, “then he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” On the edge of the 20th century, a pursuit of enjoyment in this city called “Paris in the East” yielded only to the itch for money. The life for the Shanghai elite was an exciting cocktail of visiting horse races, drinking of tea near Astor and spending long nights in clubs. Even now one can fell an atmosphere of decadence when visiting China town restaurants styled like in the 1920ies. No, you will not meet Big Ear Dou, king of gangsters, surrounded by famous beauties Eileen Chang and Zhou Xuan. However, for some reason there is a hope that sooner or later he will appear in the huge doors. The unforgettable atmosphere of this district is set up by traditional comedians, burlesque dancers, òå- àòðèêàìè silent movie theaters, cocktails of gold times.
The Shanghai spirit is a spirit of modern. Pudong - a new district biult over the last 15-20 years - is an architectural hi-tech and feng shui fantasy made of steel and glass. Shanghai residents like to joke that people coming through the Huangpu River from the old city should show their passports to enter this Chinese Manhattan. Appearances of the Tower of the Gold Prosperity, Tower of the Shanghai World Financial Center that has recently outgrown their giant Shanghai Tower and other skyscrapers, as well as wellknown TV aerial Pearl of East Tower became a visiting card of both Shanghai and China.
The Shanghai spirit is a spirit of cosmopolitism and openness to the outside world. It was here where the melting pot appeared that created an alloy of Chinese ambition and inventiveness with the best qualities of different Western nations. Originally, divided into a French and an international concession, American, Japanese, Russian and other neighborhoods, Shanghai threw off its separating boundaries and devoured them as years went by, partially maintaining its architectural uniqueness and charm. A single travel by taxi can bring you to ex-French concession, being the center of Shanghai’s bright history in 1920-1940ies. Old trees along the prospects, villas looking like the ones in the Tudors’ times still maintain a pronounced European appearance for the entire area. If you have enough time, you should drop into any ancient private residence – house of the founder of the Chinese Republic Sun Yat-sen or house of Zhou Enlai, first Premier of the PRC.
Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Xinhai Revolution and founder of the modern Chinese nationalism was actually a Christian; he got education in the US and fluently spoke English and Japanese. Russian emigrants, first escaping from Soviet Russia, then from Harbin occupied by Japanese, found their shelter in Shanghai. They poured their homesickness and patriotism in a monument to Pushkin. Shanghai was the shelter for Jews from European countries who fled from Nazi and who were intended by the Japanese intelligence service for resettlement to “Asian Israel” located somewhere in Manchuria at the boundaries with the Soviet Union. The most international city in China confirmed its reputation once again in 2010 when the city hosted the EXPO-2010 International Exhibition. It is Shanghai where you can feel the pulse China, country looking into the future
The Shanghai spirit is also the essence of activities conducted by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), first international organization set up with the participation of China. The first, foundation summit in Shanghai was visited by leaders of 6 Eurasian countries – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. India, Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia joined these six countries in the format of observing countries during the 2006 anniversary summit. The same year, the Business Council of the SCO was founded. I remember pretty good that business-friendly atmosphere of two short days in June 2006. We, journalists, had to shift between different events, interview national leaders and high-ranking diplomats. In the evening, unprecedented fireworks illuminated the sky over Shanghai and even the mirrorlike surface of the Huangpu River. Fire streams floated on the water followed by a fleet of Chinese-style pleasure boats with the leaders onboard.
Six more years passed before China once again becomes a chairman country of the SCO and will again host a summit of this Organization. Will it happen in Shanghai? If no, this summit meeting, like the entire activities of the SCO, will anyway be accompanied by the Shanghai spirit - a spirit of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equal rights, consultations, respect for multiculturalism, and endeavor to the common development.