The fast-paced, bustling metropolis of Shanghai that we know today has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a small, isolated port town. Like many young cities, Shanghai (literally “above the sea”) grew due to its position as a trading port and the constant influx of domestic and international immigrants. The largest players in the development of Shanghai, however, were the British - and opium. The British East India Company had been exporting Chinese silks, teas, porcelain, and other goods for decades. With only exports, the British realized their trading was unbalanced and introduced a higher quality opium to the obliging Chinese. With widespread opium addiction taking hold of the people the Qing government attempted to shut down the drug industry, resulting in skirmishes with the British to protect free trade. The outcome was the 1842 Treaty of Nanking in which the British forced the Qing court to give them the right to trade and live in five Chinese cities, including Shanghai. The Brits named their area of riverbank, the Bund, and were soon followed by the French and Americans.
Under the influence of the settlers and traders from around the world, Shanghai grew to become a decadent and opulent city and was known as "The Paris of the East." During the '20s and '30s Shanghai danced its way to riches and fame earning recognition as the "fifth city of the earth," according to a 1935 Fortune Magazine article. This all came to a screeching halt with the invasion by the Japanese in 1932 and later, the Communist take-over of China in 1949 that led to the tragic Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. When Shanghai's doors finally reopened in 1978, growth was slow until the 1990s when the city was declared to be the country's new economic powerhouse. Over the next few decades, Shanghai would rebuild itself to make up for the 40 years it lost under Communist rule.
Modern-day Shanghai has quickly grown to become one of the fastest changing and most dynamic cities in the world. It has regained most of the decadence of its past in a limbo between modern glitz and old world charm. You can take a stroll through the old French Concession, peek into Dr. Sun Yatsen's former residence and end up in Xintiandi, a restored complex that houses some of Shanghai's top restaurants and shops. The Shanghai Museum which houses artifacts from China's history, sits across from the modern Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Hall which shows Shanghai's development plan for the future. Fly by people on bicycles as you sit on Shanghai's Maglev Train going 285km/h (180mph). This yin and yang is what Shanghai is all about.
Distanced from the watchful eye of the Chinese government, Shanghai has been allowed to flourish and embrace some of the capitalist tendencies of its Western neighbors. This exposure to the outside world creates an air of open-mindedness and a willingness to try new things that is evident in Shanghai's growing materialism. There is a vibe in Shanghai, an energy, which propels everyone living there in a constant upward drive to make up for lost time and have fun doing it.