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Shanghai - History

Shanghai History

Up until the 7th century AD Shanghai, then known as Shen or Hu Tu after the local bamboo fishing traps, was a barely developed marshland. Most of eastern modern Shanghai didn't exist until the 17th century, when a complex web of canals was built to drain the region.

An ideal port, Shanghai is the gateway to the mighty Yangzi River (the name Shanghai means 'on the sea'). But when the British opened their first concession here in 1842, after the first Opium War, it was little more than a small town supported by fishing and weaving. Change was rapid. The French turned up in 1847 and it wasn't long before an International Settlement was established. By the time the Japanese rocked up in 1895 the city was being parcelled up into settlements, all autonomous and immune from Chinese law. Enter China's first fully fledged Special Economic Zone.

The world's greatest houses of finance and commerce descended on Shanghai in the 1930s. The place had the tallest buildings in Asia, and more motor vehicles on its streets than the rest of China put together. Shanghai became a byword for exploitation and vice, in countless opium dens and gambling joints, in myriad brothels. Guarding it all were the American, French and Italian marines, British Tommies and Japanese bluejackets.

By the time the Communists said enough was enough in 1949, they had the job of eradicating slums, rehabilitating hundreds of thousands of opium addicts, and stamping out child and slave labour. For the West, the party was over in Shanghai.

The 1990s have seen invitations go out again to capitalist business interests as the central government hunts foreign capital to help reinvent this whirlwind metropolis.

The city continues to grow, with new underground stations, highways crisscrossing the city, the most modern stock exchange in the world, a swish new airport, two giant bridges and a whole new city in Pudong. By the mid-1990s more than half the world's high-rise cranes were looming over Shanghai. However, despite the growth and international investment, Shanghai is still a city of contradictions, with poverty still prevalent.

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