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File:Shanghai 3.jpg

The view from Pudong.

"Nothing more intensely living can be imagined."
Aldous Huxley on Shanghai

Shanghai (上海, lit. "Over/Above [the] Sea") is a young city by Chinese standards. Until the 1840s it was a quiet fishing town, but when British forces seized it in the course of the First Opium War in 1840, they realized its potential as a trade emporium,given its location near the mouth of the Yangzi River. At the conclusion of both wars, Foreign powers were conceded 'settlements' in and around the country's more marginal coastal and riverine areas. Shanghai was one of these places. The 'International Settlement' was formed in 1863 with the merger of the British and American territories, while the Concession Française remained independent. Imperial Japan gained its own concession in 1895, with the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese war in their favour. The old town, meanwhile, remained under Shanghai-nese jurisdiction.

This complicated political situation was a boon to the criminal underworld, and colonial-era Shanghai was notorious as the playground of powerful triads. All manner of illegal activity thrived, most famously prostitution and opium smuggling. Shanghai was referred to as "the greatest brothel in the world", and a common joke among visiting missionaries was that "If God allows Shanghai to endure, He'll owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology." When Chiang Kai-Shek marched into the city in 1927, the most powerful man in the city was crime lord Du "Big Ears" Yuesheng, leader of the 'Green Gang'.

The freewheeling atmosphere, in which everyone was on the take and everything went, was a magnet to artists and intellectuals, and throughout the inter-war years Shanghai was one of the most culturally dynamic cities in the world, earning the city the moniker "Paris of the East". It was also a hotbed of political activism, witnessing the birth and death of the Urban-Proletarian Communist movement; it was both the founding place of the (first) Chinese Communist Party in 1921, and Chiang's primary target in the April 12 massacre.

When the economic warfare between China and Japan came to a head in 1932, Shanghai briefly became a battleground; Chiang's government had just attempted to put extremely high tariffs on Japanese goods, a move which came at the high point of a widespread boycott of Japanese goods and strikes among those working in Japanese-owned businesses. When the Guandong Army crossed the Great Wall in 1937, Chiang escalated the conflict by attempting to capture the Japanese quarter of Shanghai and thereby started one of history's most bizarre spectacles as Japan continued to deny that the million-man four-month battle did not constitute a war. Both sides had to be careful in their use of fire support due to the presence of the foreign settlements - the sinking of an American river steamer, the Panay, by IJA aircraft made things very awkward at one point - which remained mostly unmolested until they too were occupied when Japan entered the wider war in 1941.

Economic recovery post-war was stunted and was dealt a huge blow by the incompetence and corruption of Chiang's regime, which saw the onset of hyper-inflation in 1947. The crisis was finally brought under control when the Communist marched in to liberate the city in 1948, as their government was both powerful and efficient enough to actually implement the policies the Chiang's government had instituted on paper. Though they came to power on the basis of rather progressive and tolerant policies - having aimed to cultivate the maximum possible popular support during the course of the War - the Communists' new People's Republic of China soon came to view Shanghai as a capitalist cesspool of decadence and sought to reform and re-educate it by means of rather harsh and repressive policies. However, in 1991, Deng Xiaoping granted the country greater economic freedom, and Shanghai has since then grown into a shining powerhouse of unrestrained business activity. In a few short years, the Pudong financial center has sprung up from the ground on the Eastern shore of the Huangpu river, and is now a glittering collection of postmodern skyscrapers as impressive as Hong Kong's. One of the most well-known is the Oriental Pearl Tower (it's that big pointy thing in the picture at the top of this page). It is quite astonishingly ugly to look at in real life.

And its hosting of the World Expo has revitalized the event itself, pushing more than any in the recent past have into promoting it and getting countries to attend. It's notable for being the first World Expo to host a North Korean pavilion.

Shanghai's vibrancy is now mostly restored, and it's the biggest city in the People's Republic.

Not to be confused with "shanghaiing," which is a form of maritime kidnapping that was practiced in the 19th century before the advent of steam ships, or with Shanghai, the first Mahjong Solitaire game for computers.

Shanghai in fiction

Anime and Manga

  • Fist of the Blue Sky takes place in the pre-WWII Shanghai where Kasumi Kenshiro the master of Hokuto Shinken helps his friend, who is the leader of Qing Bang (Blue Gang), take over the city and build the said utopia called Shangri-La,
  • The first few episodes of Senko no Night Raid is set in 1931 Shanghai, and presents it as what it really was: on the one hand a flourishing cosmopolitan city and on the other hand a crime-ridden city beset with political intrigues from local government agents, criminal Triads and foreign agents.


  • Much of Tintin's adventure "The Blue Lotus" takes place in Shanghai.
  • Corto Maltese goes through Shanghai on his way from Hong Kong in "Corto Maltese in Siberia".


  • The Goddess, starring Ruan Lingyu.
  • Shanghai Express by Josef von Sternberg doesn't actually take place in Shanghai but may still qualify.
    • The film's most famous line is spoken by Marlene Dietrich: "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily."
  • Fist of Fury (精武门) — the film with Bruce Lee, and its remake Fist of Legend (精武英雄) with Jet Li.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom begins in the fictional Obi-Wan Club in Shanghai.
  • Shanghai Surprise, a forgettable Madonna vehicle.
  • Center Stage (阮玲玉), a biopic of 1930s movie star Ruan Lingyu starring Maggie Cheung.
  • Shanghai Triad (摇呀摇, 摇到外婆桥) by Zhang Yimou is about a teenager who gets hired as an errand boy by the mistress of a 1930s Triad boss.
  • Temptress Moon (风月) by Chen Kaige.
  • Suzhou River (苏州河) by Lou Ye.
  • Flowers of Shanghai is about high-class prostitutes in Shanghai in the late 19th century.
  • Contrary to what their titles imply, neither Shanghai Noon nor Shanghai Knights have anything to do with Shanghai (the scenes set in China take place in Beijing). They were chosen for the sake of the pun.
  • Some of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life
  • The end of Fearless takes place in Shanghai.
  • Kung Fu Hustle
  • Lust, Caution is a depiction of Shanghai under Japanese occupation.
  • Empire of the Sun by Steven Spielberg, another World War II period film. Produced in the mid-1980s, it earns the distinction of being the first American film to be shot in Shanghai since the 1940s, making good use of the city's relatively preserved sights prior to heavy development and commercialization since the 1990s.
  • The second half of Mission Impossible 3 takes place in Shanghai, though the film got the geography of the city all wrong and the final scenes were shot in a nearby town.
  • Shanghai Red is a revenge thriller set in modern Shanghai.


  • Man's Fate by André Malraux is about the crackdown against Shanghai Communists implemented by Jiang Jieshi in 1927 with the support of the Blue Gang.
  • Fortress Besieged by Qian Zhongshu.
  • Empire Of The Sun is an autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard relating his time in a Japanese internment camp near Shanghai. It was made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1987.
  • Shanghai Baby is a semi-autobiographical novel by Zhou Weihui, about a young Chinese woman's steamy affair with a Western expatriate.
  • The Inspector Chen Cao series of novels by Qiu Xiaolong: Death Of A Red Heroine, A Loyal Character Dancer, When Red Is Black, A Case Of Two Cities, etc.
  • When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • The Painter From Shanghai
  • Shanghai Girls
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley partially takes place there, with the main character Terra's brother working there and Terra's love interest's orphanage is also there.

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