Shanghai (上海, lit. "Over/Above/On [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 river 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, Late-Imperial/Early-Republican 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 "the Whore of the Orient", 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 1927's April 12 massacre of all the city's Socialists (as identified and disposed of by Mister Du Yuesheng and his Green Gang).
When the economic warfare between China and Japan came to a head in 1932, Shanghai briefly became embroiled in a scuffle that became known as the Battle of Shanghai; 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. At the end of it Chiang and Tokyo managed to reach a peaceful agreement whereby the Guomindang would reduce its tariffs again - thereby exhausting Chiang's political capital and making it basically impossible for him to negotiate that kind of peace with Japan again (for fear of losing all credibility). The National Revolutionary Army/NRA's performance in the scuffle (in which almost no fire-support, i.e. artillery and air-strikes, was used) illustrated very clearly to Chiang the complete inadequacy of the Guomindang's forces compared to Japan's and spurred him to initiate a ten-year programme of military reform. While it was relatively easy to match Japanese levels of armament and equipment - artillery and aeroplanes aside - by buying weapons factories (many of which were set up in the Nanjing-Shanghai area) from Nazi Germany, creating an effective General Staff and installing competent and obedient commanders was still very much a work in progress five years later.
Within a couple of months of the Guandong Army taking Beijing in the Summer of 1937, the fighting spread to Shanghai. We used to be sure this was Chiang's idea, as a means of weakening the IJA's southward advance from Beijing, but now we're not so sure. It appears that the NRA Commander assigned to Shanghai was in fact a Soviet agent acting on orders from Moscow to try to take the fighting south (and away from the Chinese-Japanese-Mongolian-Soviet border), much as the Japanese Commander who oversaw the IJA's resounding defeat Nomonhan/Kalkhin Ghol also appears to have been one. However the Second Battle of Shanghai actually started, it constituted one of history's most bizarre spectacles as Japan continued to deny that the million-man four-month battle (with artillery, tanks, 'planes, and warships) 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 gunboat USS Panay by IJA aircraft while she was evacuating people from the American embassy in Nanking/Nanjing made things very awkward at one point - which remained mostly unmolested until they too were occupied when Japan entered the wider war in 1941.
The city's post-war economic recovery was initially helped by the incompetence and corruption of Chiang's regime, which oversaw high inflation which stimulated businesses. However, while this helped the city's debtors (as the real value of their debts was reduced by the decreasing value of money) it crippled its lenders and this reluctance to lend money (because it was getting harder and harder to make profits from lending) eventually resulted in net economic stagnation during the hyper-inflation spiral of 1947 (which completely wiped out all debt and destroyed the entire Shanghai-based banking sector). While a new currency, the Gold Yuan, was instituted the Guomindang's inflationary policies hadn't changed and it was only when the Communist People's Liberation Army (PLA) fought their way into the city that it ended. The PLA made everyone, at gunpoint, stop creating inflation by forcing everyone to buy and sell everything at fixed places and prices under direct PLA supervision and the threat of death. The PLA also broke up the strikes at Shanghai's factories, dismantled the trade unions, and got production going again. While the policy of 'price controls' (of fixed prices on all goods) wasn't new, the Communists actually had the power to implement it in the countryside (which only they had enough militia, and the willingness to use brutal force, to police) as well as in the cities. A whole host of policies instituted from the city's capture until the first five-year economic plan were exact clones of Guomindang policies, albeit instituted with a degree of ruthlessness and efficiency that Chiang's regime hadn't been able to match since 1937.
Though they came to power on the basis of rather progressive and tolerant policies - having learned from The Russian Civil War to avoid antagonising anyone to the point that they would take up arms against them while their support might still sway the outcome of the war - the Communists' had always viewed Shanghai as a capitalist cesspool of decadence. Post-war, they waited until they had built up a loyal base in the countryside (by organising lynch-mob killings of all landlords and giving their land to the poor) and the country had returned to a 1937-level of economic activity before they packed off Shanghai's entire prostitute, banker, trade-unionist, liberal, and socialist (beause only Marxist-Leninist Communist was ideologically acceptable) populations and sent them to re-education camps. Shanghai's past as a hotbed of free thought and inter-national contact was forgotten and even actively destroyed during the Maoist era that followed, particularly the Cultural Revolution.
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. Shanghai people are often stereotyped for their snobbishness due to their pride in the city's international fame and national significance. It is one of the four municipalities alongside Tianjin, Beijing and Chongqing.
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
- 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 (Green Gang), take over the city and build the said utopia called Shangri-La.
- The first few episodes of Night Raid 1931 are set in 1931 Shanghai, and present 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.
- Episode 4 ("City of Temptation") of Joker Game takes place in 1941 Shanghai and it also shows the sheer contrast of wealth and poverty between its inhabitants.
- Girly Air Force begins with a civilian evacuation from Shanghai just off the Chinese coast. The protagonist, Narutani Kei, is a Japanese citizen who was living in Changshu before the war, a city about 65 miles northwest of Shanghai. The final two episodes of the anime involve a major operation to recapture Shanghai from the enemy Zai and heavily feature Pudong International Airport.
- The Goddess, starring Ruan Lingyu, tells the story of a Shanghai streetwalker.
- 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.
- The end of Fearless (2006) takes place in Shanghai.
- Kung Fu Hustle is set in the freewheeling 1930's days of the city.
- 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 III 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.
- James Bond goes to Shanghai in Skyfall.
- The hit man protagonist of Looper relocates to Shanghai to live off his ill-acquired gains, and eventually finds love there.
- Shanghai, a 2010 American film set in the titular city just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Stars John Cusack along with Ken Watanabe, Chow Yun-fat, Gong Li, and—in smaller roles—Jeffrey Dean Morgan and David Morse.
- Her uses the cityscape to depict a future Los Angeles.
- Wild Rose (1934) is among other things an interesting record of how Shanghai looked during The '30s.
- The Corps series by WEB Griffin opens in 1940 Shanghai, where Corporal Kenneth McCoy and several other major characters are stationed with the 4th Marine Regiment, and spends several chapters there. The complexities, corruption, tensions and intrigues of the international city are extensively explored, with McCoy gaining his nickname "Killer" after defending himself with a knife from three drunk Italian soldiers, being cleared of charges by Captain Bruce Fairbairn of the Shanghai Municipal Police (who lost the knife to McCoy in a card game), and McCoy being reassigned to eavesdrop on the Japanese when he informs his superiors that his local girlfriend (or "sleeping dictionary") taught him the language (among several others).
- Man's Fate by André Malraux is about the crackdown against Shanghai Communists implemented by Jiang Jieshi in 1927 with the support of the Green 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.
- Sammo Law from Martial Law is from Shanghai, and the Cold Open of the first episode takes place there.
- The Bund (上海灘) is a Hong Kong classic Live-Action TV series about the lives of Triad members in pre-war Shanghai and starring a young Chow Yun-fat.
- The series was remade as Shanghai Bund in 2007.
- Episode 15 of Season 4 of Smallville ("Sacred") supposedly takes place in Shanghai but makes the city look like some North American Chinatown, which it absolutely doesn't.
- A mission in Splinter Cell: Double Agent occurs in the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai's Pudong District. This mission only exists in Version 1 of the game (the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, & PC version).
- The second mission of Battlefield 4 is in downtown Shanghai near the Huangpu River, and ends with your team & several hundred war refugees sailing down the river to get to a U.S. Navy task force off the coast of China.
- Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is set in Shanghai.
- As is Army of Two: The 40th Day.
- It appears that in the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Hengsha Island in the Yangtze River Delta turned into it's own city and turned into what the game developers dubbed "the Silicon Valley of Cybernetics".
- In Sakura Wars (2019), there is a Combat Revue based in Shanghai.