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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH
In one corner of the world a new type of urban phenomenon is emerging with incredible speed. I have been visiting Shanghai twice a year for the past six years as a guide of tours around China. For the past few years Shanghai has been what is possibly the world's largest building site. New buildings, both classic and high-tech, have been rising everywhere in the city. As you drive from the airport into the city centre you are constantly surprised by the sudden appearance of unfamiliar buildings on all sides.

The dynamism here is astounding, particularly when we remember that Shanghai is part of the Peoples Republic of China which is still run by the Chinese Communist Party. Yet globalisation is here with a vengeance, with companies and stockbrokers from the United States, Japan, Britain and elsewhere all flocking to Shanghai. Some people do not believe me, but I predict that in the year 2005 the heart of world finance will beat neither in London, nor Tokyo nor on Wall Street, but in Shanghai.
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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH

Shanghai, which lies on the Suzhou and Huangpu rivers, was originally a village whose origins date back to the fifth century AD. The first Opium War fought in 1839-1842 changed the settlemt'sys fortunes. Under the Nanjing Treaty signed after the war, China was obliged to open Shanghai harbour to trade and grant European merchants privileges in the region. These privileges were subsequently extended to the Japanese and the Americans, and the village gradually grew into a town.

After the war between China and Japan in 1894-1895, light industry investments began, and some of the world's best known companies came to Shanghai: Jardine Matheson, BAT, Hall and Holtz, Laidlaw and Company, Kelly and Walsh, along with leading Jewish merchants, White Russian countesses, officers from Annam, and Philippino orchestras. Shanghai society danced at the Cercle Sportif Française, and were entertained and gambled at night clubs and casinos like the Casanova and Del Monte. Shanghai had become the Paris of the Far East.

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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH
Today Shanghai is a colourful city competing in every sphere with the capital Beijing, but without the bureaucracy. It has an exuberant mood all its own and there is plenty to see and do. The best way to get an idea of Shanghai's past, present and future is to wander down the Bund, the esplanade along the Huangpu River. All the old buildings of the colonial period are here: the Russian Consulate, the Waibaidu Bridge, Huangpu Park, Peace Hotel (the former Cathay Hotel and home of the Sassoon family), the Customs House, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, and the Tung Feng Hotel.

If you get here early enough the Bund is also the place to see the Chinese performing their famous morning gymnastics. On the opposite bank is the Pudong district where in contrast all the buildings are new.The celebrated Nanjing Street stretching westwards between the two wings of the Peace Hotel is a true shoppers' paradise.
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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH

Another fascinating part of Shanghai is the Old Town with its classical Chinese wooden buildings whose eaves rise up at the corners as if about to fly away, Chinese lanterns and lively crowds. This is real 'Chinatown', where the most interesting site is the Yu Gardens (Yuyuan), a beautiful example of classical Chinese gardens which create the impression of large spaces in tiny places. Here people recite poetry, discuss philosophy, and exhibit Chinese calligraphy.

There are over thirty tiny wooden pavilions with delightfully romantic names like Tower for Watching the Waves, Room of Tranquility, Tower of Joy and Pavilion of Ten Thousand Flowers. The teahouse set on the small lake here is another renowned feature of the park, reached via a bridge which makes nine zigzags. The zigzag plays an important symbolic role in Chinese culture, since according to ancient belief evil spirits can only travel in straight lines, and not along those which curve or zigzag.

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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH

The most important monument in Shanghai is the Temple of the Jade Buddha. The small jade Buddha statue was brought here from Burma in the 1870s and the temple which today attracts more visitors than any other in the city dates from 1918. Other notable sights are the Cathedral of St Ignatius, the Longhua Pagoda (40 metres in height with seven storeys) and its temple, the house of Sun Yat Sen, leader of the 1911 revolution which brought about the fall of the Chinese Empire, the house of Zhou Enlai, the First National Congress Building of the Chinese Communist Party, the Museum of Lu Xun, and the Children's Palace.

SAbove all, no one should leave Shanghai without seeing the Shanghai Museum, which alone is a reason for visiting the city. The newly built modern museum building is a mixture of square and circle emphasising the relationship between earth and sky. Around it are eight statues of lions weighing 10 tons and 3 m in length.

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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH

The exhibits in galleries covering an area of 1500 square metres are arranged in ten sections devoted to bronzes, ceramics, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, jade, metalwork, coins and seals, furniture and the works of ethnic minorities. The collection of 400 bronzes has no match anywhere in the world.

Shanghai is also one of the best places to see China's performing arts, having the best acrobats in all China, and featuring a nightly repertoire of concerts and plays at the Shanghai Hall, the Renmin Great Theatre, and Shanghai Municipal Theatre. The Beijing Opera Company is currently performing in the city, and at the hotels there is live music of astonishing variety.

Pleasant excursions are to be made to outlying areas like Suzhou, Hangzhou and Wuxi, which new roads have brought within the gravitational sphere of Shanghai itself.

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SHANGAI
2000 / MARCH

At Hangzhou and Wuxi there are enchanting lake views and a tranquil atmosphere in contrast to the speed and bustle of Shanghai. Suzhou is famous for its over one hundred gardens where retired palatins used to spend their days, and also for silk factories, the Embroidery Institute, temples and canals, including the Great Canal, which have won Suzhou the name of the 'Venice of the Far East'.

Architects, financiers, businessmen and famous brands all compete for success in this city of 14 million. The dynamism and pace of change here is overwhelming, and this is just the right time to capture the exhilarating mood of a city speeding into the future.

 


* Izzet Keribar, fotograf sanatçisi.

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