Our day started early, with a 5 hour train ride from Xi’an to Shanghai—which isn’t bad considering the distance between the two cities is about the same as New York and Chicago. After arriving in Shanghai and settling into our hotel, we took a bus down to the Pudong district of the city, which was home to many former colonial concessions, and is now the business center of Shanghai. During our visit to the history museum, we learned about how Shanghai differed in many ways from most other Chinese cities. Up until the mid 1800s, it was a relatively small city known for fishing and minor trade; however, after the opium wars, the British occupied the city, and set it up to become a center of trade with the west. The Great Britain, France, and the United States all governed various concessions in the city, the legacy of which can still be seen in the style of architecture and layout of certain neighborhoods. Although foreign influence on the city waned after the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China in 1949, the economic reforms that began in 1978 again attracted investments from overseas. Today, Shanghai is one of the most modern and global cities in not only China, but in the entire world.
After the museum and dinner, our group went for a boat ride along the Huangpu River, which offered incredible views of the skyline. It was a view like no other; the Pearl tower looked like an alien spacecraft that had landed in the city, and features a massive glowing orb; the Shanghai tower is the second tallest building in the world, and appears to twist around as it rises up over the city; the Shanghai World Financial Center looks like a mix between a modern art sculpture and a bottle opener, and is lit up in blue at night. All these buildings were built in the past twenty years, the result of the enormous influx of wealth that came when Shanghai became a center for banking and international investment. Looking out across the water, the city felt like something out of the Great Gatsby; it was like the island of Manhattan, but bigger. Ironically, it felt like the most capitalist place I had ever visited—not something I expected to find in China. It definitely showed how much opportunity there is in China today, and how entrepreneurs there must have the sense that anything is possible.