As a common knowledge Shanghai’s rises is a story of 20 century. In 1930s Shanghai rose as an orient metropolis and the financial center of East Asia。However the good time was not lasting long due to the wars. Only until 1990s, Shanghai has revitalized to be a world city via the Pudong project. Not only the general discussion but also the academic researches tend to compare with those two rises in an analogical way. It looks like yesterday once more.

The argument of this research is that Shanghai’s rise and revitalization are not the same story. They are backed with different forces, follow the different growth paths, carry different contents and finally leave different heritages to this city. So despite that the both reach the status as the world city, the New Shanghai in 1990s may fundamentally differ from the Old Shanghai in 1930s. There exists genetic mutation between the Old Shanghai to the New Shanghai.

Shanghai, rising from an un-known fishing village to China's primary city in terms of its economy scale, culture soft-power and its political influence, has played an unique role in 20th century’s China. 1930s’ Shanghai, for the first time, has made itself China's economic center, cultural center, and to some extent the political center, while its influence has not been limited within China but extent throughout the East Asia and Southeast Asia. Through the political economy lens, Shanghai’s first-time rise can be categorized as the city-state model. It refers that the key contributor to Shanghai’s first-time rise is her shelter role for personal safety and free trade. That had been built by the joint efforts from all the stakeholders despite that there are up to 3 administrative bodies who sharing Shanghai’s jurisdiction throughout 1910s-1940s.

Only until 1990s, Shanghai has been picked up as the trump card (Deng Xiaoping, 1992) of China’s furthering reform and open-up strategy. Carrying the nation-wide anticipation and being backed state-level political and economic supports Shanghai has, at least in economic sense, revitalized within just couples of years. The national strategy and state will is the key to understand the rise of New Shanghai.

From “the city-state” to “the trump card”, the two stories of Shanghai’s rise have fundamental differences. Contradicted foot-prints have also been left in each stage of the city’s evolution. To understand this may helps in mapping out the code of Shanghai’s gene.


1. Rises with different governance models


There was no single official authority had the capacity for governance of the whole city, as a consequence of tripartite jurisdiction system at the time of Shanghai first rise. In the meantime, with the development of a commercial society, the city governance responsibilities were one after another taken by elected not appointed self-governing institutions as Shanghai Municipal Council (established in 1854) of the International Settlement, the Administration Municipal of French Concession ( Conseild’Administration Municipale de la Concessionor, established in 1862), and the Self-Government Office of Chinese section (established in 1905).


A number of governance practices ( The conflict between Administration Municipal of French Concession and French Consul in 1865, the year 1900 of  “Joint Defense of Southeast China”, Jiangsu and Zhejiang peace movement in 1923, disputes of Shanghai Municipal Council with foreign missions at Beijing in May 30 Movement) reflected that for the self-government institutions’ agencies keeping peace and development of each locality was greater than playing appropriate roles and responsibilities under the nation state framework. Therefore, keeping peace and the maintenance of free trade business environment set a solid base for tripartite competition and cooperation in the city of Shanghai. It was the relatively safe environment the major cause of the economic, even cultural burst of Shanghai at the time. When almost the whole China suffered from those severe impacts of the Boxer Rebellion, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and Anti-Japanese War, Shanghai reached a dramatic increase in urban population and economic prosperity due to the maintenance of relative peaceful environment.

The revitalization of Shanghai, on the similar internationalization background, is focus on its national role, trying to find a common ground between the motivation of exploring development opportunities and the satisfaction of the State’s needs which is the decisive factors among all to be considered.

The transformations of Shanghai’s economy structure in second half of 20 century make itself the distinctive case of how the state needs playing the decisive role of city’s evolution. Shortly after 1949, in response to Western economic boycott as well as the national demand of industrial development, Shanghai restructured itself into a manufacture city from its 30 year pre-liberation history of finance and foreign trade orientated structure. However, since later 1980s, it has again transformed back to a multi-functioning structure emphasized on financial and trading services. The pivotal concerns on the argumentation of those two transformations at decision making level both ironically lied on their suitability to the State’s development.   


2. Rises with different mechanisms

The rise of Shanghai in 1930’s, was more spontaneous rather than goal guided, nor with any specific strategy or concrete measures. With no overall plan but pure market mechanism to some extent, the rise was more a collective effect by endeavors of each individual and social group. Despite that the first comprehensive urban development planning with coverage of the whole city only appeared later in 1945, the Shanghai has grown into the most advanced Chinese city at that time in the sense of infrastructure as well as software with the competition between 3 self-governance identities.      

Whereas 1990’s rise was an outcome of deliberated, advanced planning. At the very beginning, clear objectives were set and then verified and refined, so as the strategies overall and by stage. Given it well planed, the actual development went beyond expectations and planning. Secondly, at operational level a top-down approach has been seen. A central will formed itself within the national collective framework, and then made it a collective will of Shanghai commonality (citizens) through various means of publicity and campaign. Thirdly, Shanghai’s revitalization was backed up by national strategic projects and central policy preferences (for example, Pudong development, the setting-up of stock market, Yangshan Port construction, etc.) rather than self-dependence, which makes New Shanghai’s leading economic role in China less convincing to other localities.


3. Rises with different effects

Shanghai, at its first rise, was successful because it managed a relatively safe and stable “shelter” in a turbulent, warring background.  From an objective point of view, the shelter effect not only benefited business activities, but also protected Chinese ideological and cultural development from damage through keeping translation, publishing, newspaper, drama, etc. out of interruption and stay in prosperity, which therefore had made Shanghai the Chinese ideological center, overtook Beijing. The effect could also be furthered as Chinese political center if we take into considerations of the birth of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Nationalist Party (KMT), the political voices heard in modern China were in and from Shanghai.

The revitalizing Shanghai, characterized as the dragon head of China’s reform and opening up, had been designed to make a full spectrum of breakthrough from structure to institution. So far only the economic achievements of New Shanghai fulfill the expectation. No gesture of leading in Chinese cultural development has showed throughout Shanghai’s almost 20 years of revitalization by now, not mentioning the leading political and ideological influences.


4.  Rises with conflicting heritages

Shanghai was an explorer at its first rise. The so-called "paradise for adventurers" is positive words in today's context, which well representing Shanghai’s personality of risk-taking and innovation. For that reason, the city formed its unique "Shanghai style", with lofty ideals, ushered the trend.

The reviving Shanghai played a role as executor of national strategy, which is nothing new to what Shanghai had played throughout the 1950s and 1970s. The fast revitalization of Shanghai economy in a short period of time of 1990s can only approve that Shanghainese are diligent and efficient executors. Despite innovations in the implementation of national strategies, they were not necessarily explorers or innovators. All they had done was in the framework of national blueprint. The second rise, promoting Shanghai greatly in its physical aspect, was in light of Old Shanghai’s glory and even a great leap surpass is anticipatable. However, there is no commendable spiritual legacy or heritage left.


5. Conclusion

First, the self-governance localities along with the shelter effect they achieved was the key to the success of Shanghai’s first rise in early 20th century, however, was de-emphasized in later researches.


Self-governance institutions originated from locality and therefore put the local interest as the priority. It is understandable that foreign concessions in Shanghai endeavored to obtain self-governing status against Chinese authority, in relating to which many key political games in Shanghai’ modern history had occurred. However those guest dwellers’ self-governance practices extend to their relation with the home countries as well. The commensurate self governing efforts were also found in Chinese section throughout the last days of Qing emperor to the early stage of national state China. It was the locals, mainly gentlemen as well as businessmen, who had contributed and collaborated to build the modern urban infrastructures of the Shanghai’s Chinese community.

Secondly, there is far more incomparability than comparability between Shanghai’s first rise and its revitalization.

Shanghai revitalization is way below the overall strength and position of Old Shanghai, in terms of ideology and culture, no city in today’s China has ever reached the full spectrum prosperities it had then achieved. The cause of this incomparability is historical environment, especially the unusual historical environment of Shanghai in 1910s – 40s. Such environment could be found nowhere in China then. Still, we should not attribute the glory simply to its unusual situation. New Shanghai should learn from the Old Shanghai and surpass it in cultural spreading, freethinking protection, and community self-governance and so on.