From the top of the World financial centre one should be able to see for a long way as the surrounding area is Norfolk flat. In reality I could probably only see about twenty miles as the chromatic of Shanghai is a steely brown haze. This is symptomatic of these enormous Chinese cities.
Twenty four million people in Shanghai and the city is surrounded by coal power stations to satisfy it’s addiction to electricity.
In fact these cities closely resemble renaissance Italy with their great city states. Shanghai is the city on the sea facing the western world and its strength comes from money and trade, Beijing the centre of Power and culture. And there are these emerging city states arising in the centre and east, with populations approaching fifteen million created in the rush to build factories for even cheaper labour, and its consequent industry and wealth.The wealthy in these City States compete with each other on the World’s Art markets to fill their homes and museums just like the great empires before them.
There are the Borgia like power struggles with these competing states. Chongqing in the east, is one of these. It has been the personal fiefdom of Bo Xilai. This I just have to put in.. ‘The Population of Chongqing will increase gradually in this period, approaching 33.9 million in 2025’. Hard to envisage. Bo Xilai, like all the other contenders for the top job is a princeling of one of the more important party families, and during reign he had built up a very strong powerbase, especially among the poor as he built housing and provided jobs. He was only last year tipped for the top but conveniently as we all know he and his wife are now both in prison.
But Bo’s power base was strong and even after his demise it is strongly rumoured that the current president Xi Jinping’s unpredented disappearence for three weeks back in october was not a back strain but in fact Bo’s thug’s attempt on his life when two of his bodyguards were injured when his car was forced off road by two SUV’s, and within an hour the party’s discipline commissioner He Guoqiang was seriouly injured following another road crash.
Shanghai is the City State based on finance and one of the first things that stood out for me was the number of obvious ex British military . First its easy to spot a westerner and secondly it’s the haircut, the white shirt, black trousers, the polished shoes and obviously the way they walk. Almost a parody. I found out that some areas of the British Army have a grip on overseas Private Banking and Finance. So the officers take the higher up jobs and the squaddies do security.
The centre of Shanghai has some green open spaces and is not unpleasant, The French Concession stands out as much for the plane trees that were planted by the French and survived. Its low rise building gives it a more human scale.
Before the revolution Shanghai, was corrupt on a par with Havanna. When the chinese authorities tried to clamp down on opium smuggling, both crooked officials, gangsters and foreign businessmen just moved it into the Concessions where they couldn’t be touched.
And corruption is rife in China today, Well where isn’t it !! The global business press decry corruption in China only because their monopolist multinationals can’t turn a profit there easily. So they have to do it by placing communist party family members on their boards, giving shares and paying their fees through Dubai or Hong Kong ..out of the reach of Chinese anti-corruption. **
All the while whingeing about the corruption they are in fact complicit in.
The well off in the world live by the creed of only little people pay taxes and yes here where I live in Antibes, this week the deputy mayor was arrested for corruption.
Doesn”t all this sound like the Borgias and the Medici families and the city states of Italy?Well it’s the Wen Jiabao’s, The Li Changchun’s and the Wu Bangguo’s, somehow the names don’t have a ring to them but they have a stranglehold on China just as great.
Shanghai has the most incredible transport system, slick, modern, cheap and covers an enormous area.
I decided to take the metro trip out top the country side, to look at Shanghai’s Automobile city. The trip proved more enlightening than the newly developed Auto City.
Like many of the transport systems once one has left the city centre it is raised on stilts. So you can see just how flat it is and how uninspiring the flat almost treeless expanse of semi wasteland interspersed with new high rise towns.
And the number of completed high rises without windows and put on ice was amazing. Little townships inhabited by the migrant workers who built them.
I walked for about half an hour along the side of a uninspiring VW factory and everwhere was so flat I decided to cut my losses and decided to go back to the city.
But aside from the politics and machinations of China’s rulers the City of Shanghai and its people are fascinating.
The inhabitants of Shanghai tend to spend, as accommodation is small and often shared with parents, a lot of time outside, and the streets are full of interesting sights.
Finally I found the famous birdmarket but although there were still a few cages now there were new crazes.
I had already come across two groups in a small park huddled around a pair of scales and a tickling stick. Both the fighting and selling of crickets was taking place.
The Old Bird market is now really the centre of the cricket craze. For over a thousand years autumn is the cricket fighting season. The market is full of crickets in jars, men in angst over which tickling stick to buy and the weighing of crickets. Although the people involved were obviously enraptured I couldn’t see myself as the owner of a champion cricket.
But the up market stalls were for what appeared to be fossilised walnuts, and later I saw someone in his mercedes carefully polishing his newly bought nut.
Outside the oh-so chic Nangking Road West one can buy most things out on the street.
I never quite understand how cities of this size actually work. It is real testament to man’s ability to get on with his fellow man.
And somehow Shanghai thrives, Unesco has praised the secondary school system as the best in the world, and the Universities here are about the best in Asia.