Shanghai, June 26: It was always called the “Other China” whose raison d’etre was money and where people from faraway countries came to make it.
The mosaic of streets behind the sprawling waterfront on the Huangpo river had names which read like a roster of the outposts of the British empire — Benares Road, Kabul Road, Simla Road, Sandakan Road and so on.
Those names are long gone, like the old-world warehouses and barges and decrepit buildings. In their places now stand haughty highrises of new-age designs where commerce of the new world thrives.
For that to happen, Shanghai had to reinvent itself.
And what a reinvention it has been! Shanghai’s economic statistics are awesome by any standards. Its GDP last year was $65.9 billion and the GDP growth rate 10.9 per cent. Last year it received a total foreign direct investment of $5.3 billion, taking its total FDI to $40.3 billion. Another $20 billion worth of FDI is awaited.
If you thought the city is sitting pretty on its new identity and wealth, you would be very wrong. Far from being blase, it is frantically adding to new infrastructure projects at breakneck speed. It is symbolised in the 48-km Ring Road — the longest in China — circling the city and connecting it to Pudong, its dazzling new twin on the western bank of the Huangpo, in a maze of several-tier roads.
Another such symbol of fast-track transportation is now coming up in the form of a 42-km magnetic levitation train between Pudong airport and the Shanghai city centre.
And to give an idea of how the city is in a hurry to further reinvent itself, the first phase of the project was completed last December — less than a year after the project got off the ground. But that is just one of many such new ventures to further change the face of the city.
There is a special reason for the rush. It has won the bidding, beating South Korea, for the six-month World Expo 2010, when the city expects to have 70 million visitors, including three million from abroad, and hopes to generate an income of $17 billion.
The rush began with the opening of the new district of Pudong in 1990 and the 14th congress of the Communist Party in 1992 deciding to make Shanghai the model for national, rather than regional, economic development. Yet, the city was the cradle of communism in China, where the Communist Party was founded in 1920 at a meeting of about 25 people, including Chinese Marxists led by Chen Duuxin and Mao Zedong and three Russian Bolshevik representatives.
If this is now the cradle of Chinese capitalism, it continues to be a bastion of the communist leadership. The road to Beijing still lies through Shanghai. Former President Jiang Zemin, former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and the present chairman of the National People’s Congress, Wu Bangguo, all rose to power through the Shanghai crucible.