Learn about Shanghai,
China, by reading The Seven Sins of Shanghai by Gary
W. Bloom, WTA Member and Leisure Traveler/Writer. It features a
mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to
know to plan your trip including how to get there, objective
information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end
of the article, we've provided a Details section with contact
information for your easy reference. Enjoy!
The Seven Sins of Shanghai
by Gary Bloom, Leisure Travel Writer and WTA Member
Shanghai was opened to foreign trade in 1842, after the
British defeated China in the first Opium War, and hasn't stopped trading
or growing since. Shanghai is situated on the Yangtze River and the East
China Sea, giving it access not only to much of the interior of China, but
to the rest of the world. The city is more than a port for manufactured
goods. New ideas, fads, and fashions from overseas make their way through
The term "Shanghaied" was coined here in 1871.
Originally meaning to force someone to work aboard a ship, it is still
used to describe someone being taken for a ride. Even today the tradition
of seating the guest of honor at a table in the back and facing the door
continues. In the rough and tumble days of old Shanghai, it was a
precaution against being stabbed in the back by business rivals.
Making money is the mantra here. The Shanghainese,
known around the world for their business acumen, consider themselves the
elite of China. My wife, whose parents were born in China, says most
Chinese think of people from Shanghai as being obnoxious, loud and
arrogant. This is a city, like many other large commercial centers, where
the people are more apt to be rude and looking to make quick buck off of
unsuspecting tourists, so be on the alert.
With nearly 15 million people, Shanghai is the most densely populated area
in the world. The average housing space per resident is not much larger
than a dining room table. You don’t go to Shanghai to visit museums or to
see the architectural history of China. But you do come here to see how
the Chinese live. Because of the limited housing space, people spend a
good part of their lives on the streets – cooking, arguing, doing laundry,
getting a haircut – it’s all on display. While Shanghai may not have the
culture of Beijing, it is a lively, exciting place with a colorful history
of its own.
When one thinks of Shanghai, Sin City probably comes to
mind. Old Shanghai cornered the market on most, if not all, of the seven
deadly sins. The city was known for its lust, pride, and gluttony. And
there was an ample amount of covetousness, envy, anger, and sloth to round
out the "Whore of the Orient." There were white Russian dancing girls,
brothels, gangsters, and opium dens. It had a reputation as "the wickedest
city in the world."
It wasn’t the opium, the corruption, or even the white
Russian dancing girls that finally brought this freewheeling city down.
There was an evil of a different sort that had made inroads into Shanghai.
Ironically, the city built on trade with capitalist countries became the
incubator for the beginnings of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1949,
Mao's army overtook the city. Old Shanghai was gone, along with nearly all
foreigners and most of the wealthy Chinese.
But, even during the years when communism depleted
Shanghai of much of its energy and wealth, the city resembled Hong Kong
more than the rest of China. And Shanghai was ready when Deng Xiaoping
made his famous proclamation: "To get rich is glorious." With the
loosening of socialist strings, it is once again a city where tourists are
welcomed with open arms, as long as they have open wallets. Prices are
higher than most other cities in China, and vendors like to add an extra
tourist tax, even to items that have prices clearly marked in both Chinese
and English. Be prepared to fight for the price you want, and remember
that the Shanghainese are notorious for their aggressive bargaining. The
new Orient Shopping Centre, not far from the Bund, is a good place to
start a shopping expedition. Full of expensive jewelry, gadgets, and
clothes, it is a prime example of conspicuous consumption.
That Shanghai was once home for foreign businessmen and
diplomats is still evident. Some parts of the city look more like Miami
than China, with vintage art deco buildings left from the foreign invasion
in the early part of the century. Other parts of the city look like a
slice of Vienna. In the area along the Huangpu River called the Bund are a
string of buildings that once belonged to the "foreign concessions" and
evoke the neoclassical atmosphere of old Europe. Nearby Nanjing Road, said
to be the longest shopping street in China, is where you’ll find clothes,
food, appliances, and nearly everything else imaginable. This is also a
good area for people watching. And unlike many countries, most Chinese do
not mind being photographed. Of course, it’s always a good idea to make a
simple gesture, like pointing to your camera first, before taking a
picture. But I found this to be a very photographer friendly city, and the
children to be the most photogenic of any country I’ve visited.
For our trip, we opted for a tour. One of the
disadvantages of an organized tour, though, is that they often choose
where and what to eat, and on our tour they tended to choose economy class
restaurants. This was a shame, because Shanghai is known for its fine
food. Its residents have come from all parts of China and much of the
world, and brought with them a variety of cooking styles and ingredients.
As an outpost for foreigners, its cooking has been influenced by some of
the great chefs of Europe and America. But unlike Europe and America, in
Shanghai you’ll find snake soup, ell, and duck tongue. Like most
everything else in Shanghai, meal prices, at least in the smaller
restaurants, are negotiable, and it’s important to get the prices settled
before ordering to avoid an unpleasant surprise later.
Although it’s not known for its Chinese architecture,
there are a couple of temples that shouldn't be missed. The Long Hua
Temple, in the southwest corner of the city, is the only pagoda left
standing in Shanghai. First constructed around 247 AD, but destroyed by
fire in 880 AD and later rebuilt, the seven-story pagoda has the upswept
eaves that are typical of southern Chinese architecture. Dating from the
Qing Dynasty, Long Hua is the largest and oldest temple in Shanghai.
The more recent Jade Buddha Temple in the northwest
part of the city is famous for its two pearl-white jade Buddhas brought
back from Burma in the nineteenth century. The temple holds thousands of
sacred Buddhist texts that are centuries old. The monks who live and
conduct religious services at the temple are accustomed to tourists, and
have even opened a restaurant.
The Shanghai Museum is the only museum in China that is
devoted to "collected" items, rather than excavation, which seems fitting
for a city built on barter. You’ll find ancient Chinese paintings,
ceramics, calligraphy, and sculptures here. Many of its items were
purchased after the "Bureau for Sorting Looted Goods" returned works of
art confiscated during the Cultural Revolution to their owners. They were
once housed in, appropriately enough, the former Zhong Hui Bank, founded
in 1929 by Shanghai's chief of opium trade. The museum has since moved to
a new building in the People’s Square.
The Shanghai people, probably more than other Chinese,
resent what the years of Mao did to them and Shanghai's economy, which may
be why the site of the first Chinese Communist Party Meeting, at 76 Xingye
Rd., is not high on the list of tour stops. Our guide failed to mention
the place existed, and when asked about it, shrugged it off like it wasn't
With more than 40 years of pent-up demand, Shanghai has
some catching up to do. The Russian dancing girls have returned, with lust
not far behind. Greed and pride never left. The anger of missing out on
the other vices during Mao’s days still lingers. The one sin that hasn’t
returned is sloth. This is a city that doesn’t stop. The most common bird
in Shanghai, our guide joked, is the crane. With more than 20,000 ongoing
building projects using a quarter of the world’s cranes, it’s no joke. And
now that China is due to enter the World Trade Organization, Shanghai is
poised to become an even larger business center. Shanghai continues to
adapt to whatever political winds blow its way, but always with an eye on
the bottom line.
Shanghai has two international airports. The
Shanghai International Airport recently opened in Pudong, about 20
miles from central Shanghai. The Hongqiao International Airport is
about 10 miles from the city center. If taking a taxi to the city
check to be sure it has a meter and it is reset. Shuttle buses are
also available. Most drivers don’t speak English so it’s a good idea
to have your destination written down in Chinese.
Airlines offering service from the U.S. to
Shanghai include Air China, Northwest and United, with round-trip
airfares around $800.
Grand Hyatt Shanghai
Jin Mao Tower
88 Century Boulevard
Pudong, Shanghai, China 200121
Phone: (86-21) 5049-1234
Located in the third highest building in the world, the Grand Hyatt
is the highest hotel in the world with spectacular views of the
Bund. Rooms go for about $200. The hotel is in Pudong, Shanghai’s
new financial and trade district, but is just minutes away from the
20 Nanjing Road (E)
Phone: (86-21) 6321-6888
Fax: (86-21) 6329-0300
Perhaps the most famous hotel in Shanghai, the Peace Hotel was built
in the 1920s. Located on the Bund, it has a distinctive art deco
interior. Noel Coward wrote his play "Private Lives" here, and
Charlie Chaplin and Bernard Shaw were once guests. The hotel is also
famous for its Old Jazz Band, a group of sixty-something's who play
nightly in the hotel’s old-English style bar. Rooms are about $110.
170 Nanjing Road (West)
Shanghai, China (200003)
Phone: (86-21) 6327-5225
Built in the1930s, this historic hotel is located in a prime
location on Renmin Park, not far from the Bund and near Shanghai
Museum. Rooms are around $90.
Where and What to eat:
69 Shi Men Lu.
Phone: (86-21) 6258-5645
Shanghai cuisine served in a tightly packed restaurant. Famous for
its seafood, which is pulled from the bubbling tanks inside.
Although this is one of Shanghai’s "hippest" restaurants, the food
is moderately priced, if you can get a table. Reservations
Dragon and Phoenix Room
Peace Hotel, 20 Nanjing Dong Lu
Phone: (86-21) 6321-6888
For atmosphere, this is the place to go. Located on the eight floor
of the Peace Hotel with spectacular views of the city. Serving a
variety of Chinese dishes priced around $30.
22 Lane, 1081 Nanjing Xi Lu
Phone: (86-21) 6253-5353
One of the best-known and oldest restaurants in Shanghai. Serves
Sichuan dishes with specialties like eggplant in fermented bean
sauce and braised prawns. Moderately priced with most dishes around
When to go:
Shanghai has a subtropical climate with the
summers hot, rainy, and humid. Winter temperatures can dip below
freezing, but you’ll avoid the crowds of tourists. Fall and spring
are the most comfortable times to visit Shanghai.
Getting around Shanghai:
Taxi is the most convenient and relatively
inexpensive way to get around Shanghai, as long as you have your
destination written down in Chinese. The subways are good, but have
limited routes. Buses are very crowded. You could rent a bicycle and
join the millions of Chinese vying with trucks and buses for road
space. For most people, you’ll probably want to be on an organized
tour with transportation provided. If you do plan on traveling on
your own, you’ll want to check out The China International Tourist
Service (see address below).
The Chinese currency is the Yuan, divided into
100 Fen. As of January 2002, one US Dollar was worth about 8.28
Long Hua Temple and Pagoda
2853 Long Hua Rd.
Phone: (86-21) 6438-5963
Hours: Daily, 7:30-4:30.
Entrance fee: 9 Yuan (about $1.10)
Jade Buddha Temple
170 Anyuan Rd
Phone: (86-21) 6255-0577
Hours: 9 am - 4:30 pm (Closed for lunch from 12 – 1pm)
Entrance fee: 10 Yuan (about $1.20)
201 Renmin Da Dao (People's Square)
Phone: (86-21) 6372-3500
Hours: 9am to 5pm
Entrance Fee: 20 Yuan (about $2.41)
Shanghai Acrobatic Theatre
400 Nanjing Road West
(021) 2564704 or (021) 2564051
China National Tourist Offices:
350 Fifth Ave., Suite 6413
Empire State Building
New York, NY 10118
Tel: 212 760-8218
Fax: 212 760-8809
600 West Broadway, Suite 320
Glendale, CA 91204
Tel: 818 545-7507
Fax: 818 545-7506
China International Travel Service (USA) New York
71-01 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Tel: (718) 261-7329
City of Shanghai Website
Notice: This information is current as of January
2002. It is recommended that you contact the numbers and/or visit
above to determine any changes to the information.