Welcome to Shanghai


Welcome to Shanghai



In no city, West and East, have I ever had such an impression of dense, rank, richly clotted life. Old Shanghai is Bergson’s élan vital in the raw, so to speak, and with the lid off. It is Life itself.”


-- Aldous Huxley, 1926.




You can see the mud of China long before even a glimpse of its coast, streaming towards the ship, turning the Pacific from blue to yellow. As you come to the mouth of the Yangtze, you can see stretched out before you countryside just as you’ve seen in photographs and guidebooks at home. Rice paddies, the occasional pagoda, young boys driving water buffalo. As the ship turns into the Huangpu River, the scenery changes. Now, above the mud huts, there are huge billboards advertising cigarettes, chewing gum and Tiger Balm. The countryside is taken over by factories and docks. Twelve miles up the Huangpu, the ship rounds Pudong Point and you find yourself facing neither China nor the West. Shanghai.


The visitor’s first sight of the city is the Bund, a seven-and-a-half mile curve of grand waterfront. Originally merely a tow-path beside the river, foreign occupation has developed the Bund into Shanghai’s most prestigious road and commercial centre. The foreign buildings soar overhead, magnificent in bronze and granite. They have the look of public buildings, but they are not. In the Bund one can see Shanghai’s obsession and raison d’être – business. These splendid edifices belong to the city’s most important firms, banks, clubs and hotels. The likes of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, the North China Daily News, the Shanghai Club, the Chartered Bank, Sassoon House, Bank of China, Yokohama Specie Bank and Jardine Matheson & Co., all display their success on the Bund.


These monuments are intended to inspire awe and a sense of permanence in the onlooker. Like a lot of things in Shanghai, the Bund is a façade. A few blocks away from the water, the neo-classical domes and columns give way to two-storey shops and, further back, to squalid and shabby alleys.




Shanghai offers a wide array of entertainment for the visitor or resident. The city has an active social life, from garden parties hosted by wealthy foreign businessmen who hire musicians for the occasion, to Chinese dinner parties followed by a talk by an eminent or adventurous person, there is a lot to do. More dubious pleasures are also on offer. Some hotels provide drugs on room service and narcotics are everywhere. Foreigners offer cocaine like mints after dinner, while the Chinese tend towards the opium pipe. In the brothels of the French Concession there is, seemingly, no limit to what is on offer, while Chinese girls stand in cheongsams split to the waist on the street corners of the International Settlement.




The International Settlement


Not a free city, nor a colony, the International Settlement exists in a weird legal limbo wherein every resident (or at least all of those from a country with Most Favoured Nation status) is subject only to the laws of his own land. This does not stop the foreign settlers (chiefly the British and Americans) from calling for military aid from home in times of crisis. The International Settlement is the hub of the city and is what most people think of when they think of Shanghai. The Settlement maintains its own police force (the Shanghai Municipal Police) and volunteer armed forces. The police are direly needed, as Shanghai as a whole - and the Settlement in particular - is one of the most violent, crime-ridden cities in the world. "Paradise of adventurers" indeed...


The Settlement is governed by the Shanghai Municipal Council, which is elected by qualified residents (defined mostly by land ownership) and consults with international consuls.



The French Concession


The French Concession, in contrast to the International Settlement, is a part of the French empire and is governed by the French consul with an advisory cabinet he is free to ignore. Largely residential and full of leafy avenues, the French Concession is also a hotbed of smugglers and other criminals, though it has far less street crime than the International Settlement.




 In retrospect, Shanghai’s commercial importance seems inevitable from its location alone. Although it sits upon a tributary, the city commands the trade of the Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world, stretching 3100 miles across Asia from its source in Tibet to the wide Pacific Ocean. It is the main trade highway of more than 200,000,000 people.

Shanghai is the first city of the world’s largest continent, sitting equidistant in shipping time between the Eastern United States and western Europe.


The watershed of the Yangtze includes about half of China proper. From Shanghai to Hankow (about 600 miles), the river provides a channel of about eight to ten feet of navigable depth in winter, and 28 to 30 feet in summer. Above Hankow, the river is navigable by large vessels in summer for about another 800 miles, while junks and small steamers may travel even further than that. In all, the river is the lifeline of an area of about 50,000 square miles adjacent to Shanghai, with a population of some forty million souls. It is reckoned that Shanghai is the distributing port for more than one tenth of the world’s inhabitants.


Less than fifty years ago, the first electrically operated manufacturing plant was established in Shanghai. Since then, there has been tremendous growth in the city’s industrial sector. It is estimated that there are now over 2,500 factories in Shanghai, of which about 80 are cotton mills and 120 cotton weaving plants. Cotton is one of the principal sources of Shanghai’s prosperity, and the city is one of the world’s principal cotton manufacturing centres. Of all the various factories in Shanghai, around 2000 are Chinese-owned.




The Chit System


This payment system is used extensively in Shanghai. Customers sign chits for services (such as restaurant and bar bills, theatre tickets, taxi fares, etc.) under the name of their company. At the end of each month, Chinese shroffs take the chits and go to the company offices to collect payment. The only hiccup in this otherwise very convenient system is when individuals refuse to pay. Fortunately, this is fairly rare. Chits can be handed from one person to another, thus transferring the debt to them. The company pays the money to whomever brings the chit to the office to be redeemed.








Public Utilities


Shanghai has excellent public utility services, which are both up-to-date and efficient.


The Shanghai Waterworks Co., Ltd., and the Shanghai Gas Co., Ltd., are owned by British interests, while the Shanghai Mutual Telephone Co. is largely American-owned. Light and power services are operated by the Shanghai Municipal Council, which bought the Shanghai Electric Company in 1893.


The gas company serves the entire city, having merged with the company which operated in the French Concession in 1886. Gas costs $2.85 per 1000 cubic feet, and the company lists 13,384 consumers.


The waterworks are supplied from the Hwangpu River, which is one of the most polluted water sources in the entire world. Despite this, the top-rate filtration methods employed by the company give a bacterial reduction rate of 99.9%, a standard the equal of any and superior to many in the West.