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Shanghai’s French Concession

First glimpse of Tianzifang.

First glimpse of Tianzifang.

Motorbike drivers in plastic ponchos squint through a morning shower and a bright mosaic of umbrellas hovers like a cloud above sidewalk pedestrians.

 

A block away, the tiled roofs, dormers, and upstairs terraces of the Tianzifang neighborhood seem to be huddled together against the rain.

 

Visitors undeterred by rain.

Visitors undeterred by rain.

 

Beneath them is a squat collection of buildings separated only by occasional entrances to narrow lanes.  These are among the few authentic remains of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

 

It was established seven years after the British first arrived in 1842, and occupied a strip of land between the British Concession and Old Shanghai.  It was later expanded to stretch further inland.

 

Store signage among maze of power lines.

Store signage among maze of power lines.

The French at first joined the merger of British and American interests that became the International Settlement, but soon withdrew from the consortium.  One result is that the French Concession developed its own unique style.

 

Silk art shop.

Silk art shop.

 

Beginning in the 1920s, resident British and American merchants began to build more spacious houses in the newer part of the French Concession.

 

Already the center of Catholicism in Shanghai, the area soon developed into the city’s premier residential and retail district.

 

 

Lemon grass farm.

Lemon grass farm.

 

It also began to attract residents of other nationalities, among which Russians were among the most prominent.

 

The first émigrés arrived in the wake of Russia’s 1917 revolution and another wave followed the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931.

 

The Russians presence in Shanghai was large enough that two of their Orthodox churches remain standing.

 

 

China 009 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

There are many artisan galleries, including this work in stained glass.

 

Invading Japanese forces at first declined to occupy the foreign settlements, and nearly a million Chinese fled to the protection of the French Concession.  Their refuge was short-lived.

 

In 1943, the Vichy French signed the territory over to the Japanese puppet government in Nanking, a transfer reaffirmed by France’s post-war government in 1946.

 

Street food assembly line.

Street food assembly line.

 

The Concession remained largely unchanged during the early decades of Communist rule, but unregulated redevelopment in the late 1980s and early 1990s tore many of its old neighborhoods apart.

 

Narrow lanes and eclectic cuisine.

Narrow lanes and eclectic cuisine.

 

The former French Club and its gardens were gutted to make room for the high-rise Okura Garden Hotel.  It was not until early in this millennium that the government began to enforce more stringent development and planning controls.

 

English-style tea shop.

English-style tea shop.

 

Today, fewer than ten per cent of the Concession’s original structures remain.  That the Tianzifang neighborhood has survived at all is due to efforts of local business owners, residents, and artisans to block demolition plans.

 

China 011 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang 2015-03-30

Tianzifang is a smorgasbord of foreign cuisine.

 

This part of the Concession was built in the 1930s as a residential district in an architectural style called Shikumen that originated in Shanghai.

 

It’s crisscrossed by intimate lanes that are today lined with art galleries, craft stores, and design studios.

 

China 013 Shanghai French Concession Tianzifang

The British legacy survives.

Despite the trendy foreign goods displayed many of their shelves, this place retains much of its original look and feel.  There’s an eclectic collection of cafés, tea houses, bars, and restaurants which serve almost every Asian cuisine, as well as European and American foods.

 

Hookah bar.

Hookah bar.

 

Wandering this maze is like taking a walk through the Kasbah.   There are no through walkways and every lane seems to end in yet another.  It’s hard to get lost, though, because nothing is more than a few blocks from a main street.

 

Faceless cooks and fast food.

Faceless cooks and fast food Chinese style.

Just when it seems that there’s nothing more to see, the entrance to the local farmers’ market appears and even from the street it begs to be explored… but that’s for the next post.

 

Just joining “21 Days In China”?  Start from the beginning right here.   Or browse these Shanghai highlights: 

 

The Bund's old metereological tower (foreground) with Pudong Financial District (background) across the river.

The Bund’s old meteorological tower (foreground) with Pudong Financial District (background) across the river.

The Bund is strung along Shanghai’s riverfront like a mirage transported there from a different place and time.  The design of its buildings is  eclectic, but indisputably European and clearly not of this century.

 

Sitting side-by-side  in this life-sized architectural museum are examples of  Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque Revival styles.  Later structures were built in the Beaux-Arts and Art Deco styles.

 

Formerly (right to left): China Merchants' Bank Bldg. (1897), Nishin Navigation Co. (1925), Union Insurance Bldg. (1922).

Formerly (right to left): China Merchants’ Bank Bldg. (1897), Nishin Navigation Co. (1925), Union Insurance Bldg. (1922).

 

Dozens of these historic buildings once  housed the consulates, banks, trading houses, and elite clubs of the European colonial powers, and of Japan,  the U.S., and Russia.

 

Today, the PRC’s red flag waves over every one.

 

 

The lion was a prominent symbol in both the British and Chinese cultures.

The lion was a prominent symbol for both the British and Chinese.

 

The Bund is a reminder of unprecedented interventions by Western colonial powers into China’s internal affairs that date back nearly 200 years.

 

By the early 1800’s, European and American demand for Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea had grown into a lop-sided balance of payments that was draining the silver reserves of Western trading nations.

 

Former 1923 HSBC Bank (left); 1927 Shanghai Customs House (right)

Former HSBC Bank (left, 1923); Shanghai Customs House (right, 1927)

 

 

 

When the English first began selling opium in China in an effort to restore the trade balance, China’s attempt to ban its sale led to the 1839 Opium War.

 

 

 

 

 

A century of history separates the cellphone talker and revolving door.

A century of history separates the cellphone talker and revolving door.

 

 

The victorious British imposed upon China the first of many “Unequal Treaties” which opened Shanghai and other Chinese “Treaty Ports” to trade with the British and later with other industrial nations.

 

Within the walls of the Treaty Port trading concessions, Western nations controlled tariffs and exercised sovereign legal jurisdiction.  The Ports were also home to Christian missionaries.

 

Beyond their walls, chronic food shortages triggered a string of Chinese rebellions,  and each further weakened the authority of  the central government.

 

 

 

Formerly (left to right): Yokohama Species Bank (1924), Yangzi Bldg. (1916), Jardine Matheson Bldg.(1920), Glen Line Building (1922)

Formerly (left to right): Yokohama Species Bank (1924), Yangzi Bldg. (1916), Jardine Matheson Bldg.(1920), Glen Line Building (1922)

 

The Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64 nearly succeeded before it was crushed by Western and Chinese Imperial troops, and old Shanghai was the scene of heavy fighting.  By the late 1800s, much of China had been carved up by foreign powers competing for spheres of influence.

 

Window into history, Shanghai Bund.

Window into history, Shanghai Bund.

In 1895, China suffered the added loss of its influence in Korea to Japanese invasion.

 

Resentment of foreign intervention in China was high, and helped to power the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900.

 

China 249 Shanghai Bund 2015-04-01

Pudong reflected in the windows of a Bund doorway.

 

The British ended the opium trade in 1907 only after China’s domestic production undercut their market.  By then, a popular revolt against the Manchu emperor was already brewing, and it succeeded in 1911.

Former China Merchants Bank Buildings (1897, left) (1907, right)

Former China Merchants Bank Buildings (1897, left) (1907, right)

 

Chinese warlords stepped into the political vacuum to control different regions of the country and compete for domination of the central government.

 

Gated entrance to the Waldorf Hotel (formerly the Shanghai Club, 1910)

Gated entrance to the Waldorf Hotel (formerly the Shanghai Club, 1910)

 

By 1937, when the Japanese invaded mainland China, the country had been locked in civil war for nearly a decade.

 

For the next five years, the International Settlement and the separate French Concession were surrounded by Japanese occupiers and Chinese revolutionaries.

 

Despite the political turmoil, Shanghai remained the only place in the world to offer an unconditional haven for Jews escaping from the Nazis, and the refugees lived in what became Shanghai’s Jewish ghetto.

 

Former Bank of Communications Bldg. (1948)

Former Bank of Communications Bldg. (1948)

A museum and synagogue still stands on the site.  It’s one of the few regrets of my Chinese trip that timing prevented me from visiting them.

 

Foreign influence in Shanghai ended when the Japanese Army entered and occupied the remainder of the city following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 

Sculptured lamps, Shanghai Bund.

Sculptured lamps, Shanghai Bund.

 

Shanghai’s Europeans were required by the Japanese to wear identifying armbands.

 

They were evicted from their homes and many subjected to imprisonment, torture and death.

 

In 1943, Shanghai’s International Settlement was returned to China by a British Empire now allied with it against the Japanese.

 

 

 

Former Russo-Chinese Bank (1901)

Former Russo-Chinese Bank (1901)

 

 

By the time the Japanese surrendered, China had endured continuing war, rebellion, and civil war for nearly a century.

 

 

An increasing number of Chinese came to believe that only Marxism could free them from imperialism  and deliver economic development that would improve life for all.

 

 

 

The Peace Hotel, formerly Sassoon House.

The Peace Hotel, formerly Sassoon House.

 

 

In the decade following the Communists’ 1949 victory, many foreign commercial tenants were evicted from The Bund and their offices reoccupied by government institutions.

 

In the late 1970s, financial institutions were encouraged to return, and former hotels resumed operations.

 

Full-scale renovation began in 1986, including construction of a riverfront levee which rises 10 meters about the original quay.  The Bund  was reopened to the public in 2010.

 

 

Doors to the Peace Hotel (formerly Sassoon House, 1929)

Doors to the Peace Hotel (formerly Sassoon House, 1929)

 

Two words of advice:

  • One:  Even if you visit The Bund during the day, it’s worth a return to see it lit up at night.
  • Two:  Don’t miss the Jewish Museum

 

Just joining “21 Days In China”?  Start from the beginning right here.   Or browse these Shanghai highlights: 

Couryard, Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai

Courtyard, Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai

Like the Yu Garden, Shanghai’s Jade Buddha Temple is an island of tranquility in an urban sea.

Here, though, it is the worshipers – rather than nature – which infuse it with a palpable spirituality.

 

The Phoenix often appears with the Dragon as yin and yang.

The Phoenix often appears with the Dragon as yin and yang.

 

The Temple sits on an otherwise obscure side street on the city’s  north side in a neighborhood made up mostly of homes and shops of two or three stories.  The new high-rise pushing skyward on the adjoining block feels out-of-place.

 

The temple’s street-facing wall is tastefully and classically Chinese in style, but unassuming.  Visitors wander unhurriedly in and out of its gate, which connects along a short promenade to a courtyard.

 

Burnt incense offering and censer.

Burnt incense offering and censer.

The feeling here is uncrowded despite the number of people present.  There is no pushing or jostling, and conversation among onlookers is brief and whispered.

 

The air is heavy with the haze and fragrance of incense mixed with the sound of chants.

 

Overhead, strings of red Chinese lanterns converge upon the open face of a building which runs the length of the courtyard.

 

Coin offerings awaiting collection.

Coin offerings awaiting collection.

 

Coin offerings which sustain the temple are scattered around fountains or tucked into the mouths of sculptures, awaiting collection.

 

Bright banners hung all along its face nearly obscure the outsized golden images standing on an altar within.

 

jade Temple courtyard.

jade Temple courtyard.

 

 

 

 

A stage-like dais extends from the temple into the courtyard.  There, a row of bald-shaven, saffron-robed monks face the golden statues and chant in prayer alongside black-robed novitiates.

 

 

 

 

Woman in private prayer.

Woman in private prayer.

 

When their service is completed, the monks are replaced by ordinary Chinese and the prayers begin again, many this time privately.

 

Elders deep in meditative prayer.

Elders deep in meditative prayer.

 

Behind the screen of banners, elders with saffron robes cloaked in red sit at the foot of the golden statues in trance-like prayer.

 

They seem oblivious to both worshipers outside and tourists filing deeper into the Temple around them.  The Buddhas here are not the tranquil, meditative variety that I’ve seen outside of China, but elaborately costumed images which take many forms.

 

These Buddhas are distinctively Chinese.

These Buddhas are distinctively Chinese.

The difference is the result of Buddhism merging with Daoism and folk religions after it arrived in China along trade routes from India and Central Asia around 200 BCE.

 

Unlike the Indian and Tibetan traditions which revere and portray Buddha solely as a teacher, Chinese Buddhists came to adore him also as a god to whom they prayed for help and salvation.  Even today, many Chinese Buddhists also pray to Taoist gods and to their own ancestors.

 

Novitiate checking email between services.

Novitiate checking email between services.

While early Chinese images of Buddha shared the same gaunt frame, gestures and poses as seen in India and Tibet, the conversion of the teacher into a Chinese deity progressively worked a change in appearance.

 

Statues later found along the Silk Road depict the Indian teacher as a Greek god.  Twenty-first century Chinese know Buddha in a myriad of forms ranging from a heavily armed, armor-clad warrior to the jolly fat man whose belly is rubbed for luck.

 

Marble replica of the white Jade Buddha.

Marble replica of the white Jade Buddha.

The Jade Buddha Temple’s namesake arrived from Burma by sea a century and a half ago, and is a reflection of the kinder, gentler Buddha of Indian tradition.

 

A large, marble Reclining Buddha dominates the inner recesses of the temple, but it’s not to be mistaken for the smaller, jade original, which can be viewed on the second floor for a small admission fee.  Photos of it are prohibited.

 

Buddhism still attracts young Chinese adherents.

Buddhism still attracts young Chinese adherents.

Over the course of China’s long history, Buddhists were alternately embraced and purged by its rulers.  The Emperor ordered the elimination of Buddhism early in the first millennium, but it survived in some of the separate kingdoms which succeeded it.

 

Tibetan prayer wheel.

Tibetan prayer wheel.

 

The court of China’s last emperor embraced a blend of Tibetan Buddhism and Confucianism.  When the 1960’s Cultural Revolution targeted all religion for eradication in the 1960’s Red Guards attacked and even destroyed some of China’s most ancient Buddhist temples.  Regular worship was not resumed until 1985.

 

I was told that political groups are currently banned from activity within churches, and that churches are prohibited from preaching beyond their walls.  It’s a decidedly different take on separation of Church and State.

 

A tranquil corner.

A tranquil corner.

As witnessed by the number of young adults worshiping today, Buddhism’s popularity in China has rebounded over the past two decades.  Around 6% of today’s Chinese – slightly more than the number of Catholics in the U.S. – identify themselves as Buddhists, and many more practice religions significantly influenced by it.

 

Everything in China seems to carry symbolic meaning.

Everything in China seems to carry symbolic meaning.

 

I emerge from the Temple cocoon and back into the world of sidewalk hawkers groaning buses, and.  kamikaze motorbike drivers.

 

I reflect on how the influence of Chinese culture changed the face of Buddhism, and I can’t help but wonder how Chinese culture may yet reinvent capitalism.

 

China 119 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

It’s common to see children carried on motorbikes.

Some of the best insights into other cultures come from watching what’s happening on their streets and from talking with those who live there.

 

Fortunately, English-subtitled street and store signs are common in Shanghai’s business and shopping districts, and  around the most popular tourist attractions.

 

These streets are well-policed, and navigating the nearby neighborhoods requires no knowledge of Chinese for anyone with an English-labeled map and a modest sense of adventure.

 

English has been increasingly spoken here since the British occupied the treaty ports in the 1840’s.  These days the American dialect is heard at least as commonly.

 

Seniors are particularly revered in China.

Seniors are particularly revered in China.

 

China promotes English literacy in its schools, but during my visit I met several Chinese whose English was impressively self-taught from books, audio, and movies.

 

Walking the streets of Shanghai makes it hard to doubt that there are far more English-speaking Chinese than vice-versa, or  that more of China’s English-speaking foreigners live in Shanghai than anywhere but, perhaps, Hong Kong.

 

China 120 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Smartphones and selfie sticks are everywhere.

 

Like most places I’ve visited, China has laws and customs which suggest themselves as practices worthy of adoption by others.

 

This is not to suggest that criticisms of China’s record on issues including human rights and carbon emissions should be ignored, but that there’s more to the Chinese story than the headlines of business and geo-politics can convey.

 

What I share here is drawn solely from personal observations and anecdotes told to me by locals.

China 112 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Street vendor with whistles and friend await the next tourist bus.

 

China 127 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31


Red shoes are wildly popular this year.

 

One apparent legacy of the Communist “bottom-up” ideology is the priority given to promoting quality of life for the Chinese masses.

China 122 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Just hanging out.

 

 

In Shanghai, Beijing, and Zi’an I saw modern subway systems and robust bus networks.  Some large cities are also linked by  high speed rail and all three modes of transit are connected by shared stations.

 

Burgeoning motor traffic moves along modern expressways, but major surface streets in larger cities have dedicated cycle lanes which are often fenced off from car and truck lanes.

 

The many public parks were well-landscaped – often to a pleasingly Chinese aesthetic – and widely used.  New high-rise apartments face generous green spaces.

China 133 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Only families with twins, minorities, and only-child couples can have more than one child

 

 

 

China’s forests were depleted during the Mao era and the nation is a net importer of timber.  Logging is restricted, and tree-planting is widespread.

 

I saw far fewer panhandlers both downtown and around tourist attractions than on the streets than in similarly-sized American or European cities.  I can’t say the same for pickpockets; the same constant vigilance as elsewhere is a must while in China.

 

I was told that the government pays unemployment benefits, but only after exhausting all options to find work for applicants.  Applications are first posted in the applicant’s local neighborhood to afford whistleblowers the opportunity to flag fraudulent claims.

 

 

Well under 10% of citizens are Communist Party members, and Chinese with whom I spoke seemed generally indifferent to domestic politics – other than the current campaign to root out corruption – as long as prosperity continues.

 

Chinese of all ages appeared fit and lean.  Many working class Chinese still walk or ride bicycles or perform physical labor.  Most apartment buildings built decades ago lack elevators, and it’s not uncommon for their residents to climb a half dozen flights of stairs.

 

China 125 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Tourists from all over Asia also come to China.

 

 

The people also appeared to be well-fed.  China’s often-maligned one-child policy averted a humanitarian disaster by reducing the number of mouths to be fed by more than three hundred million.

 

For Chinese aged thirty  years or younger, the days of food shortages are at most a childhood memory.

 

 

 

Asians were among the  earliest adopters of camera phones and smartphones.  In China this technology brought phone and internet connectivity to a large segment of the population for the first time.  Smartphones are pervasive both in China’s cities and countryside.

China 132 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Waiting for the morning bus.

 

 

Camera phones feed a seeming addiction of the Chinese to picture-taking.  There were plenty of selfie sticks in use at every tourist attraction.

 

Older Chinese frequently wave off  photographers or shield their faces, but I was invited by younger people on dozens of occasions to co-star in their selfies.

 

 

 

It’s common in the U.S. to see people isolated from each other by texting or earbuds.  In China, smartphone cameras seemed far more often to bring people together.  Some cultural trivia:  The Chinese attach great significance to lucky numbers, and cellphone numbers which contain them can sell for a premium price.

China 130 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Born after Mao.

 

 

 

If Mao’s corpse was not embalmed for public viewing in Beijing, he would be turning over in his grave at the look of the new China.

 

China’s income gap seems to be widening less because workers’ wages are falling than because the new prosperity has created a middle and upper class.  The rising tide seems to be lifting many boats.

 

On the streets of downtown Shanghai, well-to-do residents drive foreign or domestic luxury cars.  The same fashions appear here as in designer boutiques of Milan and Paris, and along Fifth Avenue and Rodeo drive.

 

China 120 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Smartphone always handy.

 

 

 

 

 

A few of China’s newly-rich have even undergone cosmetic surgery to ‘Westernize’ their features.

 

(Just as Westerners see Asian eyes as an icon of racial identity, Asians see Westerners’ noses… hence the Chinese slang, “Big Noses.”)

 

I heard also heard the word ”banana’ used  as a slang label  for Chinese (“yellow on the outside….”) who exchange their Asian identity for a Western one.   Interesting how the language used by too such different cultures to talk about race is so similar.

 

 

China 111 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Hanging out.

 

 

China 114 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Another Asian tourist.

 

Firearms are not the only weapons which Chinese are forbidden to own, and penalties for violators are stiff.

 

China shares borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan,  and metal detectors at public sites clearly reflects a concern with terrorism.

 

Still, I saw little presence of armed soldiers or militarized police.

 

China has a mandatory death penalty for homicide, manslaughter, rape, robbery, arson, bombings, planting of toxic substances and trafficking in dangerous drugs.

 

 

 

All of this gave me pause for reflection on the difference between the way Americans and Chinese set their social priorities, and the way that they evaluate trade-off’s for each.

 

And it makes it easy to conclude that each has something to learn from the other.

 

Millenials.

Millenials.

 

Next up:  “Shanghai’s Jade Buddha Temple”

 

 

See my earlier posts from “21 Days In China”:

 

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

The Shanghai Museum is so expansive that it’s not to be taken in and a drive-by visit… or to be done justice by a single blogpost.

This second and final Museum post visits its dazzling collection of Chinese porcelain, and the intricately decorated costumes of China’s national minorities.

 

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

 

PORCELAIN GALLERY

Porcelain was invented in China around two thousand years ago.  It’s made by firing clay mixtures to create a light but strong ceramic which lends itself to decorative art.

This early porcelain, known as celadon, was jade green to bluish in color.  Within a couple of centuries, the technique had been refined to produce a translucent porcelain.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

During the European Middle Ages, the popularity of tea drinking in China spurred the production of porcelain tea ware.   This, in turn, increased exports via the northern Silk Road and the southern Chama Road.  Porcelain vessels were highly valued in the Muslim world.

Porcelain figurine on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain figurine on display in the Shanghai Museum.

 

It is also during this period that harder, white porcelain was introduced.

 

A Muslim visitor wrote at the time that, “They have in China a very fine clay with which they make vases which are as transparent as glass; water is seen through them. ”

 

 

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain vase on display in the Shanghai Museum.

The quality of kaolin deposits around the southeastern town of Jingdezhen made its porcelain most highly prized.

Around the turn of the first millennium, Jingdezhen was designated as the imperial production center, a role which it retained for nearly 900 years.

It was here that blue porcelain was first produced by adding cobalt.   This blue and white porcelain was highly prized in the Muslim world.

By the 1400’s, technical innovation made possible the addition of manganese, which prevented cobalt from bleeding and distorting fine artwork during kiln firing.

 

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

Porcelain plate on display in the Shanghai Museum.

 

White porcelain remained in use for ritualistic and religious purposes, and by the 1600’s seafaring merchants were bringing it to Europe, where the French called it “blanc de Chine.”

When the Dutch auctioned thousands of Ming porcelain pieces captured from Portuguese cargo ships, it ignited a porcelain mania in Europe.  These pieces were so highly prized that they became known as “white gold.”  Wealthy Europeans and Americans began ordering personalized porcelain art featuring designs including portraits and coats of arms.

Although Europeans had learned to make porcelain by the 1700’s, Chinese porcelain remained recognized for its higher quality and relatively lower cost.

 

MINORITIES GALLERY

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

The museum also houses the Minorities Gallery, where traditional costumes in a diverse array of designs and colors are on display.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

 

While more than 90% of the nation’s population are Han Chinese, China officially recognizes 55 ethnic minorities.

 

They are concentrated largely – although not exclusively – in the west and north, and include Mongol, Turkic, and Tibetan peoples.  Many of these are readily distinguishable from each other  by their facial features.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Ethnic minorities are represented in China’s national Congress as well in local government.

The Chinese  Constitution not only guarantees equal rights to all ethnic groups, but charges the government with promoting their economic and cultural development.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

 

The result is a sort of affirmative action marked by preferential economic development aid, preferred access to higher education, and an exemption from the 35-year old “one-child” restriction.

 

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Costume on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Some minorities even live in “ethnic autonomous areas” which guarantee freedom to use their languages and maintain their cultural and social customs.

 

Shoulder bag on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

Shoulder bag on display in the Minorities Gallery, Shanghai Museum.

 

While the Museum exhibition includes, textiles, embroideries, metal and lacquer wares, sculpture, pottery, vessels plaited from cane and bamboo, and wooden masks, it’s the costumes which tug at the visitor most compellingly.

 

Next up:  “Human Faces Of Shanghai”

 

See my earlier posts from “21 Days In China”:

 

Shanghai Museum exterior

Shanghai Museum exterior

The Shanghai Museum’s stunning collection presents an intimate picture of Chinese culture and history that makes it a great introduction to China for the first time visitor.

 

The museum has gathered together more than a million ancient art objects including bronzes, ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, jade, coins, furniture.

It is also home to the Minority Nationalities gallery.

 

Shanghai Museum atrium interior

Shanghai Museum atrium interior

This museum is so vast and engaging that it takes no less than a full day to fully absorb its exhibits.

 

I’m not an aficionado of home furnishings or jewelry, but for my shorter visit I singled out furniture, jade, porcelain and the Minorities Gallery on the grounds that they would afford greater insight into the daily lives of ancient Chinese.

 

FURNITURE GALLERY

The Chinese were already producing intricately engraved and painted furniture as early as 1500 BCE.

 

Secretary, Shanghai Museum

Secretary, Shanghai Museum

Its style is characterized by the use of thick lacquer finishes, detailed engravings, and paintings.

Some of the features now widely regarded as Chinese began appearing more prominently around the start of the European Middle Ages.

 

Chair with carved back, Shanghai Museum

Chair with carved back, Shanghai Museum

 

By the beginning of the second millennium, chairs, benches, and stools were in common throughout Chinese society.

 

The newest and most complex designs were reserved for  use by officials and the upper classes.

 

Decorative panel, Shanghai Museum

Decorative panel, Shanghai Museum

 

It’s an interesting bit of trivia that the Chinese introduced the folding stool, adapting it from designs of nomadic tribes to the North and West who valued them for their collapsability and light weight.

 

Carved chair and bas-relief panel, Shanghai Museum.

Carved chair and bas-relief panel, Shanghai Museum.

 

 

When the Chinese ban on imports was first lifted in the 1800’s, larger quantities and varieties of woods began to flood in from other parts of Asia.

 

These denser woods lent themselves to works marked by even finer detail and more elaborate joinery.

 

Decorative panel, Shanghai Museum

Decorative panel, Shanghai Museum

 

Jade carving, Shanghai Museum

Jade carving, Shanghai Museum

JADE GALLERY

 

 

The Chinese began to carve jade as early as 3500 BCE.

 

Simple ornaments with bead, button, and tubular shapes are among the earliest known jade artifacts.

 

 

 

 

 

Jade carving, Shanghai Museum

Jade carving, Shanghai Museum

 

Many gemstones were considered by the Chinese to have properties for detecting and neutralizing poison.

Jade has been traditionally considered to have particularly strong powers.

 

Jade brooch, Shanghai Museum

Jade brooch, Shanghai Museum

 

 

 

Similar beliefs were widely shared by people in the pre-Hispanic Americas and in Renaissance Europe.

Aristocrats of the Han Dynasty  were buried in jade suits intended to preserve the body from decay.

Jade was also used for adze heads, knives, and other weapons which required delicate shaping and finishing.

Ceremonial blades began to appear in China during the European Middle Ages.

 

 

 

Jade carving, Shanghai Museum

Jade carving, Shanghai Museum

 

 

By the dawn of the first millennium, new metal-working technologies produced finer tools which made it possible to carve jade into more delicate decorative objects.

 

There are actually two types of jade.  Jadeite has about the same hardness as quartz.  Nephrite is slightly softer, but is more resistant to breakage than jadeite.

 

 

 

 

Jade brooch, Shanghai Museum

Jade brooch, Shanghai Museum

Nephrite appears as creamy white in color, as well as in a range of green colors.  The white variety – known in China as “mutton fat” jade – was the most highly prized until early in the nineteenth century, when the jadeite variety became more popular.

 

Jadeite displays more color variations, including blue, lavender-mauve, pink, and green.  Translucent emerald-green jadeite is the most sought-after variety.

 

 

Jade scultpure miniature, Shanghai Museum

Jade scultpure miniature, Shanghai Museum

 

In the nineteenth century, a vivid green jade from Burma known as Kingfisher Jade became the preferred gemstone among China’s rulers and imperial scholars.  Much of the jade carved in China today is still mined in northern Burma.

See more of the Shanghai Museum in my next post.

 

The Shanghai Museum is centrally located within the sprawling People’s Park.  Both sit on the site of the former Shanghai Race Club organized by and for Europeans living in the foreign concessions.  They’re readily accessible by Metro lines, city busses, and Big Bus Tours.

P.S. – Like many other foreign tourist attractions and upscale hotels, restrooms in the Shanghai Museum have Western-style commodes that distinguish them from the squat-over-a-hole variety of toilet usually found in older and more local venues.  Be forewarned.

 

See these earlier posts from “21 Days In China”

 

Looking through the Garden Gate into Old Shanghai.

Looking through the Garden Gate into Old Shanghai.

Space has always been at a premium in China.  Its population first reached 100 million around the time of the Crusades, when London’s population numbered less than 50,000.

Today China has 3 cities larger than twenty million people, 14 of five million or more, and 40 of over one million.

 

Walking through the entrance gate of Yu Garden.

Walking through the entrance gate of Yu Garden.

 

 

It’s no wonder, then, that urban parks are today an important fixture of the Chinese urban landscape, or that the classic Chinese garden courtyard has provided a respite from city congestion for centuries.

An example of a carefully composed tableau.

An example of a carefully composed tableau.

Shanghai’s Yu Garden, adjacent to Old Shanghai, is such an oasis.

Driving there – or anywhere else in Shanghai – is not recommended for visitors, for this city has some of the world’s most unforgiving traffic.

Tree branches float like clouds.

Tree branches float like clouds.

 

Cars have right-of-way over pedestrians and motor scooters are universally oblivious to both traffic signals and crosswalks.

Even so, Shanghai’s population of nearly 25 million owns only about 8 million cars, because the biggest Chinese cities fight air pollution by limiting the number of registrations issued.

A "Moon Gate" passage between landscape tableaus, Yu Garden, Shanghai.

A “Moon Gate” passage between landscape tableaus, Yu Garden, Shanghai.

The few hundred thousand available each year are awarded through an on-line lottery.

Old cars are rare, since they have become affordable only as a result of the recent prosperity.  Luxury cars, however, are abundant, since one-time registration fees can approach the cost of the vehicle.

 

A tree stands like a sculpture awaiting the arrival of summer.

A tree stands like a sculpture awaiting the arrival of summer.

Fortunately for the visitor, the Yu Gardens and Old Shanghai are a regular stop on Big Bus Tours, which operates double-decker busses along three routes that pass most of the city’s most popular sites.

One fare buys unlimited on-and-off privileges and free connecting service for 24 hours, and headset tour narration offers channels in many languages.

 

The Imperial lion is a symbol that recurs in Chinese architecture.

The Imperial lion is a symbol that recurs in Chinese architecture.

Most Chinese landscape gardens stand in striking contrast to the geometrically manicured sprawls of Europe’s palaces and chateaux.

The Yu Garden is a shining example of intimate spaces created by scholars, poets, and retired bourgeoisie for reflection and escape from the outside world.

 

Water-carved rock is part of a composed formation.

Water-carved rock is part of a composed formation.

 

 

These gardens create an idealized miniature landscape meant to express harmony between man and nature.

 

 

Cottage-sized buildings dot the grounds, but are integrated into the overall design.

Cottage-sized buildings dot the grounds, but are integrated into the overall design.

 

 

 

 

They are usually enclosed by walls and include ponds, rock works, trees and flowers, and pavilions connected by winding paths and zig-zag galleries.

 

Moving from structure to structure reveals a series of carefully composed scenes that unroll like a scroll of landscape paintings.

 

 

 

 

Carved rooftop dragon head, Yu Garden, Shanghai.

Carved rooftop dragon head, Yu Garden, Shanghai.

 

 

The Yu Garden dates from the mid-1500’s, and its construction took nearly twenty years.

 

At the time it was Shanghai’s largest and most prestigious, but its expense ruined its builders, and it passed through a succession of owners until it was renovated and first opened to the public in the 1700’s.

 

Detail from cottage rooftop, Yu Garden, Shanghai.

Detail from cottage rooftop, Yu Garden, Shanghai.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a miracle of sorts that the Yu Gardens has survived.

During the First Opium War, the British army used it as a base of operations, and the Taiping Rebellion was later headquartered here.

 

 

 

 

 

Decorative .window grate, Yu Garden, Shanghai

Decorative .window grate, Yu Garden, Shanghai

 

By the time Imperial troops aided by the British and French retook the garden, the original structures had been nearly destroyed. They were damaged again by the Japanese in 1942.

 

Traditional "Moon Gate" doorway.

Traditional “Moon Gate” doorway.

 

Repaired by the Shanghai government in the late 1950’s, Yu garden was re-opened to the public in the 1960’s and has since been declared a national monument.

 

Modern high-rises may tower beyond its walls, but beneath the canopy of its trees they are out of sight, and the cacophony of streets outside is muted.

 

Poet's study, Yu Garden cottage, Shanghai.

Poet’s study, Yu Garden cottage, Shanghai.

 

The compact size belies the maze of walkways which meander among trees, flowers, and composed rock formation, and bridges that span brooks and ponds.

 

Each new point of view reveals a delicately composed scene otherwise unseen, and even reflections on the pond appear as intentional tableaus.

 

 

 

 

Springtime blossoms add brilliant color.

Springtime blossoms add brilliant color.

Fantastic carved figures cap the tiled rooftops of pavilions with eaves upturned at the corners.

When it’s finally time to pass through its gates back into the outside world, the feeling is not unlike waking from a peaceful dream.

 

See these earlier posts from my China trip, and come back for more of “21 Days In China”:

Reflections in a pond are part of the composition.

Reflections in a pond are part of the composition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Shanghai

The 128-story Shanghai Tower backdrops Old Shanghai.

The 128-story Shanghai Tower backdrops Old Shanghai.

The Old City of Shanghai stands on the site of a small ancient settlement which first came to prominence when upstream silting forced the move of dock and market activities downstream in the 12th and 13th centuries.

 

Shanghai soon became one of seven ports of entry designated to handle overseas trade, and Old Shanghai grew up around the customs house.

 

The improbably large load is a common sight in Chinese cities.

The improbably large load is a common sight in Chinese cities.

 

 

 

In the 1800’s, as foreign concessions developed into new urban areas, Chinese authority was effectively restricted to the old city.

 

In the late 1990’s and into the next decade, parts of Old Shanghai were redeveloped into a high rise hotels and residences, drastically changing the streetscape.

 

 

Old Shanghai shop.

Old Shanghai shop.

 

 

The development roused controversy, since it required the destruction of several houses of historical significance and demolition of the last surviving section of the old city wall.

 

Wide, circular streets now follow the vanished wall’s footprint.

 

 

Rooftops almost touch above narrow lanes.

Rooftops almost touch above narrow lanes.

 

In 2006, the Shanghai municipal government protected the remaining 34 streets of Old Shanghai as an historic landmark.

 

The Old City has been necessarily renovated, but its ancient winding streets and hundred-year-old stores still retain the flavor of old China

 

Bamboo steamers in local take-away food stand, Old Shanghai.

Bamboo steamers in local take-away food stand, Old Shanghai.

 

Most of the buildings now standing date from the 1600’s through the end of the 1800’s.

Shops here feature an incredible array of jewelry, porcelain, jade, and silk clothing, and there are a number of antique and curio shops.

China 117 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Businessmen sit in a tea house, Old Shanghai

 

American food chains including Baskin Robbins and Starbucks have opened here, but they’re sorely outnumbered by local take-away food stands, teahouses, and noodle houses.

 

There is also a seemingly endless number of shops selling snacks and sweets in flavors unheard-of in the West.

 

The Old Shangai afternoon crowd is mostly local.

The Old Shangai afternoon crowd is mostly local.

 

Not surprisingly, Starbucks serves no Chai in the land that introduced tea to the world, but Chinese green, white and oolong teas are offered along with local specialties like a Lychee & Strawberry Mooncake or Green Tea Latte.

 

Very surprisingly, neither Starbucks or its many Chinese imitators serve decaffeinated coffee.

 

Modern ads and skyscraper make for sharp contrasts.

Modern ads and skyscraper make for sharp contrasts.

 

 

 

While Old Shanghai is quite tranquil early in the morning, tour busses filled with badged Westerners and flag-carrying tour guides typically arrive before midday to beat the rush.

 

The crowd becomes increasingly robust as the day wears on, when it becomes a people-watcher’s delight.  Couples of all ages wander the narrow lanes and teens and pre-teens hang out here.

 

 

 

Police offers stroll through Old Shanghai.

Police offers stroll through Old Shanghai.

 

There are few Westerners around in the afternoon, but foreigners have been a feature of Shanghai life for so long that they invite no second look from local visitors.

 

Several unarmed police officers walk casually through the main courtyard, the first that I’ve so far seen walking a beat.

 

Old Shanghai

Old Shanghai

 

While Shanghai, like any city its size, has its share of pickpockets and motor scooter thieves, there is no sense of insecurity when it comes to personal safety.

 

Possession of weapons – from firearms to swords – is forbidden in China and penalties are severe.

 

When shopping, don’t be surprised if purchases are not rung up, but instead totaled and displayed on a hand calculator.

 

Visitors feed the coy in Old Shanghai.

Visitors feed the coy in Old Shanghai.

 

Also don’t be surprised when a merchant who speaks little English pulls up a language translator on a smartphone and the conversation proceeds as tag-team translation.

 

Fortunately for the tourist, China’s last dynasty, the Manchus, replaced cumbersome Chinese numerical characters with the Arabic numbering system used in the West, and it has been in prominent usage within China since early in the 19th century.

 

Zig-zag bridge traditionally thwarts demons, who travel only in straight lines.

Tradition holds that the zig-zag bridge thwarts demons, who travel only in straight lines.

 

While my guide offers assurances that merchandise in Old Shanghai is the real deal, he also offers cautionary advice on shopping in other areas frequented by tourists.

 

China has a well-deserved reputation for knock-offs of Western products, so it’s “buyer beware” or your silk may turn out to be polyester.

 

Auto ownership is skyrocketing in Shanghai, but scooters are still the only transport for many.

Auto ownership is skyrocketing in Shanghai, but scooters are still the only transport for many.

 

Such retail fraud – along with change rendered in  counterfeit Chinese currency or an obscure foreign currency can be widespread in areas frequented by tourists.  It proves to be sound advice for my next 20 days in China.

 

Shanghai’s tranquilly beautiful Yu Garden is adjacent to the marketplace, and it’s the topic of my next post.

 

See also my related posts The Other Side Of The World, and Capitalist China.

 

 

Capitalist China

Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower.

Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower.

One of the most striking features of Shanghai’s spectacular skyline is the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower.

Completed in 1994.  It is still one of the world’s tallest broadcast antennas (468 m./1,535 ft.).

 

Pudong skyline, as seen from downtown Shanghai.

Pudong skyline, as seen from downtown Shanghai.

 

The Tower stands on the east bank of the Huangpu River across from the historic city center in the Pudong (“East Bank”)District.

Pudong is home to Shanghai’s tallest skyscrapers including Jin Mao Tower (421 m./1,380 ft.), the Shanghai World Financial Center (492 m./1,614 ft.), and the nearly completed Shanghai Tower (632 m./2,073 ft.)

View from the base of the Pearl Tower.

View from the base of the Pearl Tower.

The Pearl Tower observation deck affords a spectacular bird-eye view of the city, and is a good place to get the lay of the land.

With a population of 1.4 billion, it’s no surprise that the Chinese excel at moving staggering numbers of people around with efficiency, and the crowd at the Pearl Tower is no exception.

Promenade at outside the Pearl Tower.

Promenade at outside the Pearl Tower.

 

The lines move briskly, and elevator attendants uniformed and coiffed as immaculately as pre-deregulation U.S. flight attendants keep the foot traffic flowing

 

As I look out over this sprawling city of 25 million, I can’t help but think that anyone looking down upon the Manhattan skyline in the 1920’s must have been similarly awestruck.

Veiw from the Pearl Tower. The tall building is the 128 story Shanghai Tower.

Veiw from the Pearl Tower. The tall building is the 128 story Shanghai Tower.

 

There’s an impression of incredible energy pulsing through the landscape below, and an inescapable sense of looking through a window into the epicenter of the global future.

Pudong is the site of the city’s Finance & Trade Zone and the Shanghai Stock Exchange, making it China’s financial hub.

 

Downtown Shanghai from the Pearl Tower.

Downtown Shanghai from the Pearl Tower.

 

The District also encompasses a high-tech park, the 2010 Shanghai Expo Center, and the Pudong International Airport.

 

Incredibly, this entire area was farmland until 1993.

 

 

Shanghai's west bank from the Pearl Tower.

Shanghai’s west bank from the Pearl Tower.

 

Such explosive growth is the product of an economy that’s been growing at almost 10% annually – about three times the global average – since Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms more than 30 years ago.

 

 

 

 

China’s shift from a managed economy to a market economy has grown its GDP from $147.3 billion in 1978 to $11.2 trillion in 2015.  The Peoples’ Republic of China is now the world’s largest economy.

It’s hardly surprising that the Chinese people have embraced a free market economy so enthusiastically, or that they excel at it.  The Chinese already were trading their goods via the Silk Road before the birth of Christ.

The success of Chinese joint ventures with foreign manufacturing and technology giants seem to reflect the enterprising nature of a nation of shopkeepers now unbridled following three decades of Mao’s managed economy.

 

High-rises cover Shanghai for miles.

High-rises cover Shanghai for miles.

 

The nation not only manufactures more cars – about 22 million – than any other country  (almost 3 times as many as the U.S.) – but is also the biggest market for new cars.  China became the world’s biggest exporter in 2009, and Shanghai recently surpassed Singapore as the world’s largest containerized freight port

 

The Maglev Train pulls into the station.

The Maglev Train pulls into the station.

Construction of Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport began in 1997.

 

It is now the world’s third busiest cargo airport, the busiest international hub in mainland China, and one of the world’s 20 busiest passenger airports.

 

It is connected to the city by Shanghai’s Maglev Train, which uses magnets to lift and propel it.

 

 

The reduced friction allows the train to move at very high speeds, and it cuts a highway drive of nearly one hour to 8 minutes, reaching a peak speed of 430 kmp/267 mph).

 

The Maglev Train reaches its peak speed of 430 kmh/267 mph.

The Maglev Train reaches its peak speed of 430 kmh/267 mph.

 

A third passenger terminal and two additional runways scheduled to open later this year will raise annual capacity to 80 million passengers and 6 million tons of freight.  DHL’s Pudong cargo hub is the largest in Asia.

 

 

I’m struck by the amazing contrast between the way in which nominally Communist China has advanced even as the republics of the former Soviet Union have devolved.

 

Only ferries crossed the river thirty years ago, and still do.

Only ferries crossed the river thirty years ago, and still do.

 

The irony is also not lost upon me that Pudong’s modern skyscrapers directly face the city’s historic Bund.  It was from their Bund headquarters that the banking houses and merchant traders of the Western powers imposed their imperialism upon China, and first made Shanghai a financial and trading giant until its fortunes turned with the outbreak of World War II and the 30 years of isolation which followed.

 

The Bund as seen from the Pearl Tower.

The Bund as seen from the Pearl Tower.

This time around, the China is solidly in control of its own destiny, and is turning its new prosperity into better lives for countless millions of its people.

Shanghai's historic Bund with modern skyscraper background

Shanghai’s historic Bund with modern skyscraper background

As I board the twelve hour flight from Seattle to Shanghai, my mind is churning at the prospect of seeing up close and personal what I’ve otherwise seen only from a distance and through a Western lens.

Shanghai Old Town against modern apartments.

Shanghai Old Town against modern apartments.

 

 

Except for Made In China labels on products sold worldwide, China occupies an obscure place in the American consciousness.  My only genuine connection to the place I’m about to visit is my love of Chinese food, which I plan to shamelessly indulge.

 

Businessmen pause over tea in Shanghai

Businessmen pause over tea in Shanghai

In Europe and the Americas, the stamp of Western culture upon three continents creates common and familiar frames of reference.

 

In China I will be unable to speak or read the language. Religion, social customs, laws, and the political system will be alien.

 

Peaks in the Three Gorges area as seen from the river.

Peaks in the Three Gorges area as seen from the river.

And little of what I’ve been taught about China by American media seems likely to shed much light on the subject.

 

Since China’s great “opening up” in 1978, its Communist government has been morphing it from a managed economy to a market economy.

Shibaozhai Buddhist Temple, Chonquing Province

Shibaozhai Buddhist Temple, Chonquing Province

 

 

Headlines tout China’s economic ascendancy, but China has remained for Americans a distant and little understood culture since the two nations first began trading in the 1840’s as an outcome of the Opium Wars.

 

 

 

 

Panda at the Chongquing Zoo.

Panda at the Chongquing Zoo.

 

 

 

As recently as the 1930’s, China remained to most Westerners as remote and mysterious a place as the polar ice caps or the heart of Africa.

 

Misconceptions and stereotypes about China and its people were reinforced by media portrayals like the Charlie Chan movies, the Terry & The Pirates comic strip, and  Flash Gordon’s Emperor Ming.

 

Cardboard recycling in Beijing.

Cardboard recycling in Beijing.

 

 

 

It was not until Claire Chenault led the Flying Tigers into combat support of the Chinese that American perceptions were first refocused.

 

Even today it is not well known that China suffered nearly 20 million World War II casualties, including 8 million civilian victims of Japanese war crimes.

 

 

 

The Great Wall, just north of Beijing

The Great Wall, just north of Beijing

 

By  the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, China and Japan had already been at war for four years.

 

After Mao Zedong’s Communists swept Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists from power in 1949, China was seen by most Americans through the lens of anti-Communist hysteria, punctuated first by China’s entry into the Korean War and then by the Cultural Revolution.

 

 

Drum Tower, Xi'an.

Drum Tower, Xi’an.

 

Americans first began to see China differently upon Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing, but Cold War mentality still survives in perceptions of China as threatening adversary, if not on the battlefield then in the global marketplace.

 

I’m more interested in how the growth of capitalism in China stands against the commonly held American conviction that a capitalist economy and democratic form of government are inextricably linked.

 

Parked hand carts, Mt. Jiu Hua

Parked hand carts, Mt. Jiu Hua

The idea of this trip is to see not just the mega- cities, but towns and the rural interior.  Not just to tour popular sites, but to gain some insight into what makes the Chinese people and society tick.

 

My lessons begin with arrival at Shanghai’s Pudong International airport.  It’s bright, cutting-edge modern in design, and antiseptic.  The terminal is so vast that the view down its long concourse seems to reach the vanishing point.

 

Shanghai's Pudong International airport terminal.

Shanghai’s Pudong International airport terminal.

 

 

Such scale offers a lesson that will be often repeated in the coming days:  There’s enough “Big” in China to give any Texan an inferiority complex.

 

 

 

Chairman Mao's portrait, Forbidden City, Beijing

Chairman Mao’s portrait, Forbidden City, Beijing

 

 

It’s surprised at the almost non-existent presence of police or military.  Sharply uniformed Immigration officers are hospitable, and efficient.  Passengers with nothing to declare are waved around Customs.

 

The guide is waiting with a car.  The trip to the hotel on the city’s near west side takes nearly an hour on modern expressways, and on this Sunday evening traffic is brisk.

 

In the darkness outside, city buildings are lit up by light sculptures and giant-sized video screens.  The only place I’ve seen more lights is in Las Vegas.

 

 

Soviet Exhibition Hall, 1955 gift to Shanghai

Soviet Exhibition Hall, 1955 gift to Shanghai

 

 

Right outside the window is an exhibition hall built and given as a gift to the people of China from the former Soviet Union.  The Chinese seem to be having the last laugh.

Back home it’s morning and even though I’ve slept through much of the flight, I’ll be dragging by mid-day unless I get some sleep tonight.

Tomorrow it begins..

 

 

What To Expect:

China mapThis trip begins with three days in coastal Shanghai and continues overland to Nanking, embarkation point for a twelve day cruise down the Yantgze – China’s Mississippi River.

 

It wanders inland through lowland farms strung between robust cities.  It passes ancient temples, formal gardens, and artisan workshops.  And it continues through the canyons of the Three Gorges and the locks of its great dam.

 

Before boarding a plane for Xi’an in Chonquing, there’s an early morning visit to its urban park zoo and pandas.   Xi’an is an ancient capital of China.  A walk through its historic city center is a must, but it’s better known as the archeological site of the Terra Cotta Army.

 

The trip ends in Beijing, with visits to a centuries-old residential neighborhood, to Tianamen Square and The Forbidden City, and to the Great Wall.

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