While I’ve devoted a large portion of my time here in Shanghai to practicing my Mandarin and doing homework for Intermediate Chinese II, the most interesting and fulfilling bits of knowledge I’ve gained on my trip have come from my other NYU Shanghai course: US-China Relations.
My Gallatin Concentration, like any other student’s, is an ever-changing concept. It is however rooted in the study of governments from all over the world, and their interactions. US-China relations has informed my concentration more than I could have ever hoped for. Not only were the lessons wonderful (my professor was very knowledgeable, and even more charming), but Shanghai itself is a model of international relations. Take for example the Bund, a 5 km stretch of buildings from the old British concession. For decades, the British were intimately involved with the economics of Shanghai, and the west bank of the Huangpu River was their base of operations. Today, old British Embassies, banks, and other buildings fly the flag of the People’s Republic China, proudly displaying Shanghai’s heritage as both the conquered, and as conquerors. And directly across the river from this poetic display is the new Shanghai: Pudong. The city’s financial center shines brightly (too brightly if you ask me. It’s worse than Times Square) to let the rest of the world know that it will not conquered again.
Shanghai’s historical attachment to western nations can still be felt today. Of all the cities in China, Shanghai is the most like New York. In addition to obvious similarities, like the population’s comparative wealth disparity and glitzy nightlife, there are more covert ones, such as the architecture’s ability to tell history. Just like in New York, the buildings in Shanghai reveal more than meets the eye. There are buildings in French style, Russian style, Spanish style, Italian style, American style, and obviously British style all throughout Puxi (land west of the Huangpu River). The buildings in the International and French Concessions reveal China’s history with western imperialism, and evoke memories of war and exploitation. At the same time, they also bring Shanghai’s population closer to the rest of the world. Moreso than in other cities, Shanghainese people immerse themselves in international cultures. In Shanghai, there are stores and restaurants from all over. I even ate at a Turkish place. The people of Shanghai are proud of their international roots. Though most of China criticizes them for their elitism and “lack of culture,” the Shanghai I see is simply more open to the world, and less fixated on the past. Those are the traits I adore. Maybe it’s because they remind me of home.
Wish the flags could be seen more clearly…