BBC Radio 3 – Shanghai: World City Redux

On 18/02/2014 by Site Default

Rana Mitter reveals how Shanghai today is forging its identity as an ultramodern city – by rediscovering its glamorous past.

In the years between the world wars, ‘Shanghai’ meant jazz and movies, dazzling neon and astonishing department stores.

Before the communist takeover, a major part of Shanghai, the ‘International Settlement’ was administered predominantly by the British; there was also a ‘French Concession’.

This foreign presence brought oppression, but also infusions of modernity.

And as Rana discovers, as China once again modernises at breakneck speed, the legacy of these European imperial outposts is making itself felt once again.

He sits in as three 20-something professional Shanghainese women compare notes with an 80-something woman about the relative merits of Shanghai social life today and in the 1930s.

He discovers how important aspects of its identity as a world city, such as jazz and speaking English, were quietly cultivated in the early decades of communist rule. And how, since the economic opening, they have emerged back into the light.

Talking to novelists and nationalists, historians and ordinary Shanghainese, Rana discovers – to his surprise – that to them, the violence that underpinned the British colonial presence no longer seems profoundly hurtful.

Instead, they emphasise the way the British presence brought the modern world to the city.

And he talks to those directly engaged in fusing the old cosmopolitan city back into today’s hyper-metropolis, from the Italian architect who restores Edwardian buildings on the Bund waterfront to their former splendour, to the Chinese novelist whose detective stories set in modern Shanghai are haunted by the Jazz Age.


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