[Marxism] Getting rich in Shanghai

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 25 12:02:51 MST 2006

LRB | Vol. 28 No. 23 dated 30 November 2006 | Pankaj Mishra

Pankaj Mishra reports from Shanghai

The ruins of Shanghai come as a surprise in a 
city so defiantly modern. Demolished low-rise 
houses lie in downtown streets next to luxury 
condominiums with names such as ‘Rich Gate’, the 
wreckage reflected in the glass façades of tall 
office buildings. In Dongjiadu, Shanghai’s oldest 
quarter, bulldozers were expected within the 
fortnight, the old women squatting silently in 
the cramped alleys helpless before them.

But you can’t get too sentimental about Shanghai, 
a place built, like Bombay, in the 19th century 
on the back of the opium trade. An axis of 
gangsters, politicians and foreign businessmen 
ruled the city until the Communist takeover in 
1949. Those decades of semi-colonial occupation, 
when Shanghai came to be known as the ‘Whore of 
Asia’, glow with old-fashioned glamour in Chinese 
cinema, in Zhang Yimou’s Shanghai Triad, or Chen 
Kaige’s Temptress Moon. But the corpses of 
thousands of the poor were collected every year 
from the pavements of the International Settlement.

Today beggars approach you discreetly on the 
Bund, Shanghai’s embanked riverfront, whose grand 
buildings once housed the banks, trading houses 
and diplomatic missions of China’s foreign 
overlords. The destitute are more invisible now, 
but it’s easy enough to make out the visitors 
from the impoverished countryside, in their faded 
blue Mao jackets and dusty shoes, gazing at the 
super-malls on Nanjing Lu and the throbbing neon 
lights of Pudong. The novelist Wang Anyi, sitting 
in the lobby of my hotel in one of the kitsch 
towers of Pudong, said: ‘There is no culture 
here!’ I’m not sure culture is what’s wanted in 
this sleek new part of the city, built in less 
than a decade on the once desolate mudflats 
across the river from the Bund, and designed to 
symbolise the wealth and power of a globalising 
China. Postmodern skyscrapers dwarf the Bund’s 
domes and clock towers, which were once a 
reassuring sight to taipans and straw-hatted 
tourists arriving from Europe. Gleaming new 
industrial parks – with landscaped gardens – 
sprawl across the suburbs. Shanghai has regained 
its role as the engine of the Chinese economy and 
the premier city of Asian capitalism.

full: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n23/mish01_.html

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