Shanghai, China: Where Modernism and Traditionalism Meet

Shanghai is China’s largest city and represents all that is modern. It serves as China’s capital of finance and culture and showcases “new China” – an intersection of fashion, media, finance and capitalism at its finest. The city is in a state of growth and development, always looking to add modern shopping centers, financial hubs and state of the art architecture. And, unlike in the past when sections of the city reflected the cultures of the Western nations that held power over them (think Little Italy and the French Quarter,) the city is now absolutely Chinese.  

Along the Huangpu River, old and new China meet head on. On the river’s eastern shore, one can view the Pudong skyline – an area rapidly constructed to serve as a modern financial center. However, Bund, on the western banks of the river, houses old Shanghai and is filled with crowded promenades, banks and hotels.

More than 80 years ago, the Bund represented high society and cosmopolitan luxury and glamour. Many Hollywood stars of the 1920s and 30s stayed in this section of town and enjoyed those luxuries until 1941, when Japan began occupying the city.

Yet, despite Shanghai’s modernism, the city reflects the mindset and desires of normal, ordinary Chinese citizens. Even today, day-to-day living in Shanghai centers around the social activity of eating food, and soup dumplings remain the city’s most popular snack.

Nanjing Road is home to many Western-style shops and boutiques, while the Huangpu district in central Shanghai is lined with a few traditional markets. These old markets sell everything from household pets to thousands of species of insects, including fighting crickets.

Another area of Shanghai, known as the former French Concession, is filled with tree-lined streets and many beautiful boutiques and cafes. This area is a favorite of expats as they rent apartments, drink, dine and shop in this area of Shanghai.

Shanghai continues to grow and an ever-increasing number of high-rise buildings are constructed every year. And, despite the city’s warp-like speed toward modernism, classic Chinese culture can be seen throughout the city.