The City of Blinding Lights

大家好,Welcome to Shanghai!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted – this past week has just been incredibly busy, with our PESI program orientation, the start of classes, and exploration trips around the city. Though its been only a few days, the program has already taken off on very good start. I studied Chinese political economy through my Berkeley coursework, but still I’ve been learning so much on top of all that just by actually being here in China and taking in a variety of perspectives, from our program directors to Fudan University professors to even Shanghai taxi drivers (its been quite interesting talking to these taxi drivers, they all have such unique histories and opinions on the present state of things swirling around them).

Anyways, I’ll talk about our program in the next post. For now, this is a series of night photos of Shanghai.

Cloudy Day. It gives this view of the Shanghai Pudong Development a mystical feel. See all those tall buildings? That whole entire side of the river was farmland less than 20 years ago. It’s amazing how fast development happens here in China – since migrant labor is so cheap and abundant, urban construction runs non-stop, around the clock: three different batches of workers rotate through eight-hour shifts.

Upon arriving in Pudong – look! There were construction workers working on projects even as we walked through the new areas.

Guess who we ran into???

The now famous Pearl Tower of Shanghai, also called the TV Tower. It was built not too long ago, in the 90’s (like everything else in Pudong). People once hated it since it looked so strange, but apparently it’s now a beloved part of the Shanghai skyline. It looks really nice at night, but yes, I think it does look a bit strange especially during the day when it doesn’t benefit from any fancy lighting.

One of the nearby buildings is called the “Jin Mao” tower – it’s a very tall building though it’s not quite a contender for the world’s tallest. We decided it that instead of going up the Pearl Tower we would catch views from here instead, since the price for going up is half as much and you actually get to travel higher (not to mention the fact that it would be cool to have the Pearl Tower IN the pictures you take).

And that’s where you are rewarded with a nice view. Shanghai is breathtaking at night, truly a “city of blinding lights,” as the U2 song goes.

Again, the city lights of Shanghai, but this time you get the view from the ground. As you can see, the Chinese crowd is distinctive feature of any place you visit in China.

Something that struck me while walking around was the immense wealth accumulated within this city. While most Chinese would agree that foreign investment and internal marketization have been of great benefit to their country, some wonder where these benefits go. There are so many people living in rural areas, like the areas surrounding Xi’an (remember from a few postings ago?), that are still dirt poor, with no hope of ever moving to the rapidly developing cities…

Compare that to Shanghai, where the dominant class of nouveau riche, the “newly rich,” are bombarded with advertisements telling them to feed their appetites for expensive clothes, expensive cars, and expensive food. You wonder if the chief export of the west is actually ‘Materialism,’ neither a good nor service, but an empty way of life. The Opium War was a pivotal event in late Chinese history, sending China on a downward spiral into decay and exploitation that eventually made conditions so bad that, in 1921 several disillusioned individuals met together right here in Shanghai to form the Chinese Communist Party, the beginnings of a tumultuous social experiment. The rest is history. What if materialism becomes the new opium of the Chinese people?

On a separate note:

Remember my posts from Xi’an covering our trips to various museums? So I just discovered that New York Times reporter Holland Cotter was in Xi’an visiting the same museums we were visiting, at around the same time we were there. Crazy. Watch his audio slideshow report. If you pay attention to the photography, notice how the subjects and composition serve to highlight the story being conveyed. There are pictures taken of the very same objects I captured earlier, but with an entirely different focus. Interesting!



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4 responses to “The City of Blinding Lights

  1. Ivan Hu

    Maybe not mystical, but certainly gothic … like one of those apocalyptic movies.

    My dad says your photos are really good.

  2. Steven

    Thanks for the update Jasper. I appreciate the beautiful pictures as well as the intelligent commentary. Say hello to our friends. I’ll be thinking about you guys.

  3. ken


    好久不見! 看起來上海真的變成更紐約市一樣,整天整晚都熱鬧的很。

    No more Chinese. Anyways, thanks for all you’re insightful comments. Made me pause and think about the new revolution since I was once drilled with Chinese history classes.

    Btw, looks like that “professional” audio-slideshow link is broken. That guy’s report probably already got taken down due to high traffic at this site!

  4. annie leung

    hi! i must say these pictures are REALLy nice!! esp the first one in Pudong. are you using an SLR? i could never capture a picture like that with my camera! very nice! 🙂

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