A display of wealth and power

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You can’t get away from the feeling that much in Shanghai is built to impress. That’s certainly true on the two banks of the Huangpu River as it flows through the centre of the city.

On the west bank is the Bund, that symbol of the wealth of the foreign nations that had extracted concessions from China with some gunboat diplomacy. The buildings date from the first part of the 20th century but the concessions date from much earlier. The British had been trading opium from India into China in order to balance the exports from China and, after objecting to China seizing 20,000 chests of the drug in 1842 as part of a dispute, forced China to open up five ports for trade. I don’t remember that being taught in history lessons, and it’s not surprising that the Chinese communists took a dim view of foreign influence in China when they gained support from the 1920s onwards.

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Talking about the communists, the east side of the river is a product of communist China. Whether you look at it from ground level on the opposite side of the river at night (above) or go up to the bar on the 87th floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel and look down (below), it’s a remarkable sight – all those multi-storey buildings fading into the distance through the smog. It was worth buying the very expensive Singapore Sling just to be able to take it all in. The need to impress is something shared by capitalists and communists alike.

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