The Staggering Rebirth of Shanghai

More

You don't need satellite images to see just how much China's largest city has changed.

pudongskyline.jpgShanghai's Pudong Financial District (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Yesterday, Olga Khazan directed our attention to a fascinating satellite image, produced by scientists at ETH Zurich, showing the startling difference in Shanghai's light intensity in the past 20 years. Whereas in 1992 the map revealed just a few specks of light amid a black landscape, the 2009 image showed a vast sea of energy spreading from Shanghai all through the surrounding Yangtze River Delta, a region of tremendous economic productivity in China.

chinalightmap.jpg

As great as these images are, a far more terrestrial perspective on Shanghai yields an equally astounding vision. Consider the photograph at the top of this post, of the city's Pudong Financial District: Pudong's skyline, with the glittering Oriental Pearl Tower standing apart like a Space Needle on steroids, has already emerged as one of the world's most distinctive.

In 1990, none of it existed.

Yes, that's right- less than 25 years ago, the very skyline that enveloped James Bond in Skyfall was simply a glint in Deng Xiaoping's eye. In 1978, the Chinese leader chose southerly Guangdong Province as his laboratory for economic reform, and while newly-christened Special Economic Zones like Shenzhen raced ahead, Shanghai languished in something of a malaise. Only when new Chinese president Jiang Zemin -- himself a former Shanghai party boss -- assumed office did the city's economic fortunes begin to turn. His results, as displayed in the image below (via Catherine Rampell), speak for themselves.

Picture 17-thumb-590x703-40636.png

Despite the glitz, Pudong isn't all that exciting of a place to hang out. Most of Shanghai's culture, history, and nightlife happens on the other side of the Huangpu River, and many of Shanghai's residents -- both local and foreign -- regard Pudong as a soulless ghost town. But the very fact that it exists is a perfect symbol of the vast scale of China's development.

Jump to comments

Matt Schiavenza is a former associate editor at The Atlantic

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

This Short Film Skewers Hollywood, Probably Predicts Disney's Next Hit

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

How Will Climate Change Affect Cities?

Urban planners and environmentalists predict the future of city life.

Video

The Inner Life of a Drag Queen

A short documentary about cross-dressing, masculinity, identity, and performance

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in China

Just In