The Making of an Asian City

Posted by Nishant Shah at Jul 21, 2010 11:00 AM |
Nishant Shah attended the conference on 'Pluralism in Asia: Asserting Transnational Identities, Politics, and Perspectives' organised by the Asia Scholarship Foundation, in Bangkok, where he presented the final paper based on his work in Shanghai. The paper, titled 'The Making of an Asian City', consolidates the different case studies and stories collected in this blog, in order to make a larger analyses about questions of cultural production, political interventions and the invisible processes that are a part of the IT Cities.

 The Promise of Invisibility: The Making of an Asian IT City

Abstract: This paper understands that in emerging Asian contexts, the proliferation and adoption of Internet technologies leads to two distinct changes in the material (re)construction of the city:

1.      Built Form of the City: The physical and material aspects of the city are restructured, redesigned and realigned to house the infrastructure of Internet Technology economies. 

2.      Governance and Administration: The technologies of governance (and also, the governance of technologies) that reconfigure the city for better control, regulation and containment of the subjects of the state.

These changes are articulated and understood, in contemporary scholarship and discourse, through the tropes of Access and Transparency, which propose Technology as neutral. These studies also locate technology as outside of the changing socio-political transformations that the city undergoes in its attempt to emerge as an IT City. The framework, by contextualising technology differently – in larger narratives of continuity and disruption – opens up a dialogue between cybercultures and social sciences to look at conditions of change It also shows how the It demonstrates how such an approach to technology studies enables new and nuanced forms of social sciences inquiry into processes like Dislocation and Migration, which have never addressed the technology question as central to the phenomena.


The 21st Century has seen accelerated urbanisation and spatial restructuration of cities in emerging information societies around the world. These cities are created as global hubs that shall not only house the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure, but also embody the aesthetics, politics, practices and lifestyles that the global cultural revolutions are bringing in. The technologies are significantly involved in the production of the dominant, the hegemonic and the coercive, all under the rubric of economic growth and development, and have affected domains of life, labour and language (Foucault,1998) in different contexts. It is easy to trace the ways in which lifestyle, cultural expression (Bagga, 2005), texture of social interaction and mobilisation, and political and administrative reorganisation (Roy, 2005) have changed in emerging contexts like India and China.

The efforts at creating ‘global countries’ (Kalam, 2004) that can harness the powers of ICT, have lead to three distinct forms of changes. These changes can be seen in the built form of the city, in structures of governance and administration, and in attitudes and Imagination of technologies as they emerge in popular discourse and cultural production. Each of these changes is articulated and explained through the tropes of Transparency and Access. The paper has a specific interest in looking at sites of dislocation and migration, to illustrate the arguments it seeks to make. The paper relies on secondary and tertiary literature (often in translation), unstructured interviews and participant observation to make an argument about how the aesthetics, mechanics and political [i] imaginaries of technology are a part of the physically changing and transforming IT cities in Asia. In order to make the argument, however, a brief context that explains the material signification of these three kinds of changes, is necessary to be explicated.

Beyond the Blogosphere

There has been an equal amount of optimism and scepticism when it comes to talking about the new public spheres that emerge with the Internet. Clubbed under the short-hand ‘Blogosphere’, both the evangelists and the critics of the blogosphere, have explored the Habermassian notion of the engaging public that is crafted with the emergence of new technologies of literacy, expression and participation. In many ways, the governance structures that have been discussed earlier, also endorse the positions taken by these interlocutors. However, much of the discourse, understands the blogosphere as contained in the digital domains. While a cause-and-effect model is often posited, the chief interest and focus remains on the new public, new voices and new spaces within the virtualities of the World Wide Web. This paper challenges such narrow definitions of the public sphere, and in fact, goes back to Habermass to locate technologies and public spaces within a certain historical context. In fact, this paper proposes that the increasing need for the faith in the blogosphere and the clamour that surrounds it is symptomatic of how the physical and built public spaces, in most Asian IT cities, is slowly diminishing.

In Shanghai, it is the loss of a political public space of socialist capital and industry that marks the beginning of this disappearance. 20 years ago, the announcer on every passenger train entering Shanghai would introduce the city as “the largest industrial city in China.” When W. E. B. Du Bois, an African-American writer, visited Shanghai in 1959, he was particularly invited to visit the balcony of Shanghai Mansion, which sits at the mouth of the Suzhou River and was the tallest building of its time, to catch a bird’s eye view of the new urban socialist landscape and the innumerable factory chimneys that speared the sky (Zhang, 2002).[ii] Indeed, an abundant number of factories, warehouses and dockyards cropped up in the three decades after 1950, and, together with the existing industrial constructions, made Shanghai a “new metropolis.” Some of them were clustered in suburban areas, more were scattered in the city area. Some were even squeezed into Longtangs (the narrow alleyways of old Shanghai). The industrial constructions include not only factory buildings but also workers’ residential buildings in factory-concentrated areas. The workers’ residential buildings were targeted primarily at the senior or skilled workers among the industrial population. Life in the residential buildings became an extension of factory life since neighbours were most probably co-workers in the same factory. It is precisely the great number of old and new industrial constructions and the rhythmic life going on in them that composed the socialist industrial space of Shanghai. Needless to say, it was the fastest growing space in the forty years after 1949.

However, nine out of ten such spaces have been wiped out during the fifteen-year urban renewal project, which is perhaps embodied in the restructuring of the Bund as a space of tourist attraction, and eventually the building of the Pudong skyline that has now become the iconic face of the city (Yatsko, 1996, pp 59).[iii] Factories—let alone warehouses—within the Inner Ring Road have either closed down or been removed. With the closing of the factories, the workers also have no place to work anymore. Dr. Wang XiaoMing, in his essay on the changing public space mentions how, once the factory he worked in “had its signboard removed in 1997, the workers have no place to work anymore. The inhabitants of Caoyang New Village have thrown away the signboard off the gate a long time ago and could barely remember that the place was once called the “Workers New Village.” Large factories located on the outskirts of the city are mostly shut down and the places are as quiet as cemeteries” (forthcoming, 2010).

As Americanised industrial parks sprout up in places such as the Pudong District of Shanghai, and Kunshan and Suzhou to the north of Shanghai, the socialist industrial space is shrinking rapidly both within and without Shanghai. Another space that has significantly diminished is the public political space. One of the most important requirements socialism places on urban space is to be able to facilitate large-scale political rallies and parades (Kewen 2006 and Liang 1959).[iv]

Therefore, apart from industrial constructions, the most eye-catching constructions in Shanghai’s new urban constructions from the 1950s to the 1960s were squares and large meeting halls, which include the People’s Square, the Sino-Russian Friendship Building, the Cultural Plaza, and so on.[v] Moreover, government agencies of all levels and factories endeavoured to build conference halls of various sizes for political meetings by transforming theatre halls or building new ones. In the past, tens of thousands of people have paraded down the People’s Square to pay tribute to the officials perched high above on reviewing stands. People rallying in various meeting halls, changing slogans to express joy, and echoing the instructions from the speakers on stage, were frequent occurrences. During the Cultural Revolution, the Rebels staged the final resistance here; in the late 1980s, fervent university students had swarmed into People’s Square to turn it into a place of revelry (Feuchtwang, 2004).

In the blink of an eye, these histories have faded from the public memory and been completely erased from the city’s architectural space. Sino-Russia Friendship Building is renamed Shanghai Exhibition Center, which hosts a constant blur of Expos. After repeated segmentation, People’s Square is now only a nominal square with a long and narrow driveway and most of its space has been occupied by new buildings such as the majestic Shanghai Grand Theatre, the Shanghai Museum, the sunken commercial street and a parking lot. Cultural Plaza was first transformed into a large flower market which was later torn down and pushed to a corner to make way for the new “Music Plaza.” With mass meetings completely eradicated from the life of Shanghai’s residents, the numerous assembly halls and meeting places of various sizes have naturally been restructures for other purposes. People participate with zeal in large assemblies such as concerts, performance competitions, and so on, which have nothing to do with public politics. It is even possible to say that the audience’s shrieks in the stadium symbolize the massive decrease of the public political space in both architectural and spiritual sense (Tang, 2009, pp 327).

Another cluster of spaces that have significantly disappeared are the gossip centres concentrated in areas such as the mouth of NongTang, Lao Hu Zhao [vi], variety store and lane. It is a cultural given that the Shanghainese like to strike up a conversation with strangers and to engage in gossip; this is indeed one of the city’s hallmarks. The Shanghainese can always spare time for gossip: no matter how busy the atmosphere is, there are always some people who loiter around with hands in pockets; even the working class who work from dawn to dusk like to exchange a few words with their neighbours after work. It so happened that the living space was very cramped for the Shanghainese after the 1950s.[vii] The rich can idle away their time in places such as cinemas whereas the low-income people can only manage to find a free space of leisure near their residences. The first choice is the mouth of NongTang adjacent to the footpath, from which all the comings and goings of residents and the traffics on the streets could be perceived. There will always be a Lao Hu Zhao near the mouth of a big NongTang, where you can sit for a whole afternoon and exchange hearsays with neighbours coming for hot water over a cup of tea; or there is a family-run variety store whose female boss is quite fond of trading rumours and gossip with customers across the narrow counter. In times of local or national crises, this is always the first place where the news is spread and gets distorted.

Things have now changed. Lao Huo Zhaos are gone. Variety stores are quickly replaced by different kinds of convenience stores (Huang, 2004, pp 49-50). Although many similar or even smaller family-run variety stores are opened at the newly-formed district bordering the city, a stable communication space cannot form in these stores since the male or female boss is mostly “non-native population”[viii], who not only is unable to blend in with the local residents but also may move away at any time. Although being one of the hallmarks of old Shanghai houses, the nongtangs have been pulled down in large numbers. Those narrow, winding streets have been either diverted, or straightened and widened. Shabby houses on both sides of the streets have disappeared. Also gone are the hustle and bustle, the interfusion of public and private space, and street gossips, which have been replaced by heavy traffic with exhaust gas and noise. With the increasingly neat arrangement of construction space within the city, the influx of transient population, residents increasingly accustomed to shutting doors to the world and to their neighbours, the overwhelming clamour in the media, and the young people’s addiction to internet and game bars, the space where rumours and gossips are spread via mouths and pointing fingers is naturally contracted (Yeung, 1996, pp. 78-84).

These old spaces of early Shanghainese modernity are quickly replaced by three new built forms. The first are the various above-ground, underground, and overhead expressways. Intersecting and intertwining together, they make the whole city look as if it were trapped in a python’s nest. The second thing that comes to the mind is commercial space.[ix] Shopping malls[x] line both the sides of the streets in downtown Shanghai, whereas hypermarkets cluster at the periphery of the city (Diao, 2006)[xi]. With the speedy expansion of space (Li, 2006)[xii], the style of constructions are increasingly uniform: nearly all of them name themselves “squares”;  shopping malls are lined with chain stores on every level; chain supermarkets create mazes of different sizes with dense goods shelves; in office buildings, glass doors and plastic boards partition the office into many honeycomb-like cubicles, making the people working in them increasingly look like worker bees; the hospitality industry is overwhelmed with chain hotels of similar facilities and styles, even customers often forget which hotel they stay in last time (Fulong, 1999). The accelerated standardization process in Shanghai’s space highlights a tendency to obtain the standard outlook of the imagined “international metropolis” and an urgency to erase the distinct features inherited from the past.

Thirdly, the office space of governments and state monopolies expands in a unique sense: although the floor area has increased significantly[xiii], it is the upgrading and the move towards luxury that marks the change. Since the early 1990s, luxurious office buildings with halls paved with marble floor, central air conditioning system, shiny wood floors, CEO office suite with separate bathroom, were built first by banks, then revenue departments, telecommunication agencies, newspapers offices, television stations, courts, and police stations of different levels, and at last governments of municipal, district and even lower levels.[xiv] Not only the connotation of “work” has been enriched, but also other business spaces outside the office have expanded with restaurants, coffee bars, official reception hotels, training centers and vacation centers located in the office buildings or on the outskirts of town or other cities (Leaf, 1997, pp. 156-159).  

The changes in the built form of the new IT City that has emerged, are particularly important because they signal the ways in which certain kinds of populations are made redundant in the city as it grows physically more hostile to their life in it. The erasure of histories, of public spaces, of spaces of political negotiation is symptomatic of the new ideologies, policies and dreams that Shanghai-Pudong embody. Most of the studies that look at these changes, concentrate only on the physical and material aspects of it, and ignore the aesthetics, politics, and changes that Internet technologies are bringing in, not only in the imagination of what constitutes a city, but also in the material and lived practices of the people in it (Appadurai, 1990). Government policies that ignore technologies, come to dead-ends in their intervention, as they fail to recognise the new geographies and terrains that the technology users navigate through. Interventions by the Development Sector or the Civil Society Movements often fail to recognise the structures of governance as informed by internet technologies, thus perpetrating the very evils that they fight against. Dislocation and Migration, which are complex issues, get reduced to only geography and physical places – leading to a simplified structure of rehabilitation, largely propelled by the vocabulary of the market and the state. Remunerations, economic rights and livelihood are the only questions addressed. In the process Community rights, structures of communication and networking, relationships within families and societies, ineffable ties and bonds that keep the communities coherent – these affective categories which are dislocated and forced to migrate because of the presence of technologies, fail to register either in the scholarship or in the practices in these areas.

This is where the blogosphere needs to be located – as not merely producing a new space of engagement, but helping in recovering the lost spaces of public participation and community communication. The blogosphere is not merely the invention of a technology marked digital native or the discovery of groups seeking alternative narratives. It is recognition of the fact that the regular mainstream public discourse, interacts with the social transformations and politics of our time and depend on the sustenance of public spheres for the socio-cultural categories like communities, neighbourhoods, public space, etc. to survive. The blogosphere, in the quickly changing, hyper-real landscape of Shanghai-Pudong’s geography is the new variety store, the new location for the Lao Hu Zhao and the space that the labyrinthine networks of nongtangs are mapped on.

e-Governance and its discontents

The change in the physical reorganisation of the city is not only a pragmatic decision. This disappearance of the public space of gossip, information dissemination and distortion, of informal conversations and deliberations tied in closely to the three levels of government in Shanghai – district government, street office and alley office – being able to increasingly control the leisure life of the Shanghainese through administrative planning and organisation (Zhang, 2004). There is a clear link between the government’s imagination of its own territory, the notion of the citizen who is to occupy these spaces, and the material practices that happen in these technology marked spaces (Feuchtwang, 2004). While it is an acknowledged fact that the Chinese government does not follow the structures and paradigms that a North-Western Democratic Liberal ideology that has produced the category of Nation-State in most contemporary discourse, there are still two specific forms of technology inflected governance structures which China seems to share with other contexts which might be geo-politically different.

The e-Governance models, which find resonances in most emerging contexts in the Global South, seem to develop two simultaneous and often ironically related approaches towards citizenship and administration, especially in the context of China. With its already forked governance policies, which treat HongKong – its colonial success story – differently from the rest of Mainland China (and the added complication of Taiwan) the governance structures are marked by technology in significant ways. These structures are suffused with irony, because of the tropes of transparency and invisibility that they use to articulate their rationale and processes.

The first is the approach of Rural Development through ICT networks, positing an access based model of participatory citizenship (Tarlo, 2003) and continuing the Development rhetoric of uplift and reform of the deprived citizen. This particular kind of governance structure re-imagines the beneficiary of state/government processes as existing in a condition of invisibility, and outside of the folds of technology. The particular emphasis on e-government, while it is located in the urban settings, is actually intended for reaching the citizen in the remote parts of the country, who does not have any engagement or direct interaction with processes of governance. Despite China’s three tiered government structure, the imagination of e-governance hold a strong currency because it makes visible, the people, practices and communities which otherwise exist in the subliminal and grey areas which were hitherto not in the focus of the government. Fuelling the rhetoric of e-government is the premium on information dissemination and transparent administration in order to enhance the domains of life and labour in the rural parts of the country.

This approach draws its strength from the Development agenda of reform and uplift as it markedly emphasises the distance between the ‘haves and the have-nots’. However, the valourisation of transparency goes hand-in-glove with the production of the invisible (but cognisable) citizen who needs to be reproduced within the paradigms of technology. The peasant, who has been at the back-bone of China’s socialist political ideology, under this new articulation of transparency, becomes invisible – robbed of the historicity, the cultural iconoclasms and the empowerment that such policies earlier provided. Instead, the peasant becomes a worker who needs to be rehabilitated into the changing geographies of Pudong, the new IT city that requires a worker equipped with new skills and lifestyles. This approach draws its strength from the Developmental agenda of reform and uplift as it markedly emphasises the distance between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ (Jaswal, 2005) and offers ICT enabled development as the panacea for the problems of unemployment, illiteracy, chronic poverty, etc.  This approach is made manifest in the establishment of Telecentre kiosks, rural BPOs, e-literacy schools and mobile vans, setting up of mobile and internet technology centres, digitisation of the state’s resources, digital access centres to important data-sets, initiation of projects like ‘One Home One Computer’, the e-literacy campaigns, and the building of special economic zones (SEZ) and IT Corridors under the aegis of e-governance (Hawks, 2009).

The second approach is invested in the massive restructuration of the urban spaces to create infrastructure that attracts foreign investment and ICT enabled multinational corporations. This approach uses the language of creating a S.M.A.R.T. (Smart, Moral, Accountable, Responsive, Transparent) State, modelling the new spaces and politics around the new models of capital modernity (Appadurai, 1996) like Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo and Taipei. This model is nuanced by a vocabulary of ‘global citizenship and globalised economy’ (Abbas, 1997), glorifying the new economic opportunities, flows of foreign capital, enhancement of lifestyle, and the promise of hypervisibility in the globalisation networks. The building up of network-neighbourhoods (Doheny-Farina, 1996), spaces of incessant commercial consumption, post modern digitalised aesthetics of living and housing, (Mitchell, 1996) infrastructure for ICT augmented lifestyles, spaces for sculpting hyperspatial bodies, and recreational zones that offer apolitical aesthetics of living (Chua, 2000), are all a part of this restructuration.

Contemporary analyses that deploy both these approaches are often contained within the language and the universes created by these approaches. Studies on e-governance concentrate on the processes of infrastructure development, the economic parameters of efficient administration, questions of rights and transparency and impact analyses of the public private partnership which is at the basis of most e-governance projects in India. Urban restructuration has found critique from disciplines that focus largely upon the promissory implementation of State policies, on the imbalance in the urban eco-systems, the new patterns of migration in the city, the cultural and class mobility that the new economies offer, and the emergence of the new middle class that becomes the figurehead of the IT revolution (Huang, 2005). Most studies look upon technology as incidental or instrumental; a tool towards an end. The relationship between ICTs and the State, and the kind of technosocial evolution they produce are generally zones of silence in most discourse. Both these discourses produce a certain hyper-visual citizen subject who is either the champion of the new Information societies or the victim of the digital divide that has ensued.

ICTs are often posited as neutral and transparent because they allow us to look at these two kinds of citizenships on the opposite end of the digital spectrum. It can be argued that the divides of ICTs are transparent and hence it offers clearly defined spaces of intervention and uplift. The development sector around the world has accepted this as a given and hence, along with the Governments, they have also been urging a blanket development of infrastructure of access to technology for a particular section of the society, in an attempt to ‘cure’ certain long standing problems. As in the case of India, China is also fuelled by this transparency rhetoric, which allows for the production of the power-user versus the un-networked and has pinned its hopes on the transformative powers of Internet Technologies. With more than two decades of ICT development in the country, and especially in spaces like Shanghai-Pudong, behind them, China seems to be facing a moment of crisis. On the one hand is its promotion and adoption of internet and digital technologies, which encourages younger users entering in “schools, colleges, universities and workforces to transform the economic conditions” (Heng, 2006). On the other hand is the imagination of these IT forces as transgressive, uncontrollable and in need of constant supervision in order to retain existing government-citizenship relationships and power structures. In the middle of this crisis, is another factor that the obvious suspects and users of technology, who are more under the radar, are not the people who are deploying technologies for political negotiation and using technology platforms for political mobilisation. Despite the efforts at green-washing its technologies and the production of the infamous Great Fire-wall of China, there has been a sustained use of internet technologies for resistance and subversion.

The spaces for subversion rises from the fact that with the making of the IT city, there has been a complex phenomenon of dislocation and migration, as several communities were made redundant in the logic of the IT City and were removed from the city. Many people from these communities re-entered the city as the new IT workforce after going through a ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘skill building’ to not only be a part of the IT labour groups but also to support the IT industry in the construction of the physical infrastructure. Moreover, there has been a steady flow of anonymous ‘outsiders’ who have found homes in the older nontangs and factories, and are in the subliminal zones of regulation. As the city is re-formed to make these people invisible (Abbas, 1997), their leisure space and time shrink and they find themselves increasingly forming the new prosumers of internet in Shanghai. However, in the transparency discourse that unfolds, these populations remain invisible and find spaces of resistance and political negotiation that their invisible status provides them. The promise of Invisibility that treats them as Wetware (the biological combination of a network consisting of Software and Hardware), allows for hope in the otherwise diminishing spaces of political articulation in a growing authoritarian regime in China.

Invisibility, Transparency and the Internet

The paper ends by re-formulating the relationship between the making of an IT City and the way in which transparency as a rhetoric and technology-as-instrumental method fail to account for the different kinds of changes that accompany the restructuring of these cities. On the one hand, there is shrinkage of physical space and built form, as new forms of technology infrastructure, global lifestyle and late capitalistic economies expand to fill up the spaces which were earlier available for political mobilisation, organisation and inhabitation. On the other, there is a diminishing political landscape, where, with the integration of the government with the market, there is a tendency to establish larger regulation and censorship in order to retain the status quo relationship between the government and the citizen, in the face of massive governance transition. Both these conditions are produced by the rise and spread of Information Technologies.

In the process, there are also only two kinds of citizenships that are addressed by the e-governance structures which work on a double edge: Firstly, they make the direct access (defined either by abundance or lack of access) citizenships hyper-visual, robbing them of nuances and looking upon them as implicated only in the discursive practices of Internet technologies. Second, they render invisible, the other supporting structures in order to highlight and focus on the economic development and growth propelled by the rise of the IT industries. In other words, they make the citizens who are central to the discourse, invisible, by treating them as embodiments of the new economic markets and aspirations, removing them from their traditional contexts, histories and spaces. Moreover, they make invisible/transparent, populations who are not marked by the aura of the Internet technologies, in order to bring into focus, the extraordinary changes – both in the physical built form as well as in the realms of governance – that have been initiated and accomplished with the making of the IT City Shanghai-Pudong.



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[i] The project wants to emphasize that it is not attempting a historiography of the building of the IT City of Shanghai-Pudong. Instead, by drawing selectively, different ways in which the technology imaginaries (technopolises, intellectual labour, globally homogenous geographies and time-lines, bodies marked by technology in their material practices, etc ) of the Internet, find structure and form in the emerging IT cities in Asia.

[ii] Zhang Chunqiao, Secretary of the Culture and Education Department of the Shanghai Municipal Committee  who accompanied DuBois to Shanghai Mansion, specially mentioned DuBois’ visit in an article entitled “To Climb the New Summit of Victory.”.

[iii] In 1994, one Shanghai government officer stated, “the government plans to remove or close down two thirds of the factories located within [the range of] 106 square kilometers from the city centre, namely, within the Inner Ring Road.”. Due to different reasons (one of the main reasons is the increase of transferee cost because unsolved problems, such as the proper placement of a large number of former workers, have been bundled with the factory buildings and factory land), some factories still remain in their original places, although most of them have already stopped manufacturing and the workers dismissed. The industrial life/space has disappeared with the disappearance of the factories. Ruins of this life/space become some sort of commodity only because the land under the ruins still has some value.

[iv] On the day (1 October 1949) of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong suggested rebuilding Tiananmen Square and making it a “grand and magnificent square.” See (Kewen, 2006). Liang Sicheng, who always insisted on preserving the old Beijing and opposed massive makeover, finally realized that the makeover was never about architecture but about politics: “As for the scale of Tiananmen Square … apart from considering the scale of man as a biological being and the scale of construction appropriate to the man’s physiology, we should also take into account the scale for the great collective requested by the political men in the new society.” Liang, 1959, pp 12).

[v] The People’s Square, transformed in 1953 from the original racecourse (which was nationalized in 1951 by the Municipal Military Control Commission), surrounded by woods, and paved with tiled and cemented floor, is the largest public space in Shanghai and can accommodate over one million people. The Sino-Russian Friendship Building, which was built in 1955 and was covering an area of 80,000 square meters, was the city’s largest building after the liberation of Shanghai and still ranks top in terms of its indoor space in today’s Shanghai. The Cultural Plaza, transformed in 1952 from the Greyhound Racecourse, had 12,500 seats and was the largest indoor hall in Shanghai.

[vi] It is a unique store that sells boiled water in Shanghai.

[vii] Shanghai’s housing shortage started in the early 20th century instead of the 1950s. The living space within Shanghai city is 16,100,000 square meters in total but 3.9 square meters per capita. During the 32 years from 1952 to 1985, 21,720,000 square meters of housing were built within the city and the registered population increased from 5,300,000 to 6,980,000. The housing shortage was still serious since by 1985, the living space had only reached 5.4 square meters per capita. (SSY, 1986). What needs to be clarified is that the statics of 1949 does not include the shabby slum houses commonly referred to as “gun di long.”      

[viii] This is an increasingly popular new word in Shanghai over the last 20 years, which refers to the people who come from other provinces, especially the rural areas, and live in Shanghai but do not have permanent residence in Shanghai. According to the Shanghai Statistics Bureau’s report on March 2006, the immigrating labor population in Shanghai was 3,750,000. 2,840,000 of this population is in the manufacturing, construction, retail, and catering industry and engaged in low-income manual work. The immigrating population should be over 4 million if the large number of people (such as those in the household service business) and their children be taken into calculation. 

[ix] In Shanghai, the floor area of shops has increased seven-fold from 4,030,000 square meters in 1990 to 2,857,000 square meters in 2004 and that of hotels has increased three-fold from 6,580,000 square meters in 1990 to 2,204,000 square meters in 2004. The increase of commercial space is even greater if that of commercial office buildings is calculated as well. (SSY(a), 2005, pp. 198)

[x] Take the area around Zhongshan Park for example, although it was one of the earliest developed leisure areas in Shanghai, there was only one small department store in the mid-1980s and the retail business developed slowly. However, within these ten years, with the completion of Zhongshan Park Station along the subway line 2 and light rail line 3, five multi-story shopping malls have been built, all within a radius of 500 meters. The newest among them is a 58-storey building with four levels of basement and nine levels of shopping mall.

[xi] By the end of 2005, hypermarkets measuring over 5000 square meters within Shanghai have reached 97 and 28 more have chosen their locations and would be opened soon. Because of a large number of hypermarkets and the intense competition brought about, a considerable number of them mainly profit from land appreciation rather than from retail. 

[xii] By the end of 2005, the commercial real estate in Shanghai has reached a total of 2,900,000 square meters with 2.6 square meters per capita, far exceeding Hong Kong’s 1.2 square meters per capita.

[xiii] Barely 6 million square meters in 1990, the floor area of office buildings in Shanghai reached a total of 4,012,000 square meters in 2004. See Shanghai Statistical Yearbook 2005. Edited by Shanghai Statistics Bureau, published by China Statistics Press in August 2005, p 198. The statistical material on the increase of floor area of commercial office building cannot be found for the present. Even if the material were obtained, it would not be enough since a large area of commercial office building has been rented by many state-owned monopoly agencies. However, the expansion of government office space is great even if it take up only one tenth of the space of office buildings.  

[xiv] Such phenomenon exists not only in Shanghai but all over the country, especially in cities and towns of low economic level. The towering and luxurious government, bank, taxation, and police buildings create an ironic contrast with the low and shabby constructions close by. 

ASPI-CIS Partnership


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Nishant Shah

Dr. Nishant Shah is the co-founder and board member of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, and is a professor at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University in Germany, and is Dean of Research at ArtEZ Graduate School, the Netherlands.