Above and Beyond


Situated on the east coast of China, Shanghai is an economic, commercial and financial metropolis with a rich culture and bright future.

 Shanghai is one of the largest cities in the People’s Republic of China, by population. The name ‘Shanghai’ translates to ‘above the sea’ in Chinese, and the city makes the most of its favourable location on the East China Sea. Shanghai was originally a fishing and textile town, but it has grown into a cosmopolitan city with influences in commerce, culture, finance, media, fashion, technology and transport.

The city straddles the Huangpu River and sits in the Yangtze River delta. The vast majority of Shanghai is flat, apart from a few hills in the south-west corner. The city sits on an alluvial plain, so new skyscrapers require concrete piles driven deep into the earth to prevent them from sinking into the soft ground.

Shanghai’s history dates back to the Song Dynasty (AD 960–1279) – the area was upgraded from a village to a market town in 1074. From the Yuan Dynasty in 1292 until Shanghai officially became a city in 1927, the area was designated merely as a county seat.

It took two central government policy changes during the Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1912) to turn Shanghai into an important sea port. In 1684 Emperor Kangxi reversed the previous Ming Dynasty prohibition on ocean-going vessels – a ban that had been in force since 1525. Then, in 1732, Emperor Yongzheng moved the customs office for Jiangsu Province from Songjiang city to Shanghai, and gave Shanghai exclusive control over customs collections for Jiangsu Province’s foreign trade.

Shanghai was opened to foreign powers by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. British, French, German, Russian and American citizens moved into the port city and built structures to house their people and businesses. These Western-style buildings have left an architectural legacy in the city.

Shanghai is the commercial and financial centre of mainland China. It was the largest and most prosperous city in the Far East during the 1930s, and rapid re-development began in 1990s. This is exemplified by the Pudong District, which became a pilot area for integrated economic reforms. By the end of 2009, there were 787 financial institutions, of which 170 were foreign-invested.  In 2009, the Shanghai Stock Exchange ranked third among worldwide stock exchanges in terms of trading volume and sixth in terms of the total capitalisation of listed companies, whilst the trading volume of six key commodities including rubber, copper and zinc on the Shanghai Futures Exchange all ranked first in the world.

Getting there
Qatar Airways flies between a number of African cities and Shanghai, including Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; Tunis, Tunisia; Cairo, Egypt; Casablanca, Morocco; and Johannesburg, South Africa. All flights stop over in Qatar Airways’ Doha hub.

Being a coastal city, Shanghai is humid during summer, with midday temperatures rising to an average of around 30ºC. Expect a fair bit of rain and a few thunderstorms.

Winters are cold, with daytime highs around reaching about 10ºC. Temperatures fall to below zero at night. Snow is uncommon, but not unheard of and it often disrupts public transport networks when it does fall.

Citizens of African countries need a visa to enter Shanghai, regardless of their reason for visiting or length of stay. If travelling on business, you will need a letter of invitation from the Chinese organisation you’ll be working with, or a letter from your employer stating the purpose of your visit.

Shanghai is considered a safe city, with very little violent crime, but watch out for pickpockets. On main shopping streets, you’ll often see groups of two or three gypsy women with babies asking for money, and they may take advantage of any bags not being watched closely and help themselves to your belongings. Pickpockets may also strike during the jostle of boarding trains, when people are brushing past each other in the rush to get aboard.

Getting around
Public transport is the way to go to Shanghai. And for this you need a Shanghai Jiaotong card, which can be purchased at metro stations and from many convenience stores. Once loaded with money, the card is your ticket onto metro trains, buses and even taxis.

The Shanghai Metro has 12 lines criss-crossing the city with 439 kilometres of train tracks. It’s a great way to get around, but peak time passenger traffic often results in jam-packed trains.

The bus network is more extensive and slightly cheaper than the metro. However, it is a slower mode of transport. And unlike the metro, where signs are in English as well as Chinese, signage along bus routes is in Chinese only, although you will hear English announcements inside the bus.

Taxis are numerous and colour-coded by operator. Unless desperate, it’s advisable to steer clear of dark red or maroon taxis, as these are the cars of small or private operators and aren’t always reliable, or very credible.

Since most taxi drivers don’t speak a foreign language, make sure you have the address of your destination written out in Chinese characters to be sure you’ll get to where you’re going.

If you find yourself queuing for a taxi, don’t be surprised if locals push in front of you – it’s first come first served, so jump in and claim your car. It’s the done thing when attendants aren’t around to instil order.

Despite its cosmopolitan make-up, English is not widely spoken in Shanghai. It is taught in schools, but citizens don’t get many opportunities to practice. The more expensive and internationally-branded hotels, major tourist attractions and establishments catering to foreigners will usually have staff with an acceptable level of English proficiency.

There are a number of smartphone apps that will help you communicate in Mandarin. Check out English to Chinese Talking Phrasebook or iTranslate for iPhone, and UT English-Chinese Translator or Chinese Translator/Dictionary for Android.

Tourist attractions
A long history and rich culture have left their marks on the city and there are numerous interesting places to visit.

Yuyuan Gardens will give you a sense of classic Chinese architecture. The Bund offers a taste of what the city looked like in the 1920s – the area is also home to a growing number of boutique shops.

Zhujiajiao Water Town is a 400-year-old village about 40 minutes’ drive from the city, with shops, restaurants, well preserved houses and two impressive temples.

Take in a meal at the Oriental Pearl Tower’s revolving restaurant, or just enjoy the view from its observation deck.

Visit the many temples dotted around the city. The most popular are Jade Buddha Temple, Jing’ an Temple and Longhua Temple.

Tea is a deeply ingrained part of Chinese culture, and there are hundreds of tea houses in Shanghai offering to share this aspect of their society with visitors. Try the Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse in the middle of the Yuyuan Garden, or Yan Yu Jiang Nan tea house.

Fact File

Population: 23 million

Time zone: GMT +8

Plugs: Two-pin square, Japanese style; three-pin square, Australian style

Dialling code: +00 86 21

Currency: Chinese Yuan; $1 = 6.13CNY

Language: Shanghainese, Mandarin

Religion: Due to the cosmopolitan culture, there are a number of religions with a presence in Shanghai, including Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism 

Kate Kennedy