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Introduction to the Special Issue

Rosemary Wakeman

History Department & Urban Studies Program, Fordham University, New York, United States

Shanghai is among the most dynamic global cities of both the 20th and 21st centuries. The city is China’s gateway to the world and its aspirations for the future. With more than 24 million people, 40 percent of whom are migrants, it is a global crossroads and one of the most multicultural cities in the world. It has more skyscrapers than New York and a public transport system that overtakes most global cities. Shanghai is a trading city, an entrepot of commodities. It exports electronic information products, automobiles, petrochemicals, fine steel, equipment, and biomedicine. It has the highest GDP of any city in China’s mainland and has become one of the leading financial sectors in East Asia, with major Western banks flocking to its new financial centre. With well over 500 multinational companies, the city attracts more foreign investment flows than most developing countries. Along with them has come a highly-skilled workforce from all over the world. Shanghai’s urban middle-class has fuelled China’s consumer revolution and a property boom. Sleek skyscrapers and glamorous malls, its brilliant skyline, dominate the global image of Shanghai and beckon tourists to its shores.

Most analyses of Shanghai see this phenomenon as ‘new’ and Shanghai as a surprising ‘rising star’ in the contemporary global city constellation. However, Shanghai has long been a ‘global crossroads’, as its cultural vivacity has long attested. It has always been a restless cosmopolitan metropolis entangled in global forces that have dramatically transformed its urban life. This special issue of Built Heritage explores Shanghai as a global city. It examines the global features, the networks and exchanges that have shaped its landscape and been such a source of creativity. It considers Shanghai from a historical perspective as well as in comparison to other global cities. With so much emphasis on Shanghai’s recent transformation, it is easy to overlook the city’s heritage as a global gateway. The goal of this special issue is to remedy this gap. The focus is on Shanghai’s 20th-century urban history and culture, and the heritage these have left on the cityscape. The famous ‘Shanghai style’ is an amalgam of influences that have shaped the city’s cultural imaginary. The articles in this issue explore the intersection between the domestic and the foreign, and the fusion of cultural legacies Shanghai is known for. What qualities are distinctive to Shanghai and what heritage features does it share with other global capitals? How has the built heritage of Shanghai changed as a result of its spectacular growth and modernisation? How have both tangible and intangible heritage been incorporated into the urban narrative of Shanghai’s identity? 


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