Shanghai - same but different

By Petra Milič : Energetic, Charming and Powerful are words one could use to describe contemporary Shanghai. With over twenty million people in its extended metropolitan area, Shanghai today is the biggest city in China, in terms of population and one of the largest urban areas in the world. Once a village located by the mouth of Yangtze River, Shanghai was titled ‘the cultural and economic center of East Asia’ for the first half of the twentieth century, and is often seen as the birthplace of everything considered modern in China. It was in Shanghai, that the first motor car was driven, and the first train tracks and modern sewers were laid. And it was in Shanghai, where in 2003, the first commercial Maglev railway in the world was constructed. Today Shanghai is becoming a modern metropolis, an economic, financial and trading epicenter.

Due to its dynamic history, Shanghai, also referred to as the ‘New York of the East’, differs significantly from other Chinese cities; Shanghai has its very own French concession area, with beautiful villas from the 1920’s. There are some beautiful examples of Anglo – Chinese architecture, build with bricks and traditional courtyards. On the other hand, contemporary Chinese architecture stands out with its own unique style, evident in sky-high skyscrapers, where restaurants are positioned in the clouds and seem like UFOs. This is a solid proof, that Shanghai is the meeting point of the East and the West. The city embodies new and extraordinary ideas, where the possibilities seem limitless, and unique tourist attractions for people from all over the world and China as well. There is not one tourist who hasn’t walked along the Bund, Shanghai’s premier attraction, where visitors can be seen posing, taking photos by the globally-famous, spaceship-shaped Pearl Tower. In Shanghai everybody looks up to the city.

But everything that glitters is not gold, and the local people know it best. They can feel the consequences of the rapid modern changes and the fast-paced urban life which goes with it. Like all the cities rushing into development, Shanghai is paying dues. Pollution, poverty, the decrease of natural habitats, destruction of traditional houses and ‘lilongs’, the increased cost of living, are just some of the nightmares for struggling people. Many people remember, not long ago, when Pudong was just an area of all wooden houses; today the top of the skyscraper is barely visible from the ground.

Wang Huhiqin, a Shanghai native, remembers when the city was different. The small alleys, stores, shops, gardens and old houses of her youth are now all gone. Through time, the city changed, just as she did, and this affected the way she viewed her environment and motherland. In her heart, she is carrying Shanghai, the city she knows like her own pocket and respects every bit of it. Whether be modern, old fashioned, beautiful, ugly, clean or dirty, cruel or kind, it represents her childhood and her memories. Every person that has ever visited Shanghai or lived there has his/her own unique story of the city. Huiqin is speaking hers through her artwork, and her vision consists of more than just ‘bed of roses.’ On the stamps, which are a significant part of the letter, besides its hidden content, there are the most valuable and most famous attractions of the city: Pudong area, old town, traditional Yu gardens, Baidu – the oldest iron bridge in China, beautiful Jing`An temple, all the things that make Shanghai what it is. Every part of it has a story. Huiqin and Arjan Pregl, an outside observer, are giving these stories their own flavor through artistic dialogue, sensibility and personal interpretations. These interpretations are the result of interactions between two artists, and their individual worlds that merge in Shanghai. Everything comes together in Shanghai. Inside the aesthetic, that other aspect is seen, which is not completely hidden in their work. An aspect that requires thinking and asks questions about world, nature, development, and human life.

In Shanghai everyone has their own way. It is a city where modernism and tradition, the richness and the poor, go hand in hand; they complement one another, like the Yin and the Yang. One can’t exist without the other and vice versa. Shanghai today, gives many opportunities but also takes many. And in the meantime, the city shows no mercy to anyone.