National Geographic : 1980 Jul
community of 60,000, furs and silks, servants-that was the Shanghai foreigners knew. For the average Chinese it was a good deal less. Asia's Paris was extraordinarily wicked, festering with opium dens, gambling halls, and alleys with such names as Galaxy of Beauties and Happiness Concentrated. All that was swept away when the Com munists won out over the Nationalists of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. After "liberation," to use the Communist jargon, the new regime "socialistically trans formed" foreign enterprise, "reeducated" the 30,000 prostitutes, and dried up the opi um supply of the 200,000 addicts. Shanghai became as innocent as a babe. Today not quite as innocent as it seems, perhaps. Government officials spoke to me of crime: of a gang mugging pedestrians, of theft and murder. I suspect that Shanghai's crime rate is lower than that of major U. S. cities-justice is severe and includes capital punishment-but the admission that there is any crime jolted me. Shanghai people usu ally are so well behaved in the presence of foreigners that one forgets they are, after all, human, I confess to a thrill at witnessing a fight in a vegetable market: One man mashed into the cauliflower, then rising to deck his adversary. Shanghai also can be restless. During most of my 38 days in Shanghai last fall, city hall was plastered with complaining post ers, and a crowd milled there. What were the grievances? Through my interpreter, I offered to listen. A hundred or more persons shoved to get close. A thin faced young man poured out a story of abuse of himself and his family, exiled to a rural town after his father was labeled a "capital ist roader." He had been taunted and beat en. He didn't like his job. His house had been set afire. On and on the story went. Finally a spectator yelled: "Get to the point! What do you want from the government?" "Revenge," he said. Most of the protesters, however, were "people waiting for jobs"-the unem ployed. No job, no yuan. China has no wel fare system for the jobless young. An un employed person must sponge off relatives. Shanghai strove last year to find work for 400,000 people. Some of the idle thousands went public in hope of receiving attention. One day the restless crowd was gone, and city hall was scrubbed clean of glue and tape. I later heard that three protesters had been detained and others reeducated. City hall: technically, the headquarters of A boulevard of consumers' dreams, Nanjing Road is ajingle with bicycle bells as a traffic officer controls traffic lights and barks out reprimands.In a city with virtually no privately owned cars, bicycles are treasuredpossessions.