National Geographic : 1994 Mar
By WILLIAM S. ELLIS ASSISTANT EDITOR Photographs by STUART FRANKLIN HEN IT IS RAINING and millions of bicyclists have pulled on slickers of yellow and blue and red, and the city is awash in soft, wet color-when the streets are mirrors calling down shimmering images of the bordering plane trees-that, I think, is the best time of all to first see Shanghai. Come upon it by ship, along the fetid waters of the Huangpu River in the shameful wake of colonial gunboats and foreign opium traffickers. That way, the approach is at the Bund, Shanghai's famed waterfront promenade and site of the city's major historic buildings. Today along that broad avenue, as throughout Shanghai and much of southeastern China, you see and feel the dizzying swirl of a totally new and extra ordinary era. Shanghai has been chosen by the Chinese government to become (speak of leaps forward) the trade and banking center not only of Asia but of the whole world by the year 2010 or, failing that, at least to surpass Hong Kong as a financial giant. The greater goal may be out of reach, but the effort has started, and nothing is so important here now, it seems, as matters of the market. Suddenly the fetters of a controlled economy are relaxed, setting loose the entrepreneurial spirit of the Shanghainese. At the same time, there is a new openness to life in general in the city, and many of its 13 million people seem almost giddy with the freedom. They speak more boldly now of love and hate, hope and despair. Even the eel skinner seems reborn. He squats curbside at a street market on Wenan Road, and beside him is a pail of black and shiny slithering eels. His hand movements are a blur as he hangs an eel on a nail in a board, pulls the fish taut, and then, with the deftness of a surgeon, exorcises its skin and bones. He does that, one after another, until his bare arms and legs are streaked with the splattering blood. His name is Zhu Guo Hua, and he says to me: "I have been doing this for 30 years, most of my life, but it is better now. I feel like something good is going to happen, that I am going to become part of the world." He rises and flips his skinning and boning knife so that it sticks in the ground, as fine a mumblety-peg delivery as I have ever seen. There are others here in China's greatest city who have ridden the f hanghai chic, before World War II, daily stroll past shops young Chinese prom- Shanghai withered af- loaded with foreign enade on the Bund ter the 1949 commu- luxury items. "They're (left), the waterfront nist revolution. Now opening anything you'd where European, U. S., there is heady talk of see on Rodeo Drive or and Japanese colonial eclipsing Hong Kong as Fifth Avenue," says a powers built one of the a capital of enterprise. Westerner who works in first commercial en- On seething Nanjing the 13-million-strong claves in China. Called Road (preceding pages) city. "They've got Gucci the Paris of the Orient a million pedestrians to Pucci-you name it."