Chasing Mirages

Tag: urban culture

Shanghai – China’s only real city?

by on Jun.15, 2011, under Posts

I recently read an essay by the head of Beijing Green Cross, Sun Jun (孙君), claiming that Shanghai is the only city in China that has begun developing a true urban culture.  In Sun Jun’s mind, an urban culture requires an effective civil society in which the government and citizens take pride in their city and strive to make it a more pleasant place to live and work.

Admittedly, I didn’t used to be a big fan of Shanghai.  I lived in Shanghai from 2002-2003, and at that time I felt that it was inconvenient, loud, and was exceedingly thin on culture, art and good food.  Most importantly, I didn’t like how I was treated by local Shanghainese.  When I asked for directions, more often than not the locals would refuse to look me in the eye and wordlessly point in an ambiguous direction, or even make hand motions as if shooing away a stray dog.  Service at restaurants and retail stores was abysmal – no smiles, no hello, thank you, good-bye, only gruff mumbling, sharp scolding, and small change thrown in my face.

When I visited Shanghai last year, and again this past month, I found that the place had largely been transformed.

The streets were cleaner and less crowded than before, the subway lines extended to many new places, and incredibly, the people of Shanghai had, in the short span of 8 years, emerged from savagery.  Smiling faces everywhere, people stopping to give very detailed, helpful, and accurate directions; patient customer service, even from the cab company’s lost and found hotline!!

The changes are uncanny.  But I like them.  I never thought I’d say this, but Shanghai has become a pleasant place in my mind, largely thanks to how nice the citizens are.

OK, onto the picture.  This PSA was displayed very prominently in several different locations around the Shanghai Pudong Airport.   I thought it was simple, cute and clever.  The text reads: 省点用 – 懂得节约,才会持久, which means “use sparingly – our long-term survival depends on learning how to conserve”.

The PSA, according to the text on the far right, was made possible by the municipal government’s Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce, and the Shanghai Airport’s JCDecaux subsidiary, and created by the Shanghai Fine Arts Design Company.

It’s nice to see this kind of government – private enterprise cooperation happening in China.  Even better to see that these PSAs are well-designed and well-placed.  To me, it’s clear that the people of Shanghai are starting to develop a healthy civil society, as emphasized by Sun Jun.  I hope this trend spreads in China.

Perhaps Beijing would be a good place to begin.

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