Welcome to Shanghai: The Chinese city that’s set trends for centuries

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Shanghai has become the first city in China to host an international import expo. If you know Shanghai, you know why it’s a good choice.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

“Shanghai” means “upon the sea,” a reference to its location on the Yangtze River Delta.

For centuries, the waters of Shanghai have served as the entryway to China, for goods and people. Some forced, some welcomed. The city has witnessed many of China’s significant “firsts” in the history of import.

The first car in China first drove on Shanghai’s streets. The country’s first light bulb first lit Shanghai.

The first phone and the first television both made their debut in the city, and China’s first high heel first walked Shanghai’s pavements.

The first bicycle was first used by foreigners in Shanghai in the 1800s. Half a century later, the first Chinese bicycle brand – Feng Huang, or Phoenix – was introduced right here in Shanghai. The brand has soared in popularity to become China’s biggest. The company is still headquartered right in Shanghai.

Shanghai’s global appeal largely halted in the mid-20th century. Decades later, Deng Xiaopeng’s reforms changed that. CGTN visited an exhibit in the city center called “1978.” It documents Shanghai’s transformation just over the last 40 years – the period of China’s official opening up.

Shen Huiping, a 61-year old exhibit volunteer, who was born and raised in Shanghai, told CGTN she vividly remembers the changes.

“After the reforms,” Shen said. “we saw a lot of foreign brands coming to Shanghai. Things that we had never seen before, never used before, never eaten before. And over the years, we’ve seen a lot of new things that we’ve now gotten used to it: the clothes, the food, the daily necessities.”

She said her daughter’s generation prefers foreign brands, but she and her friends still buy made in China. This may explain why the reforms all lead domestic innovation. Global cinema triggered a Chinese film industry that used both imported cameras. And for the first time, cameras were made in China, or more specifically, in Shanghai.

The people of Shanghai have always been early adapters to new products, but it’s sometimes come with some reservation. Many in the city used to believe that being filmed or having their photo taken would lead to an early death. That clearly changed. And what caught on in Shanghai first, then caught on in the rest of China.

The Shanghainese are known as trend-setters. Indeed, many of China’s latest fashion trends come from Shanghai. The city is known as the Paris of the East.

Today, Shanghai is a vibrant international city. It is a first-tier city in China, and a first-class city in the world.