Currently, I am touring China to cover the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which will usher in the change in the civilian leadership hierarchy at its conclusion.

The last party changes were seen at the 16th Party Congress in 2002, when Hu Jintao took over as Party Chief and thereafter in 2003 as President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Commencing on November 8, the Congress will review the party’s work over the past five years as well as what it has implemented, since the 16th CPC National Congress.

In my next article, an eyewitness account will be presented after the inauguration of the Congress. However, this piece is dedicated to Shanghai, a city I had longed to explore for decades.

It is a unique experience, since Shanghai resembles most of the modern western metropolis and reminds one of “The Big Apple” - New York - with its towering skyscrapers, elegant bridges and contemporary architecture, except that it is cleaner. It boasts of some of the tallest buildings in the world, with distinctive space-age structural designs. Since it is inhabited by a cosmopolitan mix of races, it is heartening to see that some of the ancient-style structures have been retained - for example, the French, Soviet, German and British.

It has changed many hands owing to its strategic location, as a trading, commercial and industrial centre. The British forces occupied Shanghai after their victory in the First Opium War (1839–1842). The Treaty of Nanjing (1842) allowed them to dictate opening the treaty ports, including Shanghai for international trade. The Treaty of Bogue (1843) and the Treaty of Wanghia (1844) forced Chinese concession to European and American desires for visitation and trade on Chinese soil. Britain, France, and the US all carved out concessions for themselves and have left their distinctive mark on the city.

The 1920s and 1930s witnessed the exodus of almost 30,000 Russians and Russian Jews, who fled Soviet Union to take up residence in Shanghai. Japan conquered mainland China after defeating it during the Sino-Japanese War (1937) and built the first factories in Shanghai that were soon followed by other foreign powers, making it the most important financial centre in the Far East. All this international activity gave Shanghai the nickname “the Great Athens of China”. Some people call Shanghai the “Paris of the East”; however to me, it reminds of New York.

After the advent of PRC in 1949, most foreign traders moved to Hong Kong. But the CPC honoured the venue of its birthplace, as its first National Congress was convened in Shanghai on July 23, 1921.

Taking cognisance of the importance of this trading and commercial centre, the CPC provided it the impetus to become a flourishing megalopolis. It has been rightly described as the “showpiece” of the booming economy of PRC.

A lot of thought went into the selection of the design for the emblem of Shanghai that comprises a triangle, encompassing a white magnolia flower, a large junk and a propeller. Since the white magnolia is among the few spring heralding flowers in the Shanghai area, has large white petals, delicate fragrance and its eye always looks towards the sky, it was prudently adopted as the city flower to personify the pioneering vitality and enterprising spirit of the city.

On the emblem, the large junk - one of the oldest vessels plying the Shanghai harbour - depicts the long history of the port, while the propeller symbolises the continuous advancement of the city.

Shanghai boasts of being one of the fastest developing cities in the world. Since 1992, it has recorded double-digit growth almost every year, except during the global recession of 2008 and 2009. In 2011, its total GDP grew to 1.92 trillion yuan ($297 billion) with GDP per capita of 82,560 yuan ($12,784).

Shanghai has one of the best education systems in China. It is the first city in the country to implement nine-year mandatory education.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) was founded in 1990; its membership institution being directly governed by the China Regulatory Commission, the SSE has 931 companies on its list, with a total market capitalisation of RMB 14, 837.622 billion.

It is China’s national strategy to transform Shanghai into a leading international financial centre by 2020. The hubbub of financial activity and rapid development projects bear witness to this endeavour.

The writer is a political and defence analyst. Email: