Shanghai in the 1930s and today had many similarities.
By 1930, Shanghai was a vibrant world-known city with a foreign population close to 70,000, not too far off from the amount of foreigners living here today. Shanghai had one of the busiest ports in the world – same is true today – and had established itself as a hub for economic endeavors in Asia. Not only money was flowing into the city in massive amounts, opium did so as well.
But beside material resources and investments, these times brought new ideas and a new way of life and living in to the city, unlike anything China had seen in the past. Shanghai changed drastically, as walls and check posts were set up around the foreign concessions, and the British architecture lining up at the Bund, that people gasp at today, came into existence. Bits of French, Russian, American and German architecture in the form of lane houses and ArtDeco apartment buildings can still be seen in the former concessions. Famous as the ‘Paris of the East,’ Shanghai became a place to be in the thirties.
Much like today, with the influx of people, places to live, work and play all competed for space as property developments took off.
According to Tess Johnson, a historian focusing on foreign architecture in China, “Shanghai has the largest array of Art Deco edifices of any city in the world.” Development was inspired by New York City, which, during the 20s, stood as the most aspiring and sought-after look of urban cities of the time. The Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and other art-deco buildings were the prototypes that American architects realized on a smaller scale in Shanghai, and even today, references are still made about the similarities between NYC and Shanghai.
As with Shanghai today, wealth and opulence were the style real estate developers were going for. For 20 years this theme was followed, transforming a small shipping port in China to one of the largest business hubs in Asia. Along the way, many people and places emerged that left a legacy of famous people and places in its wake. And this is still valid today, as well.