Alternative Shanghai

by on Monday, 28 May 2007 Comments
Shanghai is the city of money, of power, of architectural progress… Shanghai is the city of the future… Shanghai is the city where the world is flocking to: Chinese from the hinterland, Taiwanese in search of a larger field of action, multinational companies, artists, adventurers and bankers… Shanghai is also the city where the next International Fair will take place, in 2010, and it ambitions to become then the point around which the entire world will revolve. Where and when is Shanghai’s rise going to stop?

At the same time, Shanghai is often presented as a soulless city: power and money do not harmonize easily with altruism and spiritual quest. The rise of Shanghai profits mostly those who focus on accumulating more wealth and more influence. It does not look like a place for poets or mystics. It is the kingdom of greed, opportunism and working frenzy. Watching the Shanghai of today, the opening line of “A Take of two Cities” comes again to mind” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Booming Shanghai might be slowly devouring the flesh and soul of its own children.

However, there is another Shanghai, a kindler and gentler city. Since its start, eRenlai nurtures friendship with a group of people who strive to make Shanghai a different place, where people care for their neighbors, where the rights of minorities are recognized, where the weakest are taken into full consideration, where the cultural resources brought by different groups of people are respected and cherished. The initiators of such a movement are Shanghai people themselves. They are helped in many ways by people from outside, who found in Shanghai what they were not initially looking for.

Taiwanese are especially numerous in Shanghai and its surroundings. Most of them deploy there their professional talents, and are making good money out of it. Often, they complain about Shanghai ’ recklessness – while contributing to it. Are they truly looking for the real soul of the city? Are they bringing an example of openness and generosity that would help Chinese civil society to mature and pacify? Are they taking initiatives that contribute to peace and solidarity? Are they just making use of Shanghai or do they contribute to its human development? Some of them may do so. Most of them need to be encouraged to look differently at Shanghai - and to act differently as well.

Our ultimate concern is of course about China’s civil society and its future. People and groups who contribute to accrued solidarity and diversity deserve to be better known, encouraged and empowered. Beyond political and cultural issues, the human quality deployed by citizens and associations is what will make China a better place to live, and a more friendly partner for the rest of Asia and the world. There are reasons for hope, but they are not always obvious. We have to look at China with different eyes. Alternative Shanghai is a good place to start with.

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