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From the series Cities of China

Last November I had the opportunity to make a trip back to China with some friends. We spent a couple days in Shanghai, which was long enough to remind me of what a fabulous city it is, something that isn’t always easy for this Beijinger to admit. Whenever I visit I can understand why visiting politicians and journalists might think that the West has no chance!

Of course the story of Christianity in China and the story of Shanghai are inextricably linked. During the heyday of missions (mid-1800s to mid-1900s), Shanghai’s status as an international city (complete with foreign governance) meant that it was the main entry point for everything coming into China—things and ideas, both good and bad. For missionaries, it was their first stop before heading into China’s interior.

After the Communist Party took power in China, partly in order to demonstrate their displeasure at the city’s free-wheeling capitalist ways, they more or less ignored it. Very little development and modernization took place between 49 and 92. In fact, the first time I visited Shanghai was in 1985, and it seemed to have changed little from the photos that I had seen from the late 1940s. On the Pudong side of the river there were only factories and rice paddies.

Once the reform and opening kicked into high gear in the 90s, however, the city began to change—drastically. Instead of punishing the city for its capitalist past, the government decided to tap into it and set out to return the city to its pre-49 place as the financial/industrial center, not just of China, but of East Asia. The Shanghai of today is a result of that decision, and this timelapse video is a fantastic look at those results:

SHANGHAI from zweizwei |timelapse&hyperlapse| on Vimeo.

Because of its status as an international city before 1949, there are numerous churches, many of which are considered to be historic sites. You can find a list of the historic churches at Travel China Guide.

There a number of international fellowships in the city, including Shanghai Community Fellowship and the International Church of Shanghai.

One of my favorite books set in Shanghai is Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family, by Jennifer Lin. It tells the story of Christianity in the Republican era and the early days of the Communist era in a very personal way. (note: you can read my brief review of the book here, and an interview with the author here.)

Whether you’re wanting to glimpse the future of China or explore it’s past; whether you want gleaming skyscrapers or quiet neighborhoods, Shanghai is the place to be.

Image credit: Joann Pittman, via Flickr.
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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