Shanghai is the largest city in China, and one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with over 20 million people. Located on China’s central eastern coast at the mouth of the Yangtze River, the city is administered as a municipality of the People’s Republic of China with province-level status.
Originally a fishing and textiles town, Shanghai grew to importance in the 19th century due to its favourable port location and as one of the cities opened to foreign trade by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. The city flourished as a center of commerce between east and west, and became a multinational hub of finance and business by the 1930s.
However, Shanghai’s prosperity was interrupted after the 1949 Communist takeover and the subsequent cessation of foreign investment. Economic reforms in 1990 resulted in intense development and financing in Shanghai, and in 2005 Shanghai became the world’s largest cargo port.
The city is a tourist destination renowned for its historical landmarks such as the Bund and City God Temple, its modern and ever-expanding Pudong skyline including the Oriental Pearl Tower, and its new reputation as a cosmopolitan center of culture and design. Today, Shanghai is the largest center of commerce and finance in mainland China, and has been described as the “showpiece” of the world’s fastest-growing major economy.
Most Shanghainese residents are descendants of immigrants from the two adjacent provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang who moved to Shanghai in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, regions that generally also speak Wu Chinese. In the past decades, many migrants from other areas of China come to Shanghai for work. They often cannot speak the local dialect and therefore use Mandarin as a lingua franca.
The vernacular language is Shanghainese, a dialect of Wu Chinese, while the official language is Standard Mandarin. The local dialect is mutually unintelligible with Mandarin, and is an inseparable part of the Shanghainese identity.
The modern Shanghainese dialect is based on the Suzhou dialect of Wu, the prestige dialect of Wu spoken within the Chinese city of Shanghai prior to the modern expansion of the city, the Ningbo dialect of Wu, and the dialect of Shanghai’s surrounding rural areas now within the Hongkou, Baoshan and Pudong districts, which is simply called “Bendihua”, or “the local dialect”. It is influenced to a lesser extent by the dialects of other nearby regions from which large numbers of people have have migrated to Shanghai since the 20th Century.
Nearly all Shanghainese under the age of 40 can speak Mandarin fluently. Fluency in foreign languages is unevenly distributed. Most senior residents who received a university education before the revolution, and those who worked in foreign enterprises, can speak English. Those under the age of 26 have had contact with English since primary school, as English is taught as a mandatory course starting at Grade four.
Due to its cosmopolitan history, Shanghai has a rich blend of religious heritage as shown by the religious buildings and institutions still scattered around the city. Taoism has a presence in Shanghai in the form of several temples, including the City God Temple, at the heart of the old city, and a temple dedicated to the Three Kingdoms general Guan Yu.
The Wenmiao is a temple dedicated to Confucius. Buddhism has had a presence in Shanghai since ancient times. Longhua temple, the largest temple in Shanghai, and Jing’an Temple, were first founded in the Three Kingdoms period. Another important temple is the Jade Buddha Temple, which is named after a large statue of Buddha carved out of jade in the temple. In recent decades, dozens of modern temples have been built throughout the city.
Shanghai is also an important center of Christianity in China. Churches belonging to various denominations are found throughout Shanghai and maintain significant congregations. Among Catholic churches, St Ignatius Cathedral in Xujiahui is one of the largest, while She Shan Basilica is the only active pilgrimage site in China.
Shanghai has the highest catholic percentage in Mainland China (2003). The city is also home to Muslim, Jewish, and Eastern Orthodox communities. A predominant religion in Shanghai is Mahayana Buddhism, and Taoism is also followed by many Shanghai residents.
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