Both Chinese residents and expats have described this metropolis in extravagant terms: “Pearl of the Orient”, “Gateway to the World”, “Dragon’s Head”, or “Paris of the East” – nicknames that will make your plan of moving to Shanghai appear even more exciting. However fascinating the city might seem, one shouldn’t romanticize it, but rather appreciate the interesting, albeit turbulent history that has made Shanghai what it is today.
Located in the delta of the mighty Yangtze River, approximately equidistant to Beijing and Hong Kong, Shanghai has been growing from a small market town in imperial China to a 21st century megalopolis. Its municipal region is a little province of its own, subject only to the central government in Beijing.
After moving to Shanghai, you will quickly notice the population density. The area attracts thousands of people every year, both migrant laborers from rural China and expatriates who come to Shanghai for business reasons.
Business has influenced the city’s evolution for most of its history. Moving to Shanghai with its natural harbor used to be important for the merchant guilds of feudal China. It was the rapid turnover of goods in the port that awakened the interest of colonial powers later on. After the British enforced trade between China and Western nations with the Treaty of Nanking (1842), countless international merchants arrived in Shanghai due to its trade concessions.
Since then, the city’s history has been tied up with Western imperialism and commercial interests, Chinese-Japanese tensions, and the rivalry between Chinese nationalism and Communism. It was in 1920s Shanghai that Chinese socialists founded the Communist Party of China. With Maoist troops moving to Shanghai at the end of the Chinese civil war (1949), the city became a bulwark of the party line and the Cultural Revolution.
Nowadays, the city is once again moving with the times, spearheading modern China’s rapid business development. The country’s economic liberalization has prompted numerous FIE (foreign-invested enterprises) to move to Shanghai.
In 2013, a Free Economic Zone was officially opened in a 29 square kilometer area, in the east of Shanghai, in hopes of attracting foreign direct investment. As of October 2014, a Hong Kong-Shanghai Stock Connect is in progress, which will enable foreign investors to access China’s mostly closed off stock market. However, there have been issues with implementation, such as political protests in Hong Kong.
Despite its unchallenged supremacy as one of China’s most important industrial centers, Shanghai has recently put a strong emphasis on the high-tech industry and the service sector. Home to companies from the fields of IT and microelectronics, the city is also the seat of China’s main stock exchange and, unsurprisingly, one of the two biggest expat hubs in the country (Beijing being the other).
Large Chinese firms, over half of the CEOs are hired from abroad compared to the 27% recruited in North America and Europe. However, unless you are a professional, with advanced knowledge of industrial processes or technology, it seems as though the job market is no longer seeking English-speakers with general knowledge. For expats wanting to live in China, it is advised that you improve your knowledge of the culture and your Chinese language skills.
Upon moving to Shanghai, you’re bound to meet countless other expatriates: overseas Chinese (including plenty of Taiwanese), Koreans, Japanese, Americans, Germans, British, French, etc. After moving to Shanghai, you will see that “Shanghailand” is alive and well.
In the last 35 years, China's economy has grown tremendously. Read our Extended Guide article to find out more about differenct sectors, the current state of the economy, and local hot spots.
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