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Shanghai is the largest city in the People's Republic of China (PRC), with a population of more than 23 million people. It is a major cultural and financial center and is an important port for container shipments.

The city is centred around the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, and extends outwards in all directions, with the suburbs and satellite towns reaching east to the East China Sea, north and west to Jiangsu province, and south to Zhejiang province over Hangzhou Bay.

The vast majority of Shanghai land area is flat, apart from a few hills in the southwest corner, due to its location on the alluvial plain of the Yangtze river delta.

Population: In 2010, the city permanent population of Shanghai will reach about 19 million, and about half are living in the suburbs. The city population is also characterized by an imbalance between old and young

Administrative Division: Because Shanghai is a city that directly under the Chinese central government, the administration structure is more or less equal to that of a Chinese province. It is divided into 18 county-level divisions: 17 districts and 1 county. The real city center is between Bund to the east, Nanjing Rd to the north, Old City Temple and Huaihai Road to the south. And the most busiest commercial areas include Lujiazui on the east bank of the Huangpu River, and The Bund and Hongqiao areas in the west bank of the Huangpu River.

Shanghainese - The Language of Shanghai

Since Shanghai is in the PRC, the official language of the city is Standard Mandarin Chinese, also known as Putonghua. However, the traditional language of the Shanghai region is Shanghainese, which is a dialect of Wu Chinese which is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin Chinese.

Shanghainese is spoken by about 14 million people. It has retained its cultural significance for the Shanghai region, despite the introduction of Mandarin Chinese as the official language in 1949.

For many years, Shanghainese was banned from primary and secondary schools, with the result that many young residents of Shanghai do not speak the language. Recently, however, there has been a movement to protect the language and to reintroduce it into the education system.

Mandarin & Shanghainese

Mandarin and Shanghainese are distinct languages which are mutually unintelligible. Some of the differences include:

Number of tones (5 in Shanghainese vs. 4 tones in Mandarin
Voiced initials - not used in Mandarin
Changing tones - affects both words and phrases in Shanghainese, but just words in Mandarin

Chinese characters are used to write Shanghainese, as they are many other Chinese variants. The written language is one of the most important factors in unifying the various Chinese cultures, since it can be read by most Chinese, regardless of their spoken language. The primary exception to this is the split between traditional and simplified Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese characters were introduced by the PRC in the 1950s, and can differ greatly from the traditional Chinese characters still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities. Shanghai, as part of the PRC, uses simplified characters.

Sometimes Chinese characters are used for their Mandarin sounds to write Shanghainese. This type of Shanghainese writing is seen on Internet blog posts and chat rooms as well as in some Shanghainese textbooks.

Protecting Shanghainese

From the early 1990s, the PRC banned Shanghainese from the education system, with the result that many of the young residents of Shanghai no longer speak the language fluently. In recent years, a movement has started to try to preserve the Shanghai language by promoting its cultural roots. The Shanghai government is sponsoring educational programs, and there is a movement to reintroduce Shanghainese education from kindergarten through to university.

Modern Shanghainese

Because the younger generation of Shanghai residents were educated in Mandarin Chinese, the Shanghainese they speak is often mixed with Mandarin words and expressions. This type of Shanghainese is quite different from the language that older generations speak, which has created fears that "real Shanghainese" is a dying language.

Interest in preserving Shanghainese is strong, and many young people, even though they speak a mixture of Mandarin and Shanghainese, see Shanghainese as a badge of distinction.

Shanghai, as one of the most important cities of the PRC, has important cultural and financial ties with the rest of the world, and is using those ties to promote Shanghai culture and the Shanghainese language. And as the largest city of the PRC, Shanghai has potential political influence, which, in a democratic country, would certainly be used to its own advantage.

People from Shanghai

Many of today's Shanghainese had ancestors who came from neighboring areas such as Suzhou, Ningbo, Hangzhou, and even from as far away as Guangdong in the south. The Cantonese who came in with the British as their compradors, and the people from the southern seaport town of Ningbo, who were known as astute bankers, contributed greatly to Shanghai's development as a capital of business and trade. It used to be that Shanghai was welcoming to anyone who was smart, enterprising, and ambitious, and while that still holds true today, many of today's urban class-conscious Shanghainese tend to regard all non-native Shanghainese with some suspicion and condescension. Migrant peasants from poorer neighboring provinces such as Anhui and Jiangxi who do much of the work deemed too lowly by the Shanghainese, such as construction or trash collection, bear the greatest brunt of disdain.

The people of Shanghai are considered "blunt, offhand, and presumptuous.” Traditionally more worldly, Westernized and wealthy than other Chinese, they like their food cooked in rapeseed oil and view themselves as different from other Chinese, who they sometimes dismiss as still living in the Stone Age. The rapid Shanghai dialect is difficult for those outside the city to understand.

Some have compared Shanghainese to New Yorkers. Both carry themselves with haughty superiority and share a sort of "it-stinks-but-its-great" attitude about their cities. One Hong Kong banker said the Shanghainese "have a strong sense of self-importance." Both Shanghai and New York have traditionally been regarded as places where one can find anything: the latest fashions, the best food, drugs, girls...and boys.

Other have compared Shanghai people with Singaporeans. Peter Kwan, a professor of Asian American studies at Hunter College, wrote in the New York Times, “the people of Shanghai, whether rich or poor, have always regarded themselves to be more rational and efficient than their countrymen. They have always reproached the people of Beijing for talking about politics, while they themselves got things done. They are especially proud of their trademark way of doing things—the so-called haipai style.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Shanghainese's biggest detractors are its main competitors to the north and south, the Beijingers and the Cantonese respectively. But in general, the Shanghainese have a reputation, valid or not, among many Chinese as being superficial, arrogant, opportunistic, and unpatriotic. This harsh judgment may have more to do with jealousy over economic success than anything else.

Either way the Shanghainese themselves are too busy to disagree or bother with what they perceive as sour grapes, prefer to think of themselves as cosmopolitan, smart, shrewd, savvy, ambitious, open-minded, progressive, and enterprising, qualities they believe have allowed Shanghai to lead the country's economic revolution and move headlong into the 21st century. The Shanghainese are fashion-setters and conspicuous consumers. That they enjoy a significantly higher standard of living than most other Chinese is, to them, proof that they possess the necessary winning qualities. And indeed, foreign companies doing business in Shanghai hail the locals as smart, eager, and hungry to learn. Some Chinese grouse that the Shanghainese are too quick to both please and ape Westerners, but the Shanghainese will just as quickly tell you that their historical exposure to foreigners has made them more open to Western ways, and therefore allowed them to succeed in today's global village. Whether in business or in social mores, the Shanghainese pride themselves on being pioneers willing to break old rules. Already, Shanghainese men, at least those of the post-Cultural Revolution (1966-76) generation, are considered to be a prime catch for young Chinese women, not necessarily because of their urbaneness or any putative business acumen, but because many younger Shanghainese husbands are known to do all the housework, the cooking, and the grocery shopping for their wives.

Even in China's most cosmopolitan and international city, however, there are still significant differences in customs and modes of behavior between the Shanghainese and foreign visitors. Though Shanghainese today have a remarkable amount of freedom in everything from fashions to critiquing corruption, politics, especially criticism of the government and the Chinese Communist Party, is still a taboo subject for public discussion. If you broach any "embarrassing" topic -- including questions about China's handling of political dissidents, the status of Tibet and Taiwan, restrictions on the media, abortion, prison labor, and the Tian'anmen Square incident -- be prepared for stock answers from most people, especially English-speaking tour guides. Some younger Shanghainese may seem eager to tackle such topics, but Western visitors sometimes find themselves surprised by the sincerely nationalistic responses to such questions. In general, feel free to ask the locals about anything, but remember that visitors can sometimes put their hosts -- who may have government jobs -- on the hot seat when posing politically sensitive questions. In return, visitors can expect some frank questions, not just from the Shanghainese but from the Chinese in general, about everything from your age and income to your marital status. You may answer such queries as you see fit, vaguely if you wish.

Saving Face

In social or business settings, the Chinese often take great pains to preserve "face," which involves maintaining one's self-respect while deferring important decisions to those of higher rank within a group. "Losing face" means to suffer embarrassment before others. To be criticized roughly by a visitor, for example, or to be asked to do something that is impossible, puts a Chinese person in a difficult position. "Saving face" is achieved by compromising, or sometimes by ignoring a problem altogether. You will seldom be told a direct "no" in response to a difficult or impossible request; instead you may get some more ambivalent answers such as "Maybe" or "I'm not sure" or "We'll see," which is usually tantamount to "No." Many Chinese will go to extremes to avoid settling a dispute or handling a complaint, because any loss of face in "kowtowing" to another could reflect badly upon their family and China, as well as upon themselves.

What visitors need to do when making requests or issuing complaints in Shanghai, then, is to control their tempers, avoid assigning personal blame, seek compromise when possible, and practice patience. A polite approach has a better chance of success than a more aggressive, brutally frank, or simply angry outburst. In a nation renowned for the size and inertia of its bureaucracy, some things are slow to be done, and some things are never done at all. It often helps to ask a person to relay your complaint or demand to a superior, remembering that a response may not be immediate.