Shanghai - History
According to many accounts, Shanghai was just a tiny fishing village up until the first opium war of 1842, but even then, Shanghai was a large city for that time. Seven thousand years prior saw the first settlements in the areas around Shanghai; the city was first mentioned in the tenth century C.E. In the sixteenth century, Shanghai already had city walls to protect from pirates. Its significance as a port grew slowly, and as early as the middle of the 17th century, Shanghai had more than 200,000 inhabitants.
Development into a metropolis of international significance began late, in the middle of the nineteenth century after the opium wars and under European influence. The city was built up by western colonial powers for trading silk, tea, and opium. Shanghai became the embodiment of sin and corruption with its innumerable opium dens, gambling houses, and bordellos. Areas developed in which foreigners could live undisturbed by the Chinese world or by Chinese law. Even today, one can visit the former French Quarter, for example, and get a good impression of Europe's cultural influence.
In the nineteen-twenties and -thirties Shanghai was known as the birthplace of many modernization drives founded by educated Chinese who had taken up western ideas. Shanghai was also the origin of the May 30th Movement, and particularly because of this developed a reputation as the nucleus of many modernization endeavors and movements critical of the government.
The 1921 founding of the Communist Party in Shanghai was a huge turning point in Chinese history. Among the founding members was Mao Zedong, although he did not play an important role in those first years.
Europe's tremendous influence and the opium dens disappeared in 1949 after occupation by the People's Liberation Army. The city's position as an economic metropolis declined, more than ever during the Cultural Revolution and China's self-isolation from the world through the 1970s.
Shanghai won back its economic power after the introduction of reform and openness policies by Deng Xiaoping after Mao's death. Since the 1990s Shanghai has expanded into the economic center of China, supplanting others like Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong.