"Come to Shanghai," a Chinese acquaintance urged soon after my arrival Peking. "Shanghai is a real city. We don't take noonday siestas like you do here in Peking. People walk more briskly, and we have real traffic jams -- I mean cars and trucks, not bicycles and horse carts."
He may have been exaggerating a bit -- Shanghainese are known as great boosters of their city. If Shanghai is the New York of China, it is a New York that could do with several coats of fresh paint. But in the Chinese context, my friend was right.
On the Whangpoo River, wider than the Thames in full flood, tugboats and sampans ply the muddy waters, and at docks were oceangoing liners used to tie up in the days of the "international settlement," -- freighters fluttering the five-starred chinese flag load and unload cargo.
The former bund along the waterfront is crowded with traffic to be sure; there are bicycles, but most of the rattling, rumbling and banking is done by trucks, buses, and Shanghai-built passenger cars. The shops on Nanking Road look smarter than their sisters on Peking's Wangfujing, and at night neon signs are beginning to make a timid reappearance.
Before the advent of the People's Republic, Shanghai was a great commercial entrepot. Today Shanghai accounts for one-third of China's foreign trade, but it also produces one- eighth of China's total industrial output, according to city planning official Ge Dajong.
In addition to traditional textiles and light industry, Shanghai now makes iron and steel, petrochemicals, machine tools, and electronic goods, Mr. Ge said in a recent interview.Whereas in 1949, 86 percent of the city's industrial output was in textiles and light industry, now heavy industry accounts for 50.7 percent
Shanghai today comprises 6,100 square kilometers, having annexed some 10 suburban counties, many of them still largely agricultural, neighboring Kiangsu Province.
Its total population is 11 million, of which 5.8 million live in the 140 -square kilometer urban area.
One of the city government's proudest achievements is the building of 16 million squares meters of housing since 1949, MR. Ge said. Building continues at the rate of 2 million square meters per year, of which one-quarter is in 12 satellite towns.
But, although the city spends one-third of its disposable budget -- the money it can disburse on its own authority without getting central government approval -- on housing, the program is not sufficient to meet demand. In principle, newlyweds are entitled to leave their parents and move into new quarters with at least 12 square meters of living space. (In older buildings, families are allocated housing on the basis of four square meters per adult). Rent is a nominal seven yuan (less than five dollars) per month in new buildings with gas, electricty, and cold water but no heat or hot water. Even so, couples must wait months and sometimes years for new housing.
Currently, the city's greatest social problem seems to be to find employment for some 300,000 educated youth who have been officially allowed to return to Shanghai after having been sent to the countryside during the so-called Great Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Mr. Ge said that this year, 1979, the city had to arrange for 400,000 new jobs to take care of the returned youth and natural population increase. Unofficial sources say that many of the returned youth have not yet found jobs and account for much of the city's sharply rising crime rate.
Although unemployed educated youth are the particular legacy of the Cultural Revolution, Shanghai has been trying to disperse its population since the early days of the People's Republic. From 1950 to 1972, Mr. Ge said, more than 1.5 million people had been moved out of Shanghai to remote and border provinces. Before the Cultural Revolution, the dispersal policy was relatively lenient: Workers accompanied their relocated factories to other areas, or new factories were set up in these areas to which workers from Shanghai were invited.
But from 1966, when the Cultural Revolution began, 100 percent of high school graduates were sent to the countryside -- 940,00 altogether to provinces, such as Heilungkiang in the north, Yunnan in the South, as well as to closer areas such as Anhwei or Kiangsu. The 100 percent policy was wrong, Mr. Ge said. Nevertheless, as before stated, only 300,000 of the 940,000 have so far been permitted to return.
Pollution is also a problem, Mr. Ge acknowledged. By law new factories must treat their own waste. But Shanghai has many older, smaller factories, often no larger than workshops, crammed in cheek by jowl with residents of the "lanes" -- the maze of the neighborhood alleys that characterize older parts of the city. Municipal policy is to build facilities where water from several factories can be treated in common. But many difficulties remain with noise, air and water pollution, Mr. Ge said. "Our newspapers carry many articles urging us not to repeat the mistake of the capitalist countries -- production first, and then pollution," Mr. Ge said.
Future plans emphasize dispersal of the population, not to distant areas, but to the new satellite towns ringing Shanghai. In addition to its natural advantage of location at the mouth of China's great central artery, the Yangtze river, Shanghai has a most important human resource, Mr. Ge said -- skilled workers and scientific and technical personnel trained in 48 universities and institutions of higher learning, and 120 research institutes. Somehow it must maximize these twin advantages of geography and human resources to spearhead China's drive to catch up with the advanced industrialized nations of the West by the year 2000.