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Shanghai, China

Factories or Farmland?

Some of China's most fertile farmland is giving way to factories. Perhaps the most dramatic impact of Shanghai's affect on the countryside is in the nearby city of Suzhou, famed for its ancient gardens and canals. For thousands of years Suzhou adhered to a more traditional, more spiritual way of life.

As the population of Shanghai grows, ancient farmland is giving way to commercial growth nad urban development. Today officials in Suzhou are struggling to preserve its historic district. They have imposed height restrictions on buildings and closed some streets to motorized vehicles. But it may be too late, as Shanghai's industrial sprawl begins to envelop Suzhou.

Though some have called Shanghai the city of the new millennium, there are moments when Shanghai seems caught between two worlds. By the 1920s Shanghai was the commercial capital of Asia. Called the Jewel of the Orient, it was also a city famous for its bawdiness and European flair. Then came the horrors of World War II. Invaded, and ultimately occupied, by the Japanese, Shanghai suffered enormously.

Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

After the war, Chinese Nationalists took control of the city. Four years later Mao's communist forces liberated Shanghai, but living conditions worsened. The new regime was determined to make the city pay for its long history of capitalism and decadence. In the early 1970s, during the extremes of the Cultural Revolution, Shanghai's most educated citizens were sent to rural work camps, to be "re-educated." Many never returned.

Today, Shanghai has literally re-emerged from these earlier upheavals, and is once again an international port of call. Just across the river is the futuristic skyline of the city's newest neighborhood: Pudong. Home to thousands of multi-national corporations, they have located here for only one reason: Shanghai is destined to become the financial center of China, if not all of Asia.

In less than a decade 13 million people have been joined by nearly 3 million farmers from the poorer countryside.

The result is a city crowded with people. In less than a decade 13 million people have been joined by nearly 3 million farmers from the poorer countryside. Some seek prosperity by selling food in the local markets. Others seek economic opportunities in one of the 20,000 construction sites in Shanghai. These workers were once rice farmers from the northern provinces. Today, they share a common dream of earning enough to shop on Nanjing Road, the city's most elegant thoroughfare.

Chinese family enjoys a quick meal

Chinese family enjoys a quick meal

Most mornings smog hangs low over Shanghai's imposing skyline — the result of using low-grade coal as the primary fuel for cooking, heating and running factories. Lately, the air is becoming even more polluted as bicycles are replaced by automobiles and buses.

To ease the problem there are limitations on the ownership of cars and stricter air quality regulations for factories. The city is also slowly rebuilding its infrastructure, beginning with a public transportation network and new subway system. Above ground, new highways ease traffic congestion as well as link Shanghai with surrounding industrial and bedroom communities.

Video Excerpt: Home to thousands of multi-national corporations who see Shanghai as the financial capital of China, if not all Asia, this city has become a beacon to people looking for a better life. But the influx of millions of peasants from the countryside is pushing the city to its limit.
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In Shanghai almost all green spaces have disappeared. Apartments are at a premium. Millions share cramped and inadequate quarters. For many, the streets are their living rooms; the sidewalks, their work spaces. In just two decades Shanghai will be a city of over 20 million people. To control population the government is trying to enforce a one child per family policy.

In response, the people of Shanghai provide their youngest generation with a strong sense of culture and history. Their hope is that these young people will develop their own vision to deal with the city's environmental needs in the years to come.



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