Shanghai's turbulent past reads like a James Clavell novel. Until the mid nineteenth century at the conclusion of the first Opium War, Shanghai was an important, albeit underdeveloped trading hub dealing largely in exports of cotton, silk, and fertiliser—due in no small part to her location at the confluence of the Yangtze River and the East China Sea.
It was following the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 that Shanghai became one of five Chinese cities that were opened up to British consuls, merchants and their families and in effect paved the way for its spectacular growth. Before long, the French and Americans had joined the Brits in setting up their own sovereign concessions and Shanghai's presence on the global stage and her stock as a city of art and culture rose dramatically. It was during these heady international days when the merchants were in control of the city that Shanghai earned its, "Paris of the East" moniker.
Shanghai in turn was administered by the British, French and the Americans, all of who shaped her culture and architecture—go for a stroll at dusk along the Bund taking in the buildings that line Zhongshan Road and it's easy to imagine you're in Paris or London. Shanghai had its period of Japanese occupation during World War II and finally came under Communist control in 1949. In recent years, Shanghai has been defined by a period of massive re-development, probably best exemplified by the riverside work taking place in Pudong.
The centrepiece of Pudong is the futuristic Oriental Pearl Tower which boasts fifteen observatory levels. The highest—known as the Space Module—is at 350 metres and offers far-reaching views back over the Huangpu River, the Bund and beyond. But those in the know, dodge the entry charge and head for one of the nearby skyscrapers to take up a couch by the window and enjoy a ten-dollar cocktail with a million-dollar view. Try the nearby Cloud 9 Bar located in on the 87th floor of of the Jin Mao Tower. Forming part of the Shanghai Grand Hyatt, Cloud 9 visitors enjoy a 360-degree view of Shanghai from one of the highest points in the city.
Many visitors to Shanghai choose to break up their stay with a side trip. Yangtze River cruise sightseeing tours are a popular option allowing tourists to escape the fast-paced action of the city and take in a totally different face of China. Departing from Yichang—a short flight from Shanghai—visitors board modern cruise liners and take to a spectacular section of China's longest and most culturally significant waterway.
The majority of Yangtze River cruises pass through the dramatic Three Gorges—Qutang, Wu and Xiling—before travelling on to visit the man-made magnificence of the Three Gorges Dam. Beyond the landmarks, a Yangtze River cruise is a great way to get a glimpse of rural China and provides an amazing contrast to her bustling cities.
Back in Shanghai, if you had any doubts that China had left its Communist roots far behind, they are soon dispelled with an evening stroll down Nanjing Road. Lit up like Vegas and featuring flagships stores for the world's leading fashion and technology labels and six storey Nike billboards featuring local sporting legends like Yao Ming and Li Na, you could be forgiven for thinking you were strolling the streets of Sibuya in Tokyo.
Follow Nanjing Road east and on the left hand side of the road just before you hit the Bund you'll come across the Fairmont Peace Hotel. As if borrowed from the set of a Poirot film, the Peace Hotel is a wonderfully re-decorated nod to the Art Deco aesthetics of the swingin' twenties. If a stay in one of her 270 fastidiously detailed rooms fall outside your budget, perhaps a cocktail and some tunes at her legendary Jazz Bar or a cappuccino and a delicious French pastry at Victor's Cafe will suffice.