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March 14, 2010

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Genesis of an esteemed city

In the 60th autumn of the People's Republic of China, I was invited to write an essay as a tribute to World Expo 2010 Shanghai China. Poring over classic works, historical accounts and pictorials, I have come to appreciate anew the beauty of the Yangtze River Delta and the affluence of Shanghai.

Under the ancient Chu state, Shanghai was one of the fiefdoms ruled by Lord Chunshen. Flanked by rivers and dotted with lakes, it adjoined Canghai in the east and Kuaiji in the south. Blessed with an abundance of fish and salt, its residents enjoyed flourishing trade. By the Tang and the Song dynasties, the area was densely populated and became a maritime hub. A county was founded there in the Yuan Dynasty.

Since the reign of Emperor Hongzhi during the Ming Dynasty, its population and wealth multiplied rapidly to equal the total of several prefectures north of the Yangtze River. It became the most renowned county in Southeast China. During the reign of Emperor Wanli, Xu Guangqi, a Shanghai native, was promoted to the Senior Secretary of the West Wing of the royal court.

Influenced by his mentor, Jesuit Matteo Ricci, he took the lead in introducing Western mathematics and farming and water conservancy techniques into China, thus starting the movement of learning science from Western countries.

Poor in governance and weak in military strength, the Qing Empire had to accept the shameful Treaty of Nanjing, the Treaty of Wangxia and the Treaty of Huangpu. Shanghai was also forced to open its port.

As differences between East and West began to blur, the Chinese people started to learn Western culture. Industry budded: steamships were built, railways were laid, banks were opened and cotton mills were erected, thanks to the pioneering efforts by some outstanding entrepreneurs including Sheng Xuanhuai, Rong Zongjing, Rong Desheng, Yu Qiaqing, Guo Linshuang, Xia Ruifang and Mu Ouchu.

Education also began to flourish, thanks to the efforts of Hua Hengfang, Shi Liangcai, Huang Zunxian, Liang Qichao, Zhang Taiyan and Zou Rong. These people started newspapers, published books, set up schools and translated Western literature into Chinese. Shanghai also hosted celebrated figures like John Dewey, Bertrand Russell and Rabindranath Tagore.

Meanwhile, Shanghai-based newspapers like the Chinese Progress and the Su Newspaper took the lead in publicizing the Chinese revolution. During the 1911 Revolution, Chen Qimei created the Shanghai Military Command, and in 1921, the Communist Party of China held its first national congress in the French concession in Shanghai, turning the city into the cradle of the Chinese revolution and the venue of pioneering revolutionists.

As the city prospered, its literature and art also flourished. Beginning in about 1910 and extending into the 1920s, Wu Jianren created "Ocean of Hatred," Xu Zhenya completed "Jade Pear Spirit," Su Manshu came out with "Memories of a Drifting Life," and Zhang Henshui wrote "The Story of Three Lovers."

All these works, which took as their theme bittersweet romance, came to be known as the "School of Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies." After Pingjiang Buxiaosheng wrote "The Legends of Kung Fu Heroes" and a movie studio produced "Burning of the Red Lotus Temple," martial arts fiction started gaining national popularity. Not long after, the movie industry began to flourish.

In 1921, the Association of Creation was founded and run by a group of young Chinese students back from Japan, including Guo Moruo, Yu Dafu and Tian Han. They explored the expression of their personal feelings, aspirations and ideals, making big names for themselves. Meanwhile, a good number of literary masters emerged, such as Lu Xun, Mao Dun, Ba Jin, Xu Zhimo and Lin Yutang. Shanghai also was the birthplace of many famous calligraphers and painters, including Li Shutong, Liu Haisu and Xu Beihong.

Thus, in art and literature Shanghai was unequalled, enjoying a status not seen in China since the ancient capital of Chang'an.

During the Battle of Shanghai against Japanese invaders in 1937, local residents rushed to save their motherland with epic bravery. After the mainland was liberated in 1949, the central government focused key efforts on the development of Shanghai, enlarging its urban area and promoting its industrial development. Giving priority to shipbuilding and automobile manufacturing, it started an ambitious race to catch up with developed Western countries.

Unfortunately, the overhasty Big Leap Forward campaign put a financial strain on both the government and people. Despite those hard years, China still amazed the world with the successful explosion of its first nuclear and hydrogen bombs, and the launch of its first man-made satellite.

In 1965, the Shanghai Institute of Biology and Chemistry astonished the world again by producing the world's first synthetic insulin. To the nation's dismay, however, these meritorious efforts were eclipsed by the social chaos wrought by the "Gang of Four."

Despite the travails of decade-long chaos, Shanghai received a shot in the arm from late leader Deng Xiaoping's inspection tour around south China in 1992. The development of Pudong, like a soaring eagle, exerted a great impact over the Yangtze River Delta, triggering rapid progress in science, technology, trade, finance and transportation. By the beginning of this new century, Shanghai has grown into the leading metropolis of China and one of the most esteemed cities in the world.

In this age of peace, prosperity, good government, and a harmonious society, countries across the world will come to China in 2010 for an event that celebrates the achievements of this great city.

Thanks to its pioneering of opening-up efforts 100 years ago, Shanghai has gained access to Western culture. When World Expo 2010 Shanghai China is held, 192 countries will come to Shanghai to exhibit the cream of their national achievements. With friends coming from afar, how happy we are!

Besides science and technology, Western countries treasure rationality, advocate freedom of thinking and attach importance to the development of individual character - all of which serve to supplement the Chinese concept embodied in Confucius' the Doctrine of the Mean, which holds that "once harmony is achieved, Heaven and Earth will function as they are supposed to and all things will flourish."

With my utmost sincerity, I wish a great success for this grand event.


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