Discover Beijing & Shanghai
- Beijing’s Best Sights
- Beijing’s Best Restaurants
- Beijing’s Best Nightlife
- Beijing’s Best Arts and Leisure
- Beijing’s Best Shops
- Beijing’s Best Hotels
- Best of the Great Wall
- Shanghai’s Best Sights
- Shanghai’s Best Restaurants
- Shanghai’s Best Nightlife
- Shanghai’s Best Arts and Leisure
- Shanghai’s Best Shops
- Shanghai’s Best Hotels
- Shanghai’s Best Excursions
Shanghai, the bright Pearl of the Orient, the outward-looking Paris of the East. Beijing, the weaver of China’s historical tapestry. It’s hard to imagine two cities more different from each other.
Beijing’s history and political importance bear witness to millennia of Chinese culture, while Shanghai’s relentless drive for progress typifies the nation’s forward motion on the world stage. Both cities embody the contradictions of a complicated country and at the same time defy the world’s expectations.
Shanghai is a city that thrums with life. Its beating heart is the throb of traffic on the highways; its soul is the chatter of human interaction on every street and alley. Old neighborhoods with billowing laundry and street-side noodle shops coexist with a backdrop of skyscrapers. You’re never far from a crane or construction site.
Shanghai is a work in progress: The passage of time can be seen in areas like the Old French Concession, with its low-rise art deco apartments and villas, and the Old City, with its alleys and bazaars. Things change fast in Shanghai. Every week sees another bar open, another restaurant close. A large expatriate population infuses the downtown districts with an international twist. The shopping malls, designer boutiques, and coffee chains testify to this ever-increasing Westernization.
Beijing is calmer and more confident. A low sprawl of ring roads and straight avenues, its layout is comfortingly uniform. Tucked between the concentric squares are ancient temples and austere monuments that are a historian’s dream come true. When you survey the expanse of Tian’anmen Square with the Mao-adorned gate at its helm and monuments to socialism all around, you feel as if you’re at the hub of China’s nerve center.
China’s rocky history and political landscape form the backdrop to outsiders’ views of the nation. Closed from the rest of the world for three decades under Mao, China’s reputation as a mysterious sleeping dragon captivates observers. It’s when the outsider ventures inward that China begins to reveal its true self.
Visiting Beijing and Shanghai is the first step to discovering the country as it exists today. It’s an opportunity to see two of the most visually, historically, and culturally interesting cities in the world.
© Susie Gordon from Moon Beijing & Shanghai, 2nd Edition