Research

Shanghai aims to position itself at the cutting edge of the 21st century. In this ambition, it recalls the late 19th and early 20th century project of imagining, planning and building the modern metropolis. Today’s Shanghai is reanimating yesterday’s dreams of the future city. With its stunning sea of skyscrapers, satellite towns connected by elevated highways, gigantic shopping malls and neon advertising blitzes, it increasingly resembles the future as it was once imagined. Conditions and attitudes that have faded elsewhere – not only massive urbanization and “Haussmanization”, but also faith in science and technology, belief in progress, openness to radical experimentation and, most importantly, an optimistic, even exultant futurism – are now shaping the growth of China’s southern metropolis.

Yet, 21st century Shanghai is not simply replicating the past. China’s contemporary urbanism is not something that has been before. Instead, its neo-modern culture is being forged in the city’s street markets as well as its skyscrapers. Influenced both by the planned vision of surface spectacle and the counter-strategies of new digital cultures, it fosters a shadow economy that thrives on dynamic disruptions and unanticipated events.

Shanghai’s location near the confluence of the Yangzi River and the great Pacific Ocean ensures its place as a crucial hub in the global exchange of goods, people, and ideas. Since the second half of the 19th century, the city has undergone several major transformations; from its status as the flagship international Treaty Port in China (1843-1943) with its vibrant commercial history and “haipai” culture through its position as the pre-eminent revolutionary center of the Mao era teeming with Red Guards and the ambitions of the Gang of Four to its recent revival in the 1990s as China’s great cosmopolitan metropolis. As the largest, densest, and wealthiest city in China, Shanghai is now at the crest of the most intense wave of urbanization the world has ever known. With a mass flow of migration from all over China and the world comes a new and as yet uncharted modernity.

Through rigorous scholarly investigation of urban rituals, histories, socio-economics, visual and sonic cultures, street life and creative clusters, the Shanghai Studies Society serves as an incubator of cutting edge research dedicated to the dual task of excavating the city of the past and imagining the city of the future.