Marx said, “It is not enough to know the world. What is important is to change it.”
Sure, I grabbed the opportunity to join the Philippine media delegation to Shanghai imbued with a desire to see the famed city whose grandeur, from readings I had done, I had learned as dating back to the Five Dynasties of the 16th century. But more than seeing Shanghai and knowing it is a passion to discover how much transformed it has become from a mighty feudal kingdom whose suzerainty, through the Ming Dynasty, had gone far and wide, reaching all the way to Pangasinan, to a cradle of socialism that it must be today.
Five days of making sense out of today’s Shanghai is what I’d best call my visit to the city. I don’t know how the rest of our group would make it out, but I’d hate to make my first trip out of the country sound like a travel agency brochure. So at every chance I got during our brief visit, I endeavored to ask questions the intent of which was to juice out Shanghai’s current essence.
During our formal meeting with the Shanghai media on the second day of our visit, again hosted by Ximin Evening News Editor-in-Chief Chen Qi Wei, this time in the imposing building housing the offices both of the Shanghai United Media Group and Ximin Evening News, I asked the question: Has the concept of private property been restored in Shanghai? Two perspectives prodded me to raise the question. One, the takeover of China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949 must, as a matter of course, have abolished such concept. But, two, the economic strides taken by Shanghai over the years, strides which have now made it, as proclaimed in the meeting, the largest economic center of China, were a phenomenon endemic in a capitalistic development. So I wanted to know how much the concept of private property has impacted on the immense economic development Shanghai has undergone. Figures were cited tending to picture Shanghai’s economy as being largely dominated by the public sector, with sizeable concession of ownership of buildings to private enterprises, including multinationals. Lest this article turn into a trade paper, details are skipped here. Suffice it to say that on private ownership of real estate, our hosts declared that 90 percent of Shanghai residents privately own their houses. In other words, private property concept has been restored to 90 percent of the people?
There immediately surface two sets of reckoning on this score. First, that private property ownership for the people is only allowed in the concern of housing. In all other concerns, like business and media, ownership is confined to the state.
Qi Xu, the pretty interpreter in our dinner the night before, had admitted that Xi Min Evening News is owned by the state, “by the government,” she said. And asked if she is a member of the Chinese Communist Party, she nodded, saying, “You cannot work in government if you are not a member of the Party.” As a side intention of mine in the Shanghai trip, I had ardently hoped I could meet up with a member of the China communist party. Oh boy, I found myself exclaiming inside at Qi’s admission, “I’m seated next to one!”
The other reckoning on private ownership of housing in Shanghai is that though 90 percent is an immense proportion, considering Shanghai’s population, makes this issue still much worrisome. Shanghai has 24 million people. If 90 percent of them are the home-owning section, 10 percent are the non-home-owning ones. Now what is 10 percent of 24 million but 2.4 million, and that’s a whole great lot of poor Chinese people?
Yao of the Shanghai public information office would not call it such. The 10 percent, he said, though not home-owning can well afford to rent apartments like the Bliss tenement houses we have in Metro Manila. By this standard, the poorest people in Shanghai are the equivalent of the Bliss dwellers in Metro Manila where they are not poor by any reckoning at all.
This now confirms my earlier assertion in this series that poverty in Shanghai is down to near-zero.
I had no particular question to ask in the next agenda for the day, the tour of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. The facility has workings similar to the ones we have in the Philippines, in Olongapo City particularly, of which we in the visit group were familiar with in any case. Advance information about the facility had been provided thus: “As of June this year, there are 56,351 domestic companies, 5,668 offices, with a total of 2,780.348 billion RMB registered capital. There are 16,206 foreign companies, 1,598 branches, with a total registered capital of US$186.446 billion. As of July, there are 13 PH companies in the Free Trade Zone, with a total foreign investment of US$7.6617 million.”
These are dry figures and I haven’t got the expertise to flesh them out in terms of business organics. But a highlight of our Free Trade Zone visit was a tour around a building housing the exhibition of world famous wine and liquor. None of the drinks was produced in China. They are there for exhibition, eventually for sale, of course, to anybody around the world. But they get attached with Chinese labels and as such they get qualified for distribution worldwide through Shanghai. By this methodology, Shanghai seems able to corner the world wine and liquor industry without having to go through the nitty gritty of producing it.
That visit to the wine and liquor exhibition would trigger my overall observation of the meticulousness by which China pays attention to details. I remembered one basketball game I watched in an Asian tournament in which China played. During timeouts, instead of the Chinese players going to the bench for instructions by the coach, they would stay put at whichever end of the court they were and there be approached by the coach for the needed instructions. That short distance – from the Chinese bench to where the Chinese players would stay put – would consume a degree of the players’ energy that was better preserved for the continuation of the game.
In the matter of generating revenue, Shanghai never seems to lack in innovation. It didn’t just build the Oriental Pearl Television Tower for instance, it also made it a tourist attraction. To the tower, thousands flock daily to view – for a price certainly – from its height the city’s fabulous skyline. And the view deck is not just for seeing sights but for dining, smorgasbord-style, as well – for another price most certainly. At the start of your dinner, you may be facing north, and as you rise for another round of servings at the buffet counters, you realize you are facing south! The Oriental Pearl is that revolving portion of the tower which is at the midsection of the building, at a height of 265 meters.
Before scaling the Oriental Pearl, we toured a three-tiered museum which comprises the base of the structure. A marker labels the basement: “Museum of Shanghai’s History.” Personally, the museum tour was a letdown. I have done readings of Shanghai’s history and I know it was here the Chinese Communist Party and its mass organization of workers made the signal fire for the overthrow of western imperialism in China. Curiously, however, this aspect, highlighted by the Shanghai Massacre in 1925, was completely absent from the museum showcase of Shanghai’s history. I took up the matter with Chang the following day, and he explained that the text on the museum marker was a misnomer. He said the museum is less about Shanghai’s history than its economic development, hence the focus on relics of ancient cars and home industries. There is a painting, however, of squalid old men taking opium in a den run by a young woman. This, obviously, was there to remind visitors of the key British role in forcing the narco trade down the throat of Shanghai during the Opium War in the nineteenth century.
Our guide up the Oriental Pearl was a charming young lady, Tina, tall, fair-skinned and chinky, who educed the efficacious coyness of an amateur eager to learn the fine comportment of a tour hostess. Speaking very good English, she was pretty successful at the job and had an easy way making herself being missed, already. But she was a letdown as well like the museum, for at my question why nothing in the museum was said about the workers uprising in Shanghai in the early 1920s, her answer was, “What!” The current generation of Shanghaiese, judging from Tina, must have a lot of learning to do of the city’s history.
Or is there a conscious effort to sever the youth of Shanghai from the umbilical cord of its revolutionary past? If this were so, then the heck with the Sisonite half-century-old National Democratic Front revolution. It’s not going to get anywhere.
Done with the dinner, we embarked on another money-making innovation by the Shanghai government. This was the cruise on Huangpu River in which, for a price, aboard a boat you negotiate a distance of the fabled waterway, while being awed by the show of brilliance that virtually erupts from the buildings in the Bund on one side of the river and the skyscrapers on the other. Shanghai should provoke Erap into doing a similar innovation on Pasig River and thereby generate funds to be earmarked for beautifying Manila.