Last year Shanghai hit the magic per capita GDP figure of US$3,130, the first Chinese city ?apart from Hong Kong ?to meet the World Bank's definition of a middle-income economy. Much of Shanghai's newly created wealth has gone into improving public amenities, making life better and more convenient for citizens in China's most densely populated city. Mayor Xu Kuangdi said that between 1992 and 1994, Shanghai spent much on repaying its historical debts, building more telephone lines, roads, houses and power facilities that were neglected in previous decades. Per capita floor space of housing for urban residents has increased from 4.4 sq metres in the early 1980s to nine sq metres today.
Shanghai now has a world-class museum, the country's largest library and stadium, and an opera house under construction. It also has numerous smart restaurants and bars tucked away in old, narrow alleys, which have added colour and relief to this busy, crowded city.
Sense of pride
brought a great sense of pride, especially among the young," says a 28-year-old journalist. "When I was younger, people around me all wanted to study the dialects of Cantonese and Wenzhou because they envied the economic success of Hong Kong and Wenzhou. No longer." Wenzhou, a middle-sized city in Zhejiang province, is famous for its many successful private businessmen. Wang Xinhui, head of the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade, says a high pro-portion of his students used to study overseas; now, there are fewer of them wishing to do so because Shanghai offers more opportunities.
The new-found confidence of Shanghai is reflected in the many events, festivals and fairs the city has held in the last two years. The biggest one was the eighth Asian Games held in August last year. In the 1960s and 1970s, Japan also worked hard to gain international recognition through the organisation of major events, especially the Olympics.
While the quality of life hasimproved immeasurably in Shanghai, there is growing disparity in income. Uneven distribution of wealth is common all over China; in Shanghai, the contrast between the winners and losers has been sharper. A study by Shanghai Academy of Social Science showed that in 1987, the annual wage gap between the lowest and highest paid among 977 people sampled was Yn762; in 1995, this income gap had widened to Yn9,900.
Close to the bottom of this pyramid are the thousands of dismissed workers now surviving on a basic monthly living allowance of about Yn200. Benefits they used to get, such as medical and education allowances, have been cut back substantially. A local taxi driver is one such victim. He and his wife were both laid off by their factories between 1994 and 1996. He now works longer hours driving the taxi 10-12 hours a day, but makes more, Yn1,500-Yn2,000 a month. His wife is less fortunate, making just Yn350 a month as a shop assistant.
Among the biggest winners of the jungle-like job market are the young people who work for foreign companies. A receptionist typically earns around Yn2,000 while a middle-ranking local manager can easily make Yn10,000-Yn 15,000 a month. There-fore, it is not surprising that almost all well-educated people you come across in Shanghai will say they wish to work in a foreign or joint venture firm.
Mr Kazuo Yukawa, chief representative of Nikko Research Centre in Shanghai, notes the many similarities between Shanghai today and Japan in 1972-73, when its per capita income also reached US$3,000. Shanghainese now spend money on health food, entertainment, education and other higher value-added items. In the early 1970s there was a bowling boom in Japan, just as in Shanghai today, he notes. Another sign of growing affluence in Japan was a travel fad, with millions of Japanese visiting the Expo, agiant trade show held in Osaka in the early 1970x. Likewise, more than 200,000 Shanghainese took holidays in China during the spring festival in February this year; another 5,000 travelled overseas:
A similar trend involves the rehousing of hundreds of thousands of people from the city centre to the suburbs. With the building of a subway and highways, satellite towns have sprung up all round Shanghai. Indeed, the city might one day resemble Tokyo, surrounded by three giant suburbs inhabited by people who travel to work in the city centre.