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Anything Is Possible
The rise of Shanghai's Pudong New Area
By Yuan Yuan | VOL.10 November ChinAfrica ·2018-11-08

The Huangpu River divides Shanghai into Pudong and Puxi (XINHUA) 

The Huangpu River winding through Shanghai cuts the city into an east and west part called Pudong and Puxi, respectively. Although both are part of the same city, they grew at totally different speeds in the past. 

"Before the development of the Pudong area, people in Puxi referred to Pudong as the countryside. The gap between the two sides was huge. At night, Puxi was always brightly lit, while Pudong was covered in darkness," said Wang Pengcheng, a Pudong resident. Looking across from The Bund promenade in Puxi, Pudong was a vast area with low-rise houses and tracts of farmland. The only transportation linking the two sides was a ferry system. 

This all began to change on April 18, 1990, when, as part of the continued reform and opening-up process, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council decided to develop the Pudong area and named it Pudong New Area. By then, China's reform and opening up had been ongoing for more than 10 years. Pudong was somewhat of a late passenger boarding the reform and opening-up express train. But its development has been extraordinary. 

Paving the way 

On May 3, 1990, the Pudong Development Office of the Shanghai Municipal Government and the Shanghai Pudong Development Planning Research and Design Institute were set up in a two-story building at No.141 Pudong Avenue. Today, the historic office is on display at the Exhibition of the Opening up of Pudong. In the 1970s, this muddy area was packed with shacks and illegally-built structures; the houses were low and damp with clothes hanging randomly outside. 

It was this area that was targeted to be the central area of the Lujiazui Financial and Trade Zone, the first of its kind in China. The transformation happened almost overnight. All the shacks and illegally-built structures were pulled down to make room for the rise of a vast array of skyscrapers, leaving no hint of its messy past. 

Weng Zuliang, Party Secretary of Pudong New Area, divides the development of Pudong into three phases. The first, between 1990 and 2001, was the fast development phase, with a lot of infrastructure construction and a series of preferential policies from the Central Government introduced. 

The second, between 2001 and 2012, was the comprehensive development phase, with pilot comprehensive reforms carried out and taking the lead in establishing and improving a socialist market economic system in line with international practices. 

The third, which began in 2012 and continues today, is the innovative and transformative development phase with the setting up of China's first pilot free trade zone (FTZ), enhancing hi-tech innovation and steering development in a more environmentally friendly direction. 

Throughout the 1990s, Pudong was like a huge construction site. The Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower, now an iconic building in Shanghai, broke ground in July 1991 and was finished in 1995. The 468-meter building was the tallest building in China at that time and was the first skyscraper in Shanghai. 

Trendsetter is born 

On December 19, 1990, the Shanghai Stock Exchange went into operation, bringing a large number of financial institutions related to the securities industry to Pudong. 

At the same time, major Chinese and foreign banks rushed to plant their roots in this promising financial hub. 

On September 25, 1992, the insurance company American AIA Shanghai Co. was registered and opened in Pudong as the first foreign-invested insurance company in China, marking a sharp acceleration in the pace of deepening reform. 

The years that followed saw China's first Sino-foreign joint venture commercial retail company, No.1 Yaohan Co. Ltd., open in Pudong in December 1995, the Shanghai Futures Exchange officially opened in December 1999, and the Shanghai Diamond Exchange, the first such center in China, established in October 2000. 

Transportation, which was a bottleneck in the development of Pudong, was also largely improved in this phase of growth. In 1993, the Yangpu Bridge linking Pudong and Puxi went into operation, relieving commuters of congested ferries. 

In 2001, Pudong's development entered a new phase. After China joined the World Trade Organization that year and won the bid to host the 2010 World Expo to be held in Pudong, more subway lines, tunnels and bridges were constructed along the two riverbanks. 

On September 29, 2013, China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone was established and in the following years, the zone, along with the Pudong model, has been promoted in other areas of the country and China now has a total of 13 FTZs. 

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress and the Shanghai Municipal Government issued some 20 laws and regulations to attract foreign investment. For local enterprises, since December 2015, the State Council released a series of policies largely streamlining administrative procedures. 

Weng said Pudong's GDP has grown in the past 28 years from 6 billion yuan ($874 million) in 1990 to 965.1 billion yuan ($140.8 billion) in 2017 and is expected to surpass 1 trillion yuan ($146 billion) in 2018, making it the city's growth engine. 

At the same time, Pudong's per-capita disposable income of urban and rural residents rose to 60,715 yuan ($8,860) in 2017, higher than Shanghai's average of 58,988 yuan ($8,609), Weng added. 

Rich in every aspect 

Pudong is not satisfied with its role as the financial center of the city and is now paying special attention to upgrading its public services and cultural status. 

In late 2017, the 22-km coastline on the east bank of the Huangpu River was opened to the public. Along the green promenade, there are 22 stations offering reading areas, WiFi service, sanitation, storage and emergency services for the public. The industrial heritage along the coast has also been upgraded and renovated. For example, an original coal warehouse has been transformed into an art gallery, where 13 exhibitions have already been held free for the public. 

"Shanghai is rich in culture and art, but all the cultural and art activities were held in Puxi in the past. Pudong was regarded as a cultural desert," said Sun Yu, Deputy Director of the Publicity Department of Pudong New Area. "But we have changed this image in the past few years." 

"Pudong is a paradise for startups in cultural and creative industries," Wu Wenhui, CEO of China Literature Ltd., said. "It has witnessed not only the growing up of our company, but the development of China's online literature and digital publishing industry. Now a good cultural ecosystem has been formed here." 

On August 10, a blue paper on culture and art in China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone was released, revealing that the total volume of cultural trade in 2017 surpassed 35 billion yuan ($5.14 billion) and is expected to exceed 40 billion yuan ($5.8 billion) this year. 

"Over the five years since the FTZ was established, the scale of the cultural industry has been continuously enlarged," the blue paper stated. "By the end of 2017, the bonded area of the FTZ had become the most efficient and convenient entry and exit channel for artwork in China and accumulated top cultural and art resources."  

(Comments to niyanshuo@chinafrica.cn) 

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