Jeffrey Wasserstrom now agrees that Shanghai IS China's most cosmopolitan city

Historians in the News

Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s ambitious new work, Global Shanghai, 1850-2010: A History in Fragments presents a chronicle of Shanghai’s interactions with the outside world through a series of 25-year snapshots in time.

CIB caught up with the University of California-Irvine professor at the Shanghai Literary Festival last month to discover more about his methodology and hear his views on the past, present and future of China’s largest city.

When did you start researching the book?

I started about 10 years ago. I have been visiting Shanghai ever since 1986, but a lot of what I wrote in the beginning I had to throw away because Shanghai changes so quickly.

Did your views on Shanghai alter during this long process?

Initially, my viewpoint was that Shanghai’s claim to be China’s most cosmopolitan city and a major international hub that connected China to the rest of the world was overstated.

But after successive visits to Shanghai, I actually began to think the city was living up to its own exaggerated reputation. So I started to focus on how the re-globalization of Shanghai was different from its earlier globalization more than 100 years ago.

You use the concept of “global” Shanghai and apply it to the 1850s, when that concept did not exist. What was the exact language of globalization back then?

A global city begins to take on the characteristics of other global cities, such as New York, Tokyo or London, rather than other neighboring or local cities. In the 1850s, globalization would’ve been discussed as “the world being tightly connected.” It was also a time when people from different countries began to gather in one place, such as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851. In one sense, that exhibition functioned like a modern department store – a place where people could see things from all over the world.
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