TECH TALK: An Indian in China: First Impressions

Last week, I spent two days in Shanghai. I wanted to get a glimpse of China – a nation whose people and companies are causing sleepless nights for many. A recent issue of Fortune (March 4, 2002) talks about China becoming the “workshop of the world” and the ensuing “China shock” for Japan and many of the other East Asian countries. An article in Newsweek a few weeks ago (February 18, 2002) talked about how “across Asia, the emergence of China as an economic powerhouse has generated fear, loathing – and a dawning realization that the region’s fortunes are now inextricably tied to those of the People’s Republic.”

The immediate cause was a wonderful article on by its India report, Manjeet Kripalani on her first visit to Shanghai. She described Shanghai and China thus:

From the bridge over the boulevard Bund, Shanghai rises on either side of the Huangpu River like a glittering, beautifully plumed bird on the wing. Before me lies a breathtaking vista: the globe-shaped conference center across the river, the restored colonial buildings, shining glass and granite towers in the distance. Think of New York and Paris and Singapore all rolled into one — but far more stunning. This is my first visit to China, and this will be my lasting impression — a nation that’s literally taking flight. One cannot see this without thinking that maybe the 21st century really does belong to China.

So, instead of flying to the US via the oft explored Singapore and Hong Kong, I opted for Shanghai.

Shanghai is a mix of the historic, the recent past and the futuristic. It has been a beacon for international trade for many centuries (“Paris of the Orient”) and has maintained its international flavour, ever since the foreigners gatecrashed into Shanghai in 1842. The local government has poured money into infrastructure and it shows. At one time, it was the largest construction site in the world (a quarter to half the world’s cranes were reportedly deployed in Shanghai in the past decade). Skyscrapers, multi-tiered roads and expressways, an efficient metro system, tourist attractions like the Bund, Shanghai Museum, Nanjing Pedestrian Walk – they are all there.

What is amazing though is what has happened on the east of the Huangpu river. Here, a city has been created from scratch. It is breath-taking. The mix of glass and steel rises above the expansive pavements and roads. The Pudong New Area still has a fresh feel to it. The Jinmao Tower, which also houses the Grand Hyatt, offers spectacular views of the surroundings.

Shanghai is the engine powering China ahead. It has been undoubtedly dressed up for the external world to see and experience the New China. Shanghai’s look-and-feel makes me dream of what Mumbai could have been.

Ironically, even as I was walking the streets of Shanghai awestruck by an “eastern” emerging market miracle, India was burning – struck by a budget that didn’t go far enough and a communalism hatred that had reared its deadly head once again.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.