By Jonathan Peyster
While in Shanghai a couple of weeks ago, I often mentioned to people I met that I’m studying in Beijing and on at least two occasions I was told “I’m sorry to hear that.” If I ever had any doubt that there still is a big rivalry between China’s two largest cities, our cohort’s recent trip to Shanghai made it clear that this sense of competition and lightheaded animosity is as strong as ever. Getting a more thorough understanding of how China sees its place in the world is one of the main reasons I am here and while the government-centric perspectives often heard around Beijing are clearly valuable to learn from, so too are ones from an economic capital like Shanghai.
Our trip started with an evening train ride to Shanghai. For many years now, I’ve been fascinated by China’s high-speed rail network and the Beijing-to-Shanghai line in particular. In less than 5 hours, you can cover a distance that is only slightly less than New York to Atlanta and the ride is almost impossibly smooth and quiet. What better way to take a class trip down to China’s super modern financial capital?
We arrived at our hotel at close to midnight and then woke up early the following morning for a breakfast meeting with Leon Wang, the President of AstraZeneca for China and Hong Kong. Mr. Wang is a former colleague of Prof. Tang Xiaoyang - both of them worked for Roche in Shanghai during the mid-1990s. Mr. Wang was extremely proud of his company’s explosive growth in China and in many ways he seemed to embody the highly confident and ambitious spirit that I’ve seen in previous meetings with businessmen in Shanghai.
After lunch, we paid a quick visit to Astra Zeneca’s headquarters and then visited the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (SHFTZ). We had an introduction to the innovations at work in the SHFTZ, which have dramatically cut down the time and hassle of opening a new business. Additionally, we visited trade pavilions set up by Australia, Italy, and Russia to showcase a variety of their key export goods. I had certainly heard of the SHFTZ, but previously knew very little about it.
Our evening concluded at a networking reception with Shanghai-based alumni from Johns Hopkins University. It was great getting to know people from SAIS and all of the other schools at in the university our whole group will be attending this coming fall. The location of the reception, at the 54th floor of the Jinmao Tower, made the evening even more enjoyable - the viewsof Shanghai’s skyline were epic.
The following morning, we headed over to Fudan University for an introduction to their Center for American Studies (CAS) and a meeting with faculty and students from their international relations department. I found CAS to be an impressive demonstration of Fudan’s interest in area studies and American studies in particular. From CAS we proceeded to a meeting at Fudan’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs (SIRPA). This was a great opportunity to learn about the research going on at one of our peer institutions and to meet students and faculty that we can collaborate with in the years to come. Indeed, the lunch that followed our meeting was full of discussion on how Tsinghua and Fudan can collaborate on research in the months ahead.
After departing Fudan, we headed to our last meeting of the trip at an online publication similar to the Huffington Post called Guancha (The Observer). Given my interest in internet development and regulation in China, this was the visit that I was most excited for and it did not disappoint. Our host at Guancha was Jin Zhongwei who is both the editor and co-founder of the site. Mr. Jin focused much of his conversation with us on the rise of new media and the role that the internet can play in informing the public.
Our final full day of our trip was spent in Suzhou, the ancient capital of China’s silk industry and a growing industrial power. We started out in Suzhou Industrial Park, a project jointly developed by the Singapore and Suzhou governments. The scale of this zone is already quite breathtaking but it is clear that Suzhou has even greater ambitions for this part of the city, as they are building a new cluster by Jingji Lake that will contain a 2400-foot skyscraper. It will be the tallest in China once it is completed in 2019. Our time in Suzhou concluded with a visit to the Humble Administrator’s Garden and a brief tour of the nearby Suzhou Museum.
Overall, I found this trip to be both enjoyable and informative. We heard people throughout the trip speak with great optimism and confidence about China’s future and how Shanghai will continue leading the way. It is all too easy at times to think of China monolithically when living in a place like Beijing, so it is helpful to get outside of the city as much as possible to get a broader understanding of how people in China see their place in the world.