Shanghai is sometimes considered a center of innovation and progress in China. It was in Shanghai, for example, that the first motor car was driven and (technically) the first train tracks and modern sewers were laid. It was also the intellectual battleground between socialist writers who concentrated on critical realism, which was pioneered by Lu Xun, Mao Dun, Nien Cheng and the famous French novel by André Malraux, Man’s Fate, and the more “bourgeois”, more romantic and aesthetically inclined writers, such as Shi Zhecun, Shao Xunmei, Ye Lingfeng, and Eileen Chang.
In the past years Shanghai has been widely recognized as a new influence and inspiration for cyberpunk culture. Futuristic buildings such as theOriental Pearl Tower and the neon-illuminated Yan’an Elevated Road are a few examples that have helped to boost Shanghai’s cyberpunk image.
The vernacular language spoken in the city is Shanghainese, a dialect of Wu language, while the official
language nationwide is Standard Mandarin, itself mutually unintelligible with Wu Chinese. Most Shanghai residents are the descendants of immigrants from the two adjacent provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang who moved to Shanghai in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The population of those regions speak different dialects of Wu Chinese. From the 1990s, many migrants outside of Wu-speaking area have come to Shanghai for work. They often cannot speak the local language and therefore use Mandarin as a lingua franca.
Modern Shanghainese is based on different dialects of Wu: the Suzhou dialect, the Ningbo dialect, and dialects of Shanghai’s traditional areas (now lie within the Hongkou, Baoshan and Pudong districts). The prestige dialect of Wu Chinese is spoken within the Chinese city of Shanghai prior to its modern expansion. Known as “the local tongue” (本地话), it is influenced to a lesser extent by the languages of other nearby regions from which large numbers of people have migrated to Shanghai since the 20th century, and includes a significant number of terms borrowed from European languages. The prevalence of Mandarin fluency is generally higher for those born after 1949 than those born before, while the prevalence of English fluency is higher for people who received their secondary and tertiary education before 1949 than those who did so after 1949 and before the 1990s.
Shanghai has several museums of regional and national importance. The Shanghai Museum has one of the best collections of Chinese historical artifacts in the world, including a large collection of ancient Chinese bronzes. The China Art Museum, located in the former China Pavilion of Expo 2010, is the largest art museum in Asia. Power Station of Art is built in a converted power station, similar to London’s Tate Modern. The Shanghai Natural History Museum and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum are major natural history and science museums. In addition, there is a variety of smaller, specialist museums housed in important archaeological and historical sites such as the Songze Museum, the Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the site of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue(Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum), and the General Post Office Building (Shanghai Postal Museum). The Rockbund Art Museum is also in Shanghai. There are also many art galleries, concentrated in the M50 Art District and Tianzifang.
Shanghai was the birthplace of Chinese cinema and theater. China’s first short film, The Difficult Couple (1913), and the country’s first fictional feature film, An Orphan Rescues His Grandfather (孤儿救祖记, Gu’er Jiu Zuji, 1923) were both produced in Shanghai. These two films were very influential, and established Shanghai as the center of Chinese film-making. Shanghai’s film industry went on to blossom during the early 1930s, generating great stars such as Hu Die, Ruan Lingyu, Zhou Xuan, Jin Yan, and Zhao Dan. Another film star, Jiang Qing, went on to become Madame Mao Zedong. The exile of Shanghainese filmmakers and actors as a result of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Communist revolution contributed enormously to the development of the Hong Kong film industry. Many aspects of Shanghainese popular culture (“Shanghainese Pops”) were transferred to Hong Kong by the numerous Shanghainese emigrants and refugees after the Communist Revolution. The movie In the Mood for Love, which was directed by Wong Kar-wai (a native Shanghainese himself), depicts a slice of the displaced Shanghainese community in Hong Kong and the nostalgia for that era, featuring 1940s music by Zhou Xuan.
The “Shanghai School” was an important Chinese school of traditional arts during the Qing Dynasty and the twentieth century. Under the masters from this school, traditional Chinese art developed into the modern style of “Chinese painting”. The Shanghai School challenged and broke the elitist tradition of Chinese art, while also paying technical homage to the ancient masters and improving on existing traditional techniques. Members of this school were themselves educated literati who had come to question their very status and the purpose of art and had anticipated the impending modernization of Chinese society. In an era of rapid social change, works from the Shanghai School were widely innovative and diverse and often contained thoughtful yet subtle social commentary. The best known figures from this school include Qi Baishi, Ren Xiong, Ren Bonian, Zhao Zhiqian, Wu Changshuo, Sha Menghai, Pan Tianshou, Fu Baoshi,Xie Zhiliu, He Tianjian, and Wang Zhen. In literature, the term was used in the 1930s by some May Fourth Movementintellectuals – notably Zhou Zuoren and Shen Congwen – as a derogatory label for the literature produced in Shanghai at the time. They argued that Shanghai School literature was merely commercial and therefore did not advance social progress. This became known as the Jingpai versus Haipai (Beijing v. Shanghai School) debate.
The “Songjiang School” (淞江派) was a small painting school during the Ming Dynasty. It is commonly considered as a further development of the Wu or Wumen School in the then-cultural center of the region, Suzhou. The Huating School (华亭派) was another important art school during the middle to late Ming Dynasty. Its main achievements were in traditional Chinese painting, calligraphy, and poetry. It was especially famous for its Renwen painting (人文画). Dong Qichang was one of the masters from this school.
Other Shanghainese cultural artifacts include the cheongsam (Shanghainese: zansae), a modernization of the traditional Manchurian qipao. This contrasts sharply with the traditional qipao, which was designed to conceal the figure and be worn regardless of age. The cheongsam went along well with the western overcoat and the scarf, and portrayed a unique East Asian modernity, epitomizing the Shanghainese population in general. As Western fashions changed, the basic cheongsam design changed, too, introducing high-neck sleeveless dresses, bell-like sleeves, and the black lace frothing at the hem of a ball gown. By the 1940s, cheongsams came in transparent black, beaded bodices, matching capes and even velvet. Later, checked fabrics became also quite common. The 1949 Communist Revolution ended the cheongsam and other fashions in Shanghai. However, the Shanghainese styles have seen a recent revival as stylish party dresses. The fashion industry has been rapidly revitalizing in the past decade. Like Shanghai’s architecture, local fashion designers strive to create a fusion of western and traditional designs, often with innovative if controversial results.
In recent times Shanghai has established its own fashion week called Shanghai Fashion Week. It is held twice every year in October and April. The April session is a part of Shanghai International Fashion Culture Festival which usually lasts for a month, while Shanghai Fashion Week lasts for seven days, and the main venue is in Fuxing Park, Shanghai,while the opening and closing ceremony is in Shanghai Fashion Center. Supported by the People’s Republic Ministry of Commerce, Shanghai Fashion Week is a major business and culture event of national significance hosted by the Shanghai Municipal Government. Shanghai Fashion Week is aiming to build up an international and professional platform, gathering all of the top design talents of Asia. The event features international designers but the primary purpose is to showcase Chinese designers. The international presence has included many of the most promising young British fashion designers.