NOW IT'S OFFICIAL. Shanghai has been voted the mainland's best city. This was not some straw poll taken in the corridors of the local propaganda department or a secret ballot of a handful of former classmates of the Communist Party secretary. No, this was the result of one of the few democratic elections on the mainland. It was the considered opinion of the online readers of Web site Sina.com and Hong Kong's Sun Television Cybernetworks in a vote sponsored by the New Weekly magazine of Guangzhou. We can leave for another day any discussion of what might happen to the business licence or tax records of that Guangzhou-based publication once the Guangzhou authorities get word of this unwelcome news. Shanghai was said to have been honoured for its strong government leadership, its international and commercial character and its success in hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) meetings last year. No doubt the city's leadership so impressed the bigwigs in the Communist Party that they gave the man behind all of this good government - former mayor Xu Kuangdi - an important job at some Beijing institute, the name of which I cannot remember. Shanghai certainly scores high on the international and commercial character charts, judging by the growing popularity of foreign currency deposits at banks in the city. No-one would dispute that kudos was due for the handling of the Apec meetings. While many readers may have forgotten what Apec is all about, and I see no good reason to remind them, suffice it to say that residents were glad their city acted as host. For a brief time, Shanghai's streets were devoid of traffic jams as residents were treated to a public holiday and told it might be wise to spend some time out of town. For those who failed to take the advice, moving about was a bit pointless if you lacked an official motorcade. The Apec meeting was so successful that mementos of the event have been donated to a local museum. Among those items is at least one of the fetching silk jackets made for an attending head of state. One such garment, strikingly like the one worn by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, was placed on display in the interest of future generations of Shanghai. In gaining the top spot in the poll, Shanghai edged out perennial favourite Shenyang which clearly had a good claim to be singled out for some award this year. In the strong leadership category, Shenyang could brag that its mayor and vice-mayor were among 16 senior government officials convicted in a massive corruption scandal. Shenyang still struggles with more than its share of pollution but the failure of so many state-owned factories in the industrial enclave should clear up that nagging problem. Shenzhen is another worthy competitor, boasting a renowned theme park with the wonders of the world in miniature and a record number of beauty parlours per square kilometre. Not even the bright lights of Hefei or Anshan were able to pry Shanghai from the top spot, while honourable mentions went to upstart backwaters such as Beijing and Guangzhou. What various media failed to point out, however, were the numerous other achievements that make Shanghai deserving of this public pat on the back. While Beijing won the contest to host the Olympics in 2008, Shanghai exulted in the triumph that brought China into the World Trade Organisation. This permitted the city to hold dozens of seminars discussing arcane implications of the WTO, giving a boost to the local conference and hotel industry. Last year the city also lured 300,000 visitors to its sightseeing tunnel - built at huge expense underneath the Huangpu River for no apparent reason. Many more flocked to the space age Oriental Pearl television tower to get a panoramic view of the waterfront financial district through the heavy cloud cover that blankets the city. These are the city's two big tourist draws which rival that over-rated little wall they have outside Beijing and the squad of clay soldiers they often brag about in Xian. Shanghai also managed to induce famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti to perform at its Grand Theatre last year. Those lucky enough to get their hands on a ticket had to pay up to 6,000 yuan (about HK$5,621) for the privilege - close to six months' wages for some residents. Shanghai also had the courage to get tough with those who sully the city's subway last year, making smoking, spitting or lying down on the ground punishable by a 100 yuan fine. Admittedly, Shanghai had a few problems with dogs fouling its streets and unregistered satellites dishes bringing in unwanted foreign programmes without the proper fees being paid to the Government. The city also had to live with a bit of disappointment when it did not quite get the merged super stock exchange last year. Perhaps an ongoing clean-up of the unruly stock trading business will bring that about this year. But on balance, it is clear Shanghai deserves this public praise. So let me add my voice to the congratulatory chorus. Nice work Shanghai. Take this year off.