City of perpetual evolution
She has been called both the pearl and the whore of the orient.
In her brief history (by Chinese standards), she has played many roles: from a playground for the rich in which (for a price) any form of pleasure could be procured, to a chastened post-revolutionary city where even the few restaurants left open would close after sunset; from a city totally under the dominance of foreign powers to a centre of Chinese nationalism; from a centre of gaudy capitalism, to a breeding ground of Spartan revolutionaries; and finally (if anything can be called 'final' in this city constantly in motion), back into a major centre of commerce, capitalism and opulence of the highest order.
This schizophrenic history has made Shanghai a city of amazing contrasts. She is at once a teeming metropolis, one rapidly becoming one of the greatest cities in the world, and a city literally sinking under its own weight.
Each year, parts of Shanghai sink 1.5cm into the Hungpu River, thanks to the nearly incalculable weight of new construction.
Spending decades under the thumb of foreign powers might have made a lesser city rabidly nationalistic. But Shanghai has instead absorbed the former trappings of colonial dominance and transformed it all into a part of its own legend and soul, making even the most European looking structure seem neither western, nor Chinese, but pure Shanghai.
And, unlike Beijing, which has an infamous inability to modernise without levelling its ancient history, Shanghai seems not merely intent, but comfortable with harmonising the old and the new (just stroll south down any of the alleys around the 1025 block of ultra chic Nanjing West Road and you will see what we mean). Perhaps it is this strange comfort with chaos and continual reinvention that makes Shanghai seem free of the entrenched, calcified feel travellers so often find in many other Chinese cities.
As for cuisine, though our Guangzhou friends heartily dispute this, Shanghai is second to none, and for that the city's chefs owe much to the 'embrace and absorb' spirit of the place. While Shanghai is famous for its local dishes - freshly cooked crabs teeming with roe, cold meats marinated in wine, and the ever-popular dragon dumplings - the city is becoming known throughout the world as China's centre for fusion cuisine, with new restaurants opening weekly embracing and blending the best culinary influences (with interesting effect) from all corners of China and the world. No matter where your tastes lie, the chances are good that if it walks, swims, crawls, flies or grows out of the ground, you can find it cooked a dozen different ways somewhere in Shanghai.
Finally, there is the indomitable (some might say insufferable) spirit of the Shanghainese themselves.
Throughout China, the Shanghainese are known for their egos and this perception of the Shanghainese as egotistical and individualistic caused the city no small measure of trouble during the worst days of collectivisation.
Though these dark days are long behind, some in China still begrudge the Shanghainese as being arrogant. But denizens of any of the world's other great cities have likewise had the same charge levelled against them, and Shanghainese - like Romans, New Yorkers or Parisians - can simply go to the centre of their majestic metropolis, hold out their arms and point in any direction as if to say: 'Look around us! Who wouldn't be proud to be a part of this place?'
This publication is by no means a definitive guide to Shanghai. Such a guide would fill 1,000 pages and, owing to the ever-changing nature of China's most dynamic city, would be at least partially out of date on the day it was published.
Instead, we have endeavoured to make as succinct a listing as possible of some of the places in Shanghai you might want to visit when you are not having your adrenalin glands pumped into overdrive at the Formula One. In this guide, you will find tips on places to visit to increase your appreciation of Shanghai's music, culture and arts scene, places to go when you need to take a break from Shanghai's hectic pace, and for those with a bit of extra time and ambition, places to go to explore Shanghai's more serene sides.
And, of course, we hope our 10 best restaurant listing proves invaluable in helping you separate the wheat from the chafe.
As one story goes, a famous Chinese statesman was asked if it was true the smartest people in China all came from Shanghai.
'No, the smartest people in China all come to Shanghai,' he replied.
Dear reader, you are in cultured company indeed!