On the sea is what Shanghai is – the characters of the city’s name being 上 shàng (Mandarin) or zan (Shanghainese) “upon”, and 海 hǎi (Mandarin) or hae (Shanghainese) “sea”. Its fortunate position – on the Huangpu River, the last major tributary of the Yangtze before it opens onto the East China Sea – had already established Shanghai as a major trading port by the end of the Song dynasty (960-1279), and one of the most important in the Yangtze River Delta by the middle of the Qing (1644-1911). But it was with the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, ending the first opium war, that the city became internationally connected, one of the five treaty ports to be opened to foreign merchants, bringing European and American visitors and trade. With maritime trade comes the need for crew. But crew were hard to come by for long, dangerous 19th century sea voyages. Thus boarding masters and shipping companies resorted to recruiting seamen by any means possible – including kidnapping using trickery, intimidation or violence. From change to crisis, how the language about climate evolved As Asia, in particular the port of Shanghai, was a common destination for ships using abducted crew, the city’s name started to be genericised in (American) English as a verb for this practice. The verb originated in the mid-19th century across the Pacific Ocean: an 1853 North Carolina newspaper article noted how “in San Francisco, when a man has drank drugged liquor and been robbed, they say he has been ‘Shanghaied’”, and San Francisco’s Daily Evening Bulletin in 1857 reported a person was suspected to have been “drugged and carried off, or, as it is vulgarly called, ‘Shanghaied’, on the ship […] which sailed yesterday”. The verb also came to mean (also in American English) to forcibly enlist someone in the army: an 1864 New York Times article mentions how “six boys, who were ‘shanghaied’, will also have to be discharged”. Say these words wrong and you probably would have been killed By the late-1800s, the verb “shanghai” had been extended to its current meaning, to abduct or transfer forcibly, to constrain or to coerce someone into a place or position by fraud or force. Party guests can be shanghaied to view holiday photos, for example. While “the ways in which our attention gets shanghaied” was found as recently as 2017 in Slate , the use of the verb has largely been in decline since the late 1900s. However, Shanghai’s continuing practices in its severe, extended Covid-19 lockdown may well see the usage of being shanghaied coming full circle.