Shanghai Reveals Its ‘Two Faces’

Diane Jong | Staff Photographer

Diane Jong | Staff Photographer
Currently on display at Langson Library, “Shangai’s Two Faces” looks at the city’s transformation into a cosmopolitan, international business center, contrasting the Old Shangai period from the New Shangai period.

Rather than turning left to go to the Loan Reserves Desk or making a right to the couches and study cubicles, students should take 20 steps straight ahead.

Why? Because our very own Langson Library’s spring exhibit, “Shanghai’s Two Faces: Cosmopolitan and Globalization,” features an array of vivid images, books and media on display. The exhibit addresses Shanghai’s transformation from a fishing and market town into a major center of global commerce and finance.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful that students have the opportunity to see these items on display,” said Maria Brause, a third-year international studies major who attended the opening night event.

“You learn about them in class, but to see it in person is such a different learning experience … it is much more impactful.”

During the opening night event, UC Irvine professor of history, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, spoke about the representations of Shanghai as a cosmopolitan city. As an expert on social and political issues relating to China, Wasserstrom provided insight and analysis that served as an informational introduction to the exhibit.

Shanghai gained its international identity through two significant time periods. The first, known as Old Shanghai (1846-1945), was then a free-treaty port that experienced the establishment of international settlements because of the failure in the Opium War against Britain.

The second period, beginning in 1990, is known as New Shanghai. During this time, the national government launched the Pudong New District. As an effort to reclaim its past glory, the national government opened the district to foreign investors.

“Shanghai’s Two Faces” displays many of the UCI libraries’ holdings and contributions from a number of UCI faculty. The visual displays in various formats illustrate two important time periods in Shanghai’s history: as a free-treaty port from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and as a complex metropolis.

The pieces displayed in the exhibit represent six key components of Shanghai: people, events, commerce, popular culture, literature and film. For people and events, there are many photographs and published articles showcasing immigrants seeking China as a land of opportunity and also the wars that shaped Shanghai into what it is today.

Also on display are currencies from Old Shanghai, local brands and various advertisements to signify Shanghai’s reputation as the shopping kingdom for both Chinese and internationals. The commerce portion of the exhibit represents the mutual dependence and benefit between local and international businesses in Shanghai.

Because of the growing mutual dependence in commerce, the popular culture of Shanghai had displayed more openness and welcoming attitudes toward sojourners. This openness makes Shanghainese highly receptive to foreign cultures. Thus, the exhibit illustrates the influence of western civilization, multinational architecture, imported literature and diverse religious practices, to name a few.

Intermingling with the popular culture section are literature and film. The majority of Shanghai’s writers and directors have created work reflecting their personal stories and experiences, and there are an array of novels, autobiographies, DVDs and videos on display. Included is Wang Anyi’s novel “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” as well as Josef von Sternberg’s Oscar-winning film “Shanghai Express.”

Dr. Ying Zhang, the research librarian for asian studies in the UCI libraries, was the curator of “Shanghai’s Two Faces: Cosmopolitan and Globalization.” Growing up in Suzhou, a small city about 50 miles away from Shanghai, Zhang traveled to many large cities in China.

“To me, Shanghai is an attractive metropolitan city full of classic and modern buildings, delicious foods of all kinds, stylish commodities, as well as intelligent and open-minded people,” Zhang wrote.

To be a part of this Shanghai experience and view the colorful and informative works on display, students simply have to visit the Langson Library. The exhibit will be on display until October 2009.