An Exclusive Tour Of The Slum That China Wants To Turn Into A World Financial centre


Photo: Business Insider

In China, for good luck, fireworks often go off when construction begins on a new site.We were in Shanghai in late December and heard fireworks a lot, maybe because Shanghai is right next to Pu Dong, a city that the Chinese government hopes will become a bustling financial and commercial centre, and a successful sister city to Shanghai.

Click here for a photo tour of Pudong >
The plans, according to a briefing provided by Mr. Yao Xi-Tang, president of the Pudong Academy of Development, in 2000:

  • The master plan identifies four key development zones: The Lujiazui Finance & Trade Zone for international financial institutions; the Jinqiao Export Processing Zone, for new and high-tech businesses; the Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone and the harbor area, for integrated services related to trade, warehousing, export processing, etc. and the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, for the development of hi-tech industries.
  • The government poured RMB25 billion into the city by 2000, and expected to raise another RMB100 billion to build the Pudong Airport.
  • “If all the growth targets in the master plan for Pudong are achieved, this new development area of Shanghai will become an international financial, foreign trade and service centre by the year 2010.”

Having been to Pu Dong, we can tell you that the reality we saw looks like this: the city has an airport, a lot of factories and a bunch of flashy new buildings (like an Apple store), but not too much else going on.

It needs a lot of work, but there are enough people living and working there that it could make it (plus, Disneyland is coming).

But looking back on what Mr. Yao Xi-Tang wrote in 2010 — “Since 1990, the government has been grooming Pudong for that day in 2010 when it can ascend to the level of other world-class financial centres” — it’s almost funny.

However, Mr. Yao Xi-Tang’s plans to create an “international financial, foreign trade and service centre by the year 2010,” have obviously been scrapped for a new plan that allows a few more decades.

Frankly, we can’t believe that he was ever that ambitious. China announced plans to develop the city just 20 years ago in 1990, so his plans were extremely (naively?) overzealous. But based on the amount of construction still going on there, we imagine that a lot of people continue to have faith that it will become a popular place to live for people who are commuting into Shanghai or working in Pu Dong.

In fact, Pudong residents recently posted their opinions on how the development is going, and we encourage you to click here and read it for an idea of how far it’s come.

An excerpt:

“The changes over the past 10 years have been very dramatic. My apartment building was literally the only one in the area when I first moved in, but you can see all kinds of tall buildings in every corner of the area now,” says Lelakul. “It has been changing all the time and suddenly accelerated after 2007.”

So in the eyes of its residents, the city has come a long way. But as you’ll see, their opinions are relative to the apparent state of the city 10 years ago: near-vacant destitution.

So we can’t see Pu Dong becoming a “world-class financial centre” on a competitive level happening any time soon. 

About half of the city looks brand new, but the other half… you’ll see.

We’re not experts, but after walking and driving around the city for a day and talking to a few people who live in nearby Shanghai, we made a few observations of what’s happening in Pudong.

Right off the highway, Pu Dong looks like this: lots of tall, commercial buildings. Many have a nod to the West.

In fact, many look like they were made to look like exact replicas of buildings we've seen in Europe.

If it weren't for the Chinese flag waving here, we'd hardly know we weren't in Washington, DC.

Further in the city, this is what a lot of Pudong looks like: factories.

They appear to be the main reason so many people live in Pudong right now.

AzcoNobel built this factory for its subsidiary, the International Paint Company of Shanghai in the 1980s.

Here's another factory: Hitachi home appliances. FYI: the government recently instituted a program that subsidizes the purchase of home appliances.

And with the recent China boom, what seems to be happening is that more sophisticated life is growing up around Pudong's many older factories.

For example, here's one that looks new. Xi'an, an aircraft manufacturing company, was founded in 1997. Pudong Airport opened in 1999.

We suspect that old factories, like this Revlon factory, are being cleared to make way for the newer ones.

Like this one, which was right across from...

A big ol' pile of trash that appeared to be from an empty nearby factory.

The factory: Tessy Plastics. It looked abandoned, but was apparently operating as recently as September.

Also near the site: temporary homes like this one, which we often saw located next to construction sites.

Nearby these factories, there's another part of Pu Dong that's quite nice looking.

And if cars are any indication of the wealth that exists there, then there are at least some people doing quite well.

The cars were sandwiched between a large construction site and a huge hotel.

We went inside the hotel, hoping to get a bird's eye view of the construction site because we couldn't see over the wall.

It looked open for business, but the elevator wouldn't take us beyond the third floor.

And once we got there, it was pitch back (thank you flash camera!)

Other nearby areas are bustling with workers improving the city.

If Pu Dong is doing one thing right, we'd say it's providing new jobs for the Chinese.

We're not quite sure what they were doing in the trees, but we bet they were getting paid for it.

We saw a lot of pollution and trash, but a lot of government workers cleaning too.

Maybe their next project will be getting rid of shacks like this, which we also saw quite a few of in the city.

That brand new building looks like a great place to work... until you notice the dirty shack in front of it.

Our take: a lot of work needs to be done before Pudong is somewhere people really want to live and work.

But people will begin to consider it because the area is improving and they can live nearby in one of the suburban-style homes you see in the distance.

Also in Pu Dong: Tons of empty buildings like this one, the Kingdom Financial centre

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