The new Shanghainese

By Yu Ran(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2014-12-13 10:08:31

Shanghai attracts people from all over the world to work and settle down. Photos provied to Shanghai Star

Every day people from all over the world arrive in Shanghai to live and work, but as Yu Ran reports, finding your place in a city of 24 million people can be tough.

Shanghai is a global financial hub filled with iconic skyscrapers. It is also home to people from all over China and the world.

Every day, hundreds of people arrive in Shanghai looking for jobs and places to live. These are the so-called "new Shanghainese", like Jessie Jiang and her sister from Chongqing.

Jiang and her sister have lived in Shanghai for 13 years. They run a bar in the city's downtown area that welcomes new arrivals to visit and feel the warmth of home.

"We slept in a bunk bed in an eight-square-meter room when we first arrived and we moved around the city with that bunk bed many times before we had our own families in this exciting city," says Jiang, who opened C's bar with her sister 10 years ago.

Jiang says C's bar is her family space in Shanghai. It is where she met her husband, made good friends and it is the scene of many precious memories for her.

"We try to create a home-like bar to welcome people from outside Shanghai to blend into local life like we have, thanks to the help and encouragement from many lovely friends," Jiang says.

Since reform and opening up, the population of Shanghai has exploded, with millions of people moving to the city from other parts of the country. By the end of 2013, the domestic population was more than 14.32 million, 2.8 times bigger than in 1949. The city has a residential population of more than 24.15 million, 9.9 million of which are new arrivals, according to figures released by the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Statistics.

"The new Shanghaiese tend to be better educated and have greater work experience and practical skills to achieve success in their careers. The growth of newcomers means the city is a multicultural spot," says Zhou Haiwang, deputy director of the Institute of Urban and Population Development Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Jessie Jiang (C) works to create a welcoming atmosphere in her business, C's bar. Photo provided to Shanghai Star

Luo Qi, a proud new Shanghainese, says he initially suffered feelings of rootlessness and loneliness when he arrived in the city, but today he has a good group of friends and enjoys a busy and exciting life.

"Every newcomer has undergone hard times and felt isolated and confused, but mostly they find their way to be part of the city after getting to know more people and getting closer to the locals," says Luo, who found Me Library, a bookstore that offers opportunities for young people to express their feelings and share personal stories with others.

Luo spends most of his time talking to different people including close friends, friendly local people and new arrivals.

In his years living in Shanghai, he has been the victim of discrimination from Shanghainese speaking local dialect, but has also been treated kindly by friendly neighbors.

"I think the real Shanghainese are well-mannered, elegant, and generous and they long for a comfortable life. They love helping and offering advice to newcomers with an open mind," Luo says.

Statistics from the National Health and Family Planning Commission showed that China had 245 million migrants at the end of 2013, representing more than one-sixth of the national population.

Many migrants struggle to integrate into urban society as their access to essential public services lags behind that of their urban peers.

“It is quite difficult to work and live equally as locals if you don’t have hukou, the permanent residence permit, which has certain strict requirements to meet,” says 27-year-old Xiu Shui, who came to Shanghai to work as a full-time web engineer three years ago.

Luo Qi(L) in Me Library with friends. Photo provided to Shanghai Star

Xiu has met other migrant talents with professional skills facing the same problem. Most of them struggle to make good friends with local people who like to spend time with their own social circle of people they grew up with.

Xiu and his friends from outside Shanghai regularly get together and go hiking to kill time and have fun.

"We have mixed feelings about the city, which is colorful and attractive but we also feel a bit lonely as a group of outsiders, who have to cheer up each other," Xu says.

Shanghai is also home to the largest population of foreigners in China. The latest national census of population in 2010 showed that 208,000 people from outside the Chinese mainland were registered, while 143,200 of them are foreign passport holders.

Ilite Williams, a 27-year-old Swiss bar manager, got to know Chinese culture and local people by engaging in daily life.

Williams moved to Shanghai to work as a bar manager in 2012. She initially found it difficult to make friends with local people.

"I could not speak any Chinese when I arrived so I was a bit depressed working the whole week and having nothing to do in my leisure time," Williams says.

Everything changed after William started participating in volunteer work in a nearby neighborhood that has a mixed population of Chinese and foreign residents.

She was asked by a local friend to participate in volunteer work. She agreed to take part without hesitation as she felt that it would be the most meaningful thing she could do in her spare time.

People gather at C's bar for painting their feeling out on walls. Photo provided to Shanghai Star

Within one year, she learned to speak fluent Chinese from chatting with other volunteers and residents in the neighborhood.

"I've enjoyed being greeted by the local residents passing by my bar in the past year as I have turned from a foreign stranger to a friend," Williams says.

For local residents who were born and grew up in the city, their feelings and attitude toward newcomers have also changed.

Zhong Qin, a 60-year-old retired nurse, spoke Shanghai dialect in her childhood and barely spoke Mandarin.

"Now I have to speak Mandarin every day to chat with people living nearby, most of them come from different places," says Zhong, who recently started learning English in order to communicate with her German daughter-in-law.

Zhong says the anti-outsider attitude of old Shanghai has totally disappeared, and the city is now more tolerant and friendly to people coming from everywhere.

As a city with a booming economy, Shanghai attracts talents from a range of industries.

"Shanghai is an attractive city full of opportunities for outsiders. It offers enough freedom for people from other cities and countries to make their dream come true and blend into the local culture," says Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University.

"However, certain adjustments should be made to improve the social welfare of new arrivals, who feel insecure about being different. The city should not only attract talented professionals, but also welcome low-paid laborers."

Ilite Williams (R2) is volunteering in her community. Photo provided to Shanghai Star

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