For North Carolinians, the must-see place in Shanghai
SHANGHAI ‘— What are the ‘must-see’ places for a North Carolinian to see in this vibrant center of Communist China’s exploding capitalistic enterprise?
It depends on the person you ask. A chamber of commerce-type Shanghai promoter will want you to visit the Pudong section. In less than a decade, it has been transformed from a wasteland to a field of growing skyscrapers. The Jin Mao Tower in Pudong is the fifth tallest building in the world.
Or you can visit the floor of the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Almost brand new, it is equipped with a football-sized trading floor with modern computer equipment to connect the stock traders who are dealing in the marketable securities of China’s top businesses. Don’t be alarmed if the floor is empty. Today the trading of the stocks listed on the exchange is done electronically. The brand new trading floor is out of date. It is already just a monument to China’s shortcut into capitalism.
Nostalgic old timers will point you to the Bund across the river from Pudong in old Shanghai. The buildings in the Bund look like those you see in the downtowns of European cities. In the days before the Communist victory in 1949, this district of Shanghai was the center of the Western business interests that dominated the Shanghai scene. Now the Westerners are coming back, but most of them are operating from new buildings like those in Pudong.
Cultural-minded people will insist that you spend an afternoon in the Shanghai Museum, where a visitor to its modern facilities can find examples of important Chinese art going back thousands of years.
Those who want to make sure you get a glimpse of what ancient China was like will point you to the Yuyuan Garden, an island of peaceful retreat in the middle of the busy city.
Shoppers will find an incredible array of shops just outside the gates of the Yuyuan Garden ‘— everything from fine silks to the most ridiculous souvenirs, all at prices that invite the prospective buyer to bargain for a discount.
Some North Carolinians will want to visit Fudan University, which has established a partnership with the UNC system. President Molly Broad just returned from an official visit.
Now for my recommendation: The place every North Carolinian should visit is a European-style home in the former ‘French Concession’ of Shanghai. Not many westerners go there. But there is a regular flow of Chinese people to what is called ‘“The former residence of Madame Sun Yat-sen.’” Madame Sun, also known as Soong Ching-ling, was married to Sun Yat-sen. He was an early revolutionary who sought to bring down the government of the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. In 1921, he became the first president of the Republic of China. Although he died without bringing peace and stability to his country, many Chinese revere him as the founder of their country. His widow maintained this house as her residence in Shanghai from 1948 until her death in 1981.
Although the house was given to her by her brother-in-law, the Nationalist Chinese leader Chang Kai-shek, she sided with the Communists in the civil war that drove Chang and his forces out of mainland China.
Madame Sun’s support for the Communists was very important, because it gave them a tangible link to the ‘founder’ of the Chinese republic. They made her honorary chairman of the People’s Republic of China and called her ‘“Mother of the State.’” Distinguished foreign visitors to China often came to visit her at the Shanghai residence rather than another home that she maintained in Beijing.
The home is filled with mementos of her life, her family, her visitors and her many honors.
All this might be important for Chinese people, but why would a North Carolinian take time to visit here?
Here is the connection. Madame Sun (Soong Ching-ling) was the daughter of ‘Charlie’ Soong, who has important ties to North Carolina.
As a young boy, Charlie Soong made his way to North Carolina in the 1880’s. Durham industrialist Julian Carr took him under wing, arranged for his education at Trinity College (the forerunner of Duke University) and Vanderbilt, and supported his plan to return to China as a Christian missionary. Undoubtedly, Charlie Soong was also inspired by Carr’s success in the tobacco and textile manufacturing businesses.
After returning to China, Soong quickly moved from the mission field to business. He earned a fortune, some large part of which he funneled to Sun Yat-sen to support his revolutionary activities. He sent his children to the United States for education. All of them took on large roles in Chinese political and business life.
In Madame Sun’s former residence, North Carolinians can find letters and photos that show her family’s connection to America. Charlie Soong’s experiences in North Carolina prepared him for his success in China. Soong’s success gave his family the connections and opportunities for education that made Madame Sun’s prominent life possible.
Without North Carolina, there would probably have been no Madame Sun. Nor would this house have been her residence. So when North Carolinians come here, they can feel a special pride of ownership ‘— at least enough to justify a special visit.