Made in China - now resonates the world over and since opening its doors to the world, China and its economic revolution has been truly startling.
Whilst the 'Made' bit is very familiar, what of the 'in China' part, and what exactly does China offer the meetings and incentive marketplace? Historically China has been largely ignored as a destination from the west (Hong Kong and perhaps Beijing aside) and group traffic from the UK remains low. Reasons included:
- Operational difficulties from tightly controlled programmes featuring little independence. With such a cultural and language divide it was easy to be relentlessly accompanied by guides.
- A tough participant experience; food concerns and differences, lack of spoken English, cultural challenges and security issues all placed high demands on individuals.
- Delivery standards; hotels excepted, few facilities met a decent standard in terms of service, toilets, hygiene etc.
- Historically leisure options for nightlife, relaxation or decent shopping were hard to find.
China's increased integration with the global market has been accompanied by a massive domestic investment programme in infrastructure and education. With major international events being held in China – the Olympics, World Expo 2010 – there has been an explosion in facilities that are able to cater for the western conference or incentive group. BI WORLDWIDE has a long history of working with China and, having been present in Shanghai for over two years, the time was right to take a close up look - at its past, present and future and surface some of the exciting opportunities for conference and incentive travel groups.
Shanghai has perhaps done more than most to dispel the concerns of China as a destination and is now in a fabulous position to offer groups the kind of experience that is totally unique. One based on history, a unique culture and top class facilities.
Shanghai – A (very) Brief History
Shanghai has always been a gateway and the open port of China at the mouth of Asia's longest and most important river, the Yangtze. The original attraction was for Europe to access China's silk, tea and porcelain which the British East India Company (BEIC) traded for wool and spices. In the late 18th century the BEIC found a new, and highly valued, merchandise that was much in demand by China – opium. This trade in opium had a dramatic impact on Shanghai as it "became the driving force behind the city's unstoppable rise and its descent into debauchery" (Fodors). Following the Opium Wars the Treaty of Nanking (1842) included the establishment of a British consulate in Shanghai and designation of a terrority on the edge of the city where Britons could settle. And with France, USA and Japan claiming similar rights Shanghai had foreign settlement and leadership for the next hundred years.
By the early 20th century Shanghai became the world's fifth largest city with a population over one million (with 70,000 foreigners) and as part of the Republic gained municipal status in 1927, although the foreign concessions' territory was excluded. During this time much of the population were little more than 'slave' workers as the foreigners exploited their privilege and authority. And so the poor of Shanghai started a movement for change; the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party was held in Shanghai (1922) and in 1949 the Peoples Republic of China was born when the communist Peoples Liberation Army entered Shanghai. Post 1949 there was an exodus of foreign companies to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The Peoples' Republic and Shanghai
The birth of the Peoples' Republic ushered in a dramatic new era:
- The state took over businesses and under socialist reforms, decadence was driven out of the city and a period of austerity prevailed.
- Shanghai became established as an industrial base and a renowned centre of radicalism – it was home to Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and her radical Gang of Four political alliance.
- As the Cultural Revolution unfolded between 1966 and 1970 one million of Shanghai's youth were sent to the countryside, industries closed, religious following was forbidden and the iconic Bund was renamed Revolution Boulevard.
- Under Chairman Mao's leadership there was endeavour to destroy the four olds: old customs; old habits; old culture and old thinking.
Post Cultural Revolution
After Mao's death in 1976 a new pragmatism emerged as Deng Xiaoping sought to re-open China to the West. Shanghai became the gateway for this transformation and economic reconstruction – with the declared aim to be the financial centre of Asia.
New links were formed with the 'outside world' and Richard Nixon visited Shanghai to sign new trade treaties. From 1991 onwards, Shanghai was allowed to instigate economic reform and central government began to pour money into Shanghai for the construction of a new transport infrastructure, high rise towers to accommodate the rapidly expanding population and a 'new city' – Pudong – was founded when the swampy farmland of East Shanghai was declared a Special Economic Zone.
In just 20 years the Pearl of the Orient has been transformed:
- Its open door policy has made it a magnet for foreign investors.
- Its population (now >19million) enjoys the highest living standards in China.
- It is the world's largest port.
- The banking deposits of city residents is approximately €157bn.
- The city's rebuilding programme – particularly around the river - has made it into a world class city, open to all and cosmopolitan in its welcome.