China is a big country.
China is a really BIG country.
Current estimates put the population at around 1.6 billion people. That means 1 in 5 people in the world live in China. This means that China has some big cities, in fact 4 of the largest 20 cities in the world are in China, but none are bigger than the one we step off our overnight train into.
Shanghai feels instantly more alive than the sterile Beijing we left behind, and with a population of 23 million, it is no ,surprise.
The ‘Bund’ is an area alongside the river that is the heart of the historic city and the there is a strong colonial influence visible in the buildings that run along its length, and if it wasn’t for the Chinese flag flying from them you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were in Vancouver, Sydney or Boston.
On the other side of the river is modern Shanghai, complete with a plethora of skyscrapers dominating the skyline. Wandering round the streets of the French Concession area of the old town, the level of restoration is quite marked, to the point that the pedestrian streets feel a little like a theme park.
Spending time in the city makes you realise how western the place feels. Recognisable brands dominate some areas, with KFC, Starbucks, McDonalds, Costa and Pizza Hut as much part of the landscape as they are in London.
Our guide explained to us that the speed of the change since the 1978 reform which embraced the market economy has been difficult for the older generation who grew up under the very traditional communist state that Mao resided over. It would have been interesting to see what China would have been like in the 1970s, because on the face of it modern day China is not too different to the rest of the developed world.