During WWII the Archbishop of Canterbury lobbied the UK government to let Jewish refugees into the country before the onslaught of Nazi Germany would cause thousands of families to be sent off to concentration camps. Many were accepted but many more were refused with the exception of the kindertransport mission. Indeed few governments across the globe were prepared to allow a flow of migrants, especially at a time of economic hardship. But there was one government and one city in particular that welcomed ships of refugees to their shores. That city was Shanghai.
Over 30,000 men, women and children escaped to the East on ships set-off from Italy across the globe. The journey took them below the tip of Africa and past India on its route to the Eastern shores of China. There was momentary refuge for these Jewish families in Shanghai as the Japanese were soon to round them up into a Ghetto in the Hongkou district, where the memorial museum stands today.
Documentaries and personal documents tell of how people survived and interacted in the Ghetto area, policed by the Japanese. Michael Blumenthal was one such Shanghai resident who went on to become the U.S. Treasury Secretary.
It was surprising, but today I got a dose of more traditional, commercial communism. Department stores with rented-out sections reminded me of communist Russian shops. Nanjing street was not the force of commercialism I had perhaps expected, but it enlarged my perspective of shopping in Shanghai. There is clearly huge demand, hundreds of people filtered through clothing stores to pick their favourite t-shirt or pair of shorts. A stroll to the end of Nanjing Street takes one to People’s Square, at the epicentre of metro activity.
Yet Shanghai is not all riches and glam. From the overground metro I took this picture, showing more shanty-town constructs even in the heart of the city…
The evening ended with an all-you-can-eat meal at a Japanese restaurant beside the hotel. A Kiwi with his tall Chinese wife told us a few (expat) truths. He spoke of how the Chinese children study six days a week and have tests on the seventh, how in-laws live with the partner after a marriage and how incredibly difficult it is to learn the language.
And with that the Shanghai chapter ends. Tomorrow involves an early trip to Guilin. On the TV Hillary Clinton has just visited China and has spoken of dealing with the debt problem in the USA and three officials from China railway have been sacked after a fatal collision involving high-speed trains.
But tomorrow will bring more of historic China to life.