Reclaiming the “Head of the Dragon”: Shanghai as China’s Center for International Finance and Shipping


The meteoric rise of dazzling skyscrapers in Pudong, an area on the east side of Shanghai, has been arguably the most visible testimony of China’s quest for power and prosperity in the 21st century.1 In his speech to several hundred world business leaders and governmental officials at the Fortune Global Forum held in Pudong in 1999, President Jiang Zemin said, “[o]nly six years ago, in this Lujiazui District of Shanghai’s Pudong area, where we are gathered this evening, there were only run-down houses and farms.”2 Today, with 140 skyscraper office buildings and over 500 foreign and Chinese banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions, this new financial district has earned the nickname, “China’s Manhattan.”3 As both Chinese and foreign scholars of urban development have observed, “It took Manhattan more than a century to achieve its dramatic form; new Shanghai has emerged in little more than a decade.”4

Far less noted, but equally significant, is the newly built Yangshan Deepwater Port, which will soon become the world’s largest container port. Located on a small island 27.5 kilometers (17 miles) from the mainland, the port is connected to Pudong by the East Sea Grand Bridge (Donghai daqiao). This bridge, completed in 2005 with a length of 32.5 kilometers (20 miles), is the second longest cross-sea bridge and the sixth longest bridge in the world.5 Construction on the Yangshan Deepwater Port began in 2002 and is expected to feature four distinct phases. Thus far, phases one and two have been completed, with the third under way. By 2012, the port will have a dock 10 kilometers (6 miles) long with several terminals, which can simultaneously handle 30 container ships and have an annual throughput of 15 million TEU, about 41,000 TEU per day. (A TEU—20-foot equivalent unit—represents the capacity of a standard 20-foot shipping container.) Shanghai is already the world’s largest cargo port and its second largest container port.6 With the addition of this gigantic deepwater port, the city will take a huge lead in the ongoing competition for world preeminence with other busy ports such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Pusan, and Dubai.7