Shanghai – some things don't change over the years

I just started reading “400 million customers” by Carl Crow, a book that was originally published in 1937 but that has now been reprinted by Earnshaw Books. The most striking thing about the book is that so many things have not really changed over the past 70 years and that especially foreign business men keep on making the same mistakes in China.

I like to read books about China’s history, especially about the past 100 years or so, but I like film footage even more. So I was quite happy to find a link to a film about Shanghai in 1947 on Danwei today. It’s a still movie, but in between the scenes it gives some comments about what you see in the film.

Also here I notice a lot of similarities between Shanghai 60 years ago and now. Traffic is just as chaotic as it is now, and not only on the streets but also on the water. Go with the flow was also then the best way to get to your destination without getting into accidents. Fake products are not new to China, Carl Crow describes that both Chinese and Japanese factories immediately copy new products. And this can be seen as well in the film, where there is footage of a ‘black market’. The only difference is that fake markets are now mainly frequented by foreign tourists.

Another thing that struck me is that China did not seem to have high value money bills, just like now. In the film someone is selling (or pawning) gold and gets a large stack of money in return. Nowadays China’s largest bill is just RMB 100 (about EUR 11), and because a lot of transactions are still cash-based you can see people leaving or arriving at banks with bags full of money

Human power is still used to transport products from one part of the city to the other. At least once a week I see migrant workers using ropes to pull carts with wooden poles over the steep bridge close to Tudou. Exactly the same as what you see in the film. One thing I noticed is that there were no horses in Shanghai in 1947, I only see boats, cars and bicycles. Were they not allowed in the city?

If you enjoy this kind of films, then also check out this one about Hong Kong in 1938 (h/t Thomas Crampton). Both films are part of The Travel Film Archive on YouTube that has a lot more historical travel footage from all over the world.

Write a Comment


  1. The problem with introducing a new bill in China is of course : who do you put on it? 100RMB is Mao and who dares to eclipse Mao, or perhaps China is secretly planning rapid appreciation of it’s currency after all 🙂