As we take a look back at the last year of our reporting, Shanghaiist brings to you a list of the most important news events of 2009. Whether they be political, cultural, or social, these were the things that happened that changed our lives and perceptions of the world around us, for the better or worse. Without further ado, here’s the top five news events from around Shanghai
Barack Obama’s Town Hall
Though the New American president made our yearly news roundup for his unprecedented first year in office trip to China, the only mildly significant thing he did while here (that wasn’t behind doors) was the much hyped “Town Hall” affair, which took place in our humble city. Besides clogging up traffic around the Portman Ritz-Carlton, the Commander-in-Chief made an attempt to engage the “youth of China” in direct dialogue: a speech was made, questions were asked, and a lot of hand shaking occurred.
The groundbreaking part? A US president spoke with and answered questions directly from young, Chinese citizens, which is something that China’s leaders don’t ever do. The letdown? It’s was anodyne, censored, and so controlled that it almost didn’t happen. Obama, who relies on his undulating charisma to inspire everyman, was put on a short leash by government censorship real and perceived: much of what he said seemed less about whether he believed it but whether he could get away with saying it in China. The legacy of the affair? He made an appeal for freedom of speech and human rights, and clarified America’s position on both in pretty strong words. More importantly, there was a girl in a red coat behind him, and she was hot. Of course, when we found out that the subsequent hype surrounding “Obama Girl” was due to 100k RMB’s worth of internet hype and publicity, we weren’t surprised. After all, who cares about politics when you have eye candy?
Oriental Angel star Lou Jing was the centerpiece of this year’s most racially charged controversy over her half-black ancestry. With racial tensions what they are in largely heterogeneous China, a half-Chinese, half-Black contestant on one of Shanghai’s most popular television shows was just bound to prompt a slew of really racist netizens outdoing each other for the most insensitive comment posted on the internet award.
Poor Lou Jing, who tried her best to clear the air and humanize herself to China’s netizen populace, ended up only being impersonated and mocked in ways we don’t even feel like repeating. However, the whole affair has brought racial issues to China’s cultural foreground in a way that only reality television could do: Lou Jing may be half black, but she is also a Shanghaier, and her prominence in the public’s eye this year is a harbinger for the cultural dialogue that must come with China’s increasing openness to the rest of the world
The World Expo
With only a few months before the event, Shanghai can look back on a year of breakneck development, progress, and lovable (?) mascots proliferating around the city in the name of the 2010 World Expo. From the jackrabbit-like proflagacy of Haibao to the multitudinous public initiatives, new infrastructure and slogans we see painted around town, it’s virtually impossible to ignore the presence of the Expo, and the influence it’s had on our city and its way of life.
We have to face it: the Expo is the new Olypmics, a battle cry of “jia you” for China to enter into the modern, globalized world with a gaudy display of all it has to offer, manifest in a whole village of fascinating and bizarre pavilions. This year’s buildup to the event has bee impossible to ignore, and will leave its mark Shanghai for years to come, both physical and psychological.
After years of stop and go progress, it seems that we finally saw real, live confirmation of Disney’s intent to build a Disneyland theme park earlier this year. Sure, they’ve faced the same old problems that all developers in China do: displacing farmers, displacing graves, having trouble securing the amount of land you wanted in general, and so on. Then again, what better place to open a Disney theme park than in Shanghai, which is already becoming its very own type of theme park? At least we can finally have a place where dreams come true, even if they are at the expense of other people’s dreams.
This year brought progress in spades to the most important, integral part of the city: the
rich people. Yes, the rich are getting more absurdly rich and loathsome as Shangai soars ahead of the rest of the country with increases in both disposable income and housing prices. And yes, the increasing rich-poor gap has had a lot of people up in arms (or up in tents) over the blatant flaunting of their wealth and power.
But those are just some of the superficial aspects of the city: 2009 was in fact a significant year for social progress. After all, we’ve seen things like the loosening of Hukou restrictions (if only nominally), the government urging Shanghaiers to break the one-child policy, and even the first ever Shanghai Pride(!). Any way you look at it, progress is seeping into our city: sure, it might come slowly or halfheartedly, but it comes nonetheless. And we’re excited: all we can really do is hold our acerbic tongues, and wait hopefully.
Photo by FrasSmith @ flickr