Vibe of a 'world city' captured over 20 years

Liu Xiaolin
"Shanghai: Portrait of A World City," compiled by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Liu Heung Shing, is a kaleidoscopic display of the city and people over the past 20 years.
Liu Xiaolin
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"Shanghai, Key to Modern China" is a 1953 book by American scholar and author Rhoads Murphey. It also unveils the first chapter of a newly released photography book titled "Shanghai: Portrait of A World City," compiled by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Liu Heung Shing.

A sequel to Liu's 2010 book titled "Shanghai: A History in Photographs" that he co-wrote with art curator Karen Smith, the latest one, released on November 12, is a kaleidoscopic display of the city's socio-economic developments, culture and people over the past 20 years.

Liu, 70, said he put his feelings about living in Shanghai for the past seven years into the latest book, whether on his way to work or sauntering through the streets on weekends. He also noted that two things prompted him to "define Shanghai as a world city."

"One is the development of the city's infrastructure; the other is the spirit of the Shanghainese, which is quite hard to describe. It's really different from Paris or Tokyo. You'll understand it when you see it," he said. "The Shanghainese want (their city) to be the best in the world."

In five chapters covering the city landscape to its urban vibe, the book features 141 pictures taken by Liu and a dozen Chinese and foreign photographers. It includes Patrick Zachmann's picture of actress Gong Li in Shanghai when she starred in the film "Temptress Moon" by director Chen Kaige; and Arthur Elgort's photograph of Linda Evangelista in the streets of Shanghai for the 1993 American Vogue "Eastern Light" series.

There's also a comparison of Lujiazui photographed by former photojournalist Lu Jie from the Bund in 1985 and 2014, black-and-white photos by Lu Yuanmin from the 1990s and a variety of Shanghai images taken by Liu – from young lovers in the late 1990s to today's established local cultural figures.

"When we were bidding for the 2010 World Expo, what we lacked on the covers of our bidding reports, compared to other competitors, was people," recalled Zheng Shiling, professor of urban planning and architecture at Tongji University and a consultant for the 2010 World Expo. "Today, what matters most is people. And Liu's book plays a great role here."

Each chapter begins with a quote that Liu relates to, with an aim to helps "bring readers closer to the book." For instance, the chapter "Cultural Life" begins with a quote from American architect Eliel Saarinen: "I can tell you what the cultural aspirations of the citizens are if you let me take a look at your city."

When compiling the book, Liu visited many photographers' studios to look at and learn from their works.

"It's quite exciting to get a tight hold of the city's vibe, which is both abstract and concrete," Liu said.

He believes "images, as a form of language, surpass many others," and therefore, the photos in this book "can breathe and connect with people."

Where to buy

The book, priced at 398 yuan (US$62), is available on e-commerce sites such as, and Here's a link on

You can also find it in local bookstores like Tsutaya Books.

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