Shanghai is unique, and we are all part of it

Reform and opening-up, innovation and development ultimately boil down to satisfying people's aspiration for good life.

TAKING pride in being where you were born is often deemed a mark of “provincialism” and, paradoxically, this sentiment characterizes quite a few of the residents born here.

But even the most severe critic would admit that Shanghai is unique in many ways. For example, most people here are known for their attention to details, their pragmatic spirit, their efficiency, and their respect for rules and order.

The city has a proven history of good city management, I was told thus by a veteran journalist in Beijing when I was posted here 20 years ago.

My sister, who had lived in Shenzhen for decades, visited a bank near my home in Pudong for some business two years ago. When she returned, she was impressed by the service there.

One of my colleagues was similarly overwhelmed this Tuesday at a mobile phone customer service center, where a clerk spent 90 minutes trying to make a new handset perfectly functional for him. The colleague had lived in the city for 15 years.

Deputies to the on-going Shanghai People’s Congress and meeting of the Shanghai Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, by expressing their readiness to consult, and answer, the needs of the people, provide an answer as to why the city continually lives up to the praise lavished on it.

One buzzword that keeps cropping up these days is about perceiving the city’s “temperature.”

This “temperature” is not about preparedness about how to keep snug and safe during the epic snow many have been looking forward to. It is more about administering to the needs of the people so that they can feel warm, welcome, and comfortable living and working here.

Fallen yellow leaves

In a group discussion with Pudong deputies on Tuesday, which municipal Party secretary Li Qiang attended, the issues touched include not only deepening reforms of the free trade zone, but also people’s life which could be further approached and scrutinized at bottom line, basic, and quality levels.

In illustrating that temperature of a city could be grasped in many of its nuanced signification, Li cited the example of Yueyang Road, where the fallen yellow leaves, instead of being swept off, were allowed to stay to become the theme of a cultural exhibition. Such events help residents to be more susceptible to the beauty of their workaday life.

This emphasis from grand narrative about parameters to more mundane but vital details is salutary.

As Li observed, the people would have direct perception as to whether the city is safe, orderly, and clean.

Thus when the municipal government announces its plan to cut this year annual average PM2.5 density to below 35 mg per cubic meter, from 39 last year, I found these figures more palpable than some business figures.

“Reform and opening-up, innovation and development ultimately boil down to satisfying people’s aspiration for good life,” said Li at a group session on Tuesday.

The attention to quality over quantity suggests a paradigm shift.

“It is imperative for us to pursue excellence in development, adopt a need-based, problem-solving-oriented and results-driven approach, strengthen the role of innovation, focus on rule making, expand services and improve people’s quality of life,” declared Mayor of Shanghai Ying Yong at the first session of the 15th Shanghai People’s Congress on Tuesday.

Challenges abound. For instance, in its aspiration to global excellence, the city faces pressure in attracting and retaining young talent.

During my recent contacts with graduates seeking employment with this paper, I noticed having a local hukou (household registration) is an overriding concern. I was long familiar with the difficulty of getting a local hukou, but I was also surprised that one applicant revealed that all her fellow classmates have found employers that could tackle this hukou problem upfront for them.

The mayor’s work report to the congress on Tuesday revealed that during the past five years, a total of 97,000 college graduates had succeeded in securing local hukou. During that time, the city had also employed a total of 215,000 foreigners, making the city No 1 in this category. These figures speak volumes for how the city adapts in spite of the many challenges.

As the mayor said in the report: “Shanghai is more thirsty for talent than ever.” Obviously the city needs to reinvent itself in many ways in its ambition to attain to new excellence.

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