Its idyllic existence as a walled fishing village ended in 1843 when the Nanjing Treaty forced China to cede Shanghai and four other ports to western powers. Employing ruthless Yangtze River cruises Russian contractors, British firms built impressive banks, trading houses and hotels along a short stretch of the Huangpu River. From these magnificent headquarters on the Bund the British skillfully relieved China of its gold, silk and tea by pushing opium from India and cotton goods mass-produced in England's teeming new industrial centers.
The lights of gleaming new Pudong may business travel to China outshine anything in Shanghai after dark but for night crawlers in the know the real action favors the less gaudy areas of the old French Concession.
This unequal trade threw off obscene profits, affording a hedonistic lifestyle that attracted purveyors of every kind of luxury and pleasure. By the 1930s Shanghai had become a latter-day Babylon to rival the fattest cities of the Shanghai tour West. By the turn of the century it was home away from home to shylocks, con artists, soldiers of fortune and prostitutes from every corner of Europe, America and Asia.
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