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While Beijing may be the capital of China, Shanghai -- the "city above the sea" -- is China's economic, financial, and commercial center, its largest city, and the heart of China's future. As China reemerges as a major global power in the 21st century, Shanghai is the economic engine that is leading the way. As Shanghai goes, so goes the rest of China. No other super city in the Middle Kingdom, including Hong Kong and Beijing, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, is more vibrant or fascinating. Most recently, Shanghai solidified its credentials as a full-fledged world-class city when it successfully hosted the 2010 World Expo.

None of this should be a surprise when you take a look at Shanghai's history. Blessed by its location at the mouth of the Yangzi River, Shanghai rose from a fishing village in the 7th century to a major commercial center by the 17th century. In the 19th century, its status as a treaty port enabled all kinds of foreign influences to mix with local Chinese culture, so much so that by the early-20th century, Shanghai had become known as the Paris of China, and one of the most cosmopolitan and international cities in the world, where foreigners and Chinese alike flocked. But excesses also allowed for the fomenting of revolution, and the city that gave birth to the Communist Party of China in 1921 was also the one most thoroughly shut down after the 1949 Communist victory. With economic reforms in China starting in 1978, however, Shanghai has once again donned the mantle of progress (at warp speed, no less), and at the beginning of a new millennium, the city has an air of prosperity rediscovered from the heady days of the wealthy foreign concessions.

But make no mistake, today's Shanghai is no Western-dominated city. Rather, the Shanghainese, influenced by years of foreign exposure, though still unabashedly Chinese at their core, are drawing from the best of both worlds to forge a distinct sensibility, culture, and lifestyle. Not only is Shanghai a city of finance, but art and architecture, design and fashion are all flourishing here as well -- we haven't even touched on the unparalleled shopping and creative dining found in the city.

Not everything is rosy to be sure and growing pains are still everywhere you look, but no city on Earth seems more optimistic about its future than Shanghai. Today's Shanghai is being hailed, once again, as the New York City or the Paris of China. Perhaps these comparisons are currently necessary to give foreigners a sense of the character and importance of the new Shanghai, but the pace and unique nature of Shanghai's current evolution suggest that one day in the not-too-distant future, Shanghai itself may well be the barometer city to which all others are compared.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.