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Shanghai: trend-setting 'doorway to China'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
EDITOR'S NOTE: With more than half of the world's population now living in cities, Baptist Press today begins a multi-part look at a number of the world's major metropolises, such as Shanghai, China, and Delhi, India. The series by International Mission Board writers, which will appear each Wednesday in BP, will highlight the multiple people groups living side by side in the cities. Many come from hard-to-reach places but now, as city dwellers, they are more accessible than ever before to share the Gospel.

SHANGHAI, China (BP) -- Madison Zhang*, 27, hangs on to the subway's overhead belt, trying to keep her balance as the train constantly starts and stops for passengers. The young professional's two-hour one-way commute to her government job requires her to travel by foot, bus and subway.

Shanghai, Portrait of a City from AsiaStories on Vimeo.She tries to look upbeat and positive, but tiredness lines her face. She doesn't know how she could survive if her mother-in-law, a widow, hadn't come to live with her and her husband just a month after their wedding. Zhang's commute and long work hours leave her no time to buy groceries, clean house or cook meals.

The commute would tax anyone's energy, but Zhang's even more so. She is six months pregnant with what will -- unless China relaxes its one-child policy -- be her only offspring.

Her child will get a Shanghai hukou, or ID card, to attend public school and obtain health and other social benefits. Zhang, whose own household registration is in her native Shandong province, can't get her Shanghai hukou until her marriage to her Shanghai husband marks its 10th anniversary.

Yet Zhang feels fortunate. Countless Chinese people share her dream, but hers has come to fruition. She has carved a niche for herself in China's commercial and financial capital of Shanghai.

"Shanghai is the doorway to China," says Adam Johnson*, a Christian worker in the area. "People from all over China live in Shanghai and at some point will take what they learn there back to their hometowns and villages.


"Reaching Shanghai is strategic for reaching China," he says.


Emerging from the modern underground labyrinth of subways brings breathtaking views of cosmopolitan Shanghai into focus.

A Louis Vuitton suitcase replica the size of a building stands guard on Shanghai's Nanjing West Road, overlooking the morning commute of hundreds of young, fashionable professionals on the sidewalks below. Coffee shops, trendy restaurants and designer clothing boutiques line this passageway of wealth and privilege.

The ostentatious display almost looks normal in the high-rise city where everything is larger than life.

No other place in China is quite like this. Anyone who'd seen only Shanghai would be hard-pressed to imagine what the rest of the country is like.

Shanghai has long been China's trendsetter in fashion, business and standard of living. Comparisons to New York City fall often from the lips of stunned international visitors. With 23 million people, it boasts a population larger than that of the entire country of Australia. The cosmopolitan mecca pulls in dreamers -- like Zhang -- from all corners of China and the world.

Southern Baptists Isaac and Karen Scidmore* share Christ among the city's young professionals like Zhang. "It's not easy to work among them," Isaac says, "because they are so busy.

"There is no way that you can buy a house in Shanghai on a normal salary. You have to work overtime. You have to move up the ladder somehow. So they are extremely driven to work hard and move up," he says.


Nonetheless, the Scidmores say many Shanghai professionals hear the Gospel and turn to Christ.

"In college and high school they've been told what to think. They've been told communism is the way, Marxism is true, there is no God, evolution is true -- all these theories and philosophies," Isaac says. "And then when they graduate, it is basically the first time they have freedom to decide what they are going to do, what they are going to think.

"So we've found a lot of young professionals very willing to consider the Gospel. They are very open. There seems to be just that kind of release. You know, 'now we have the chance, now we don't have the restrictions.'"


Beyond the glittering urban districts filled with businessmen, professionals and academics, however, another side of Shanghai exists.

The western suburbs of Shanghai appear more shabby and dilapidated than even the poor, remote villages from which the residents migrated.

Liu Shan Ying*, 35, came to Shanghai from Anhui Province 10 years ago. She wears an apron and stirs a large pot of bubbling stew beside the dusty street. She stands near a blackened automotive parts shop where her husband works. A toddler roams under her attentive watch.

Liu says the neighborhood children attend a private school in the suburbs. The scholastic standards are lower than the public schools, yet the tuition is expensive in relation to incomes. They do not have hukous that would grant free education for their children.


"We make twice the salary in Shanghai that we did in our home villages for the same type of work," Liu says. "Even with private school tuition, we make enough money to live and still send money back to our family in Anhui. It really is better here."

Liu believes in Christ. She attends the house church on the third floor of the rusted warehouse around the corner. The church, led by seminary students, is one of many churches that reach out to migrant and grassroots communities throughout Shanghai.

Grassroots people, the population segment that includes low-income native Shanghainese and migrants, comprise approximately 10 million of Shanghai's 23 million population.

Southern Baptists Baker and Eunice Lee*, who develop leaders among grassroots church members in Shanghai, know their work has made a difference. One day while riding the subway, Baker noticed two women offering evangelistic tracts to passengers. When one of the women turned to offer him a tract, they recognized each other. He had trained the two women in evangelism just days before.


Shanghai attracts optimistic people both from within China and from abroad. "They want to be on the front edge of culture, society and business in China," Johnson says.

Progressive foreign businessmen in the early 20th century built the "Bund," a row of elite riverfront business establishments along Shanghai's Huangpu (whang-poo) River. The European stone architecture stands today as a testimony to a bygone era.


Across the boat-filled waters stand gleaming glass and steel skyscrapers in the ultra-modern commercial district of Pudong. Twenty years ago, Pudong was swampy farmland; now two of Asia's tallest buildings stand side-by-side there. Shanghai's unique past and optimistic future can be seen in a simple turn of one's head.

"If you go there as a tourist, it's great to see the buildings and some of the historical sites," Johnson says. "But if you really begin to look at Shanghai from a strategic standpoint and say, 'What's it going to take to reach 23 million people with the Gospel?' then you start looking at the multiple districts and just see the mass of humanity. I mean apartments after apartments after apartments. It can get overwhelming.

"According to conservative estimates, 95 percent of Shanghai's 23 million are lost. On average the annual mortality rate in China is about seven in 1,000," he says. "You can do the math. About every three and a half minutes, a lost person in Shanghai dies. Every three and a half minutes, a person in Shanghai enters eternity without Christ."

"We have to turn that around. We need to be in Shanghai. We need to be impacting 23 million people with the Gospel."

*Names changed. Emily Stockton is a writer with International Mission Board based in Asia. For more stories like this, visit


Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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