By staff reporter ZHANG XUEYING
One of the key factors that lead to Shanghai’s rapid development is the city’s prominent social environment where the economic prosperity and tolerance of cultural diversity brings out the best in each other. Such an atmosphere has attracted and produced many influential figures in fields of politics, economy, culture, art, science and sports, whose stories continue to define history. They include founder of the Communist Party of China(CPC) Chen Duxiu, the great Peking Opera artist Mei Lanfang, the Nobel Prize in Physics laureate Tsung-Dao Lee, former Chinese state leaders Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji, the basketball player Yao Ming, and the best-selling author Han Han.
Xu Ruiheng (alias Rongcun, 1822-1873) was the first Chinese person to participate in the World Expo and win awards. He was among the first batch of businessmen that came to Shanghai after it was opened to trade. In 1851 when he was informed that the World Expo would be held in the U.K., he brought his silk products to the Expo where the products won gold and silver awards.
Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) was a leading statesman of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and one of the initiators of the Self-Strengthening Movement. Beginning in the 1870s he set up many enterprises in various fields under the concept of “government-supervised merchant undertakings.” These were profit-oriented enterprises, which were operated by merchants but controlled and directed by government officials. In this way Li helped to cultivate the first batch of national capitalists in modern China.
Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) was co-founder of the CPC. In 1915 he started a monthly periodical in Shanghai entitled The Youth Magazine, which mainly advocated democracy, science and new literature. He was a leading figure in the anti-feudal May Fourth New Cultural Movement. In 1920 in Shanghai he advocated the founding of the CPC. In July 1921 the first National Congress of the CPC was held, where Chen was elected as secretary of the CPC Central Bureau but expelled from the party in 1929.
Soong Ching Ling (1893-1981), also known as Madame Sun Yat-sen, was vice chairman of the PRC and founder of China Reconstructs magazine (now China Today). She was widely praised as the most prominent woman of the 20th century in China. Sun Yat-sen led the 1911 Revolution, which brought over 2,000 years of imperial rule in China to a close and proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC). After Sun Yat-sen passed away, Soong Ching Ling carried on Sun’s legacy and devoted her life to the people’s welfare. In 1949 when the PRC was founded, she was elected vice chairman of the central people’s government. She spent most of her lifetime concentrated on the welfare of the people, especially women and children. Her elder sister Soong Ai-ling was married to H. H. Kung, finance minister of the ROC. Her younger sister Soong May-ling was married to Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang and the ROC government. Her brother T.V. Soong was a big-name businessman and minister of foreign affairs of the ROC government. The Soong family was once glorious in old Shanghai. Together with the three other largest families, the Chiang, Kung and Chen, they were regarded as the four big families of the ROC, and consummate representatives of the bureaucratic capitalist class in China.
Mei Lanfang (1894-1961) was a famous Peking Opera artist who formed and developed his own style known as the “Mei School.” He was born in Beijing and moved to Shanghai during the 1920s. He boldly incorporated into his performances elements of Western drama that were very popular in Shanghai at the time. These were reflected in the set design, the lighting, make-up and the costumes. His creations gave impetus to a whole new direction in Peking Opera.
Liu Haisu (1896-1994) was a noted painter and art educator. In 1912, together with his friends, he founded the first school of fine arts in modern China – the Shanghai Academy of Chinese Painting, and took the post as the school’s head. He recruited female students, making the school the first to become co-ed. He devoted himself to the furthering of China’s fine art development by opening his school to the use of life modeling and being the first teacher in China to invite a female nude model to pose for his class.
Tian Han (1898-1968) was an activist in Shanghai’s drama circles during the 1920s and 1930s. He contributed a great deal to the development of Chinese modern drama by successfully incorporating traditional Chinese opera with the Western drama. His most famous legacy were the lyrics he wrote for March of the Volunteers, the national anthem of the PRC.
Xia Yan (1900-1995), a playwright, screenwriter and art critic, served as vice cultural minister. During the 1920s and 1930s he was deeply involved in literary and artistic creations. His most renowned works include the reportage Indentured Laborer and the drama script Under the Eaves of Shanghai, which exposed its unsavory social underbelly and directed public concern to the hardships suffered by those on the bottom rungs of the society.
Lin Fengmian (1900-1991), a master painter who enjoyed prestige both at home and abroad, was born in Guangdong Province but gained his fame in Shanghai. He devoted his life to traditional Chinese painting and absorbed the techniques used in oils and watercolors. He was the earliest advocate for blending Chinese and Western styles. He established the National Academy of Art in Hangzhou and was an important innovator and pioneer in Chinese art education.
Chen Yi (1901-1972) was a prominent statesman, military strategist and poet, and one of the ten marshals of the PRC. He had held many important posts, including mayor of Shanghai, vice premier of the State Council and foreign minister. As the first mayor of Shanghai after the founding of the PRC, he soon got Shanghai’s economy back on track. Even today he is remembered fondly by Shanghai people for his uprightness, honesty and outstanding achievements. His bronze statue and Chen Yi Square in the Bund commemorate his work and person.
Li Minghui (1909-2003) was the first Chinese pop singer. Her performances won Shanghai the moniker of the “Oriental Paris.” Her hit Drizzle was widely considered to be China’s first pop song. From the 1920s to the 1940s she recorded a total of 2,000 songs and released over 300 albums.