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In China's age of economic liberalisation, the new Shanghai is being ordered to get rich again - on condition that artists and writers, who gave the old Shanghai its free spirit, stay mute. Ian Buruma reports on a metropolis with a past, where money buys you almost everything - even freedom, of a kind

By Ian Buruma   May 1996

It is better not to be in Shanghai during a heat wave. I was there when a heat wave struck, the hottest September day in 48 years: 87 degrees at night and humid as a steam bath. Schools closed, as did many museums which lacked air-conditioning. In one museum, the former home of Zhou Enlai, I was followed from room to room by an attendant with an electric fan. At night, in the old neighbourhoods of Nantao, or what used to be the walled city, families slept in the streets, stretched out half naked on bamboo chairs.

The houses in…

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