FOR many years, Hu Wei recalled, the highest building in Pudong was a fire station tower of something over 20 metres in height. This situation lasted from the early days after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 until the 1980s, said Hu, at the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Management School of Fudan University.
Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress, Hu told his alumni he still remembered the words of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, when he called for the country to "seize the tail end of the 20th century - the last opportunity for Shanghai," before the train of development left the station.
"It was Deng's last visit to Shanghai. But over the years, I have felt that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," Hu said.
The rise of Pudong as part of Shanghai's modern development was not based on hasty decisions taken by central and local governments. Rather, it started in the early 20th century.
In his Jianguo Fanglue Tu (National Construction Sketch Maps), Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), regarded as the father of the Republic of China, had already advanced the idea of developing an expanded Shanghai into a key oriental trading hub.
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Chen Yi and other Shanghai mayors never ceased discussing ways to develop Pudong.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai established its reputation as the financial and trade centre of China and an important Asia-Pacific commercial city. Its strong position in the country was held until the 1970s.
"But in the 1980s, Shanghai's development started lagging behind China's reform," Hu said.
To support nationwide economic reform, Shanghai took on heavy responsibilities to provide financial support for the whole country's construction. The importance of the city meant the central government felt unable to risk placing it in the front rank of "economic reform experimentation".
As a result, while national GDP more than tripled from 400 billion yuan (US$49 billion) to 1,400 billion yuan (US$170 billion) in the first decade of the reform period (1979-89), Shanghai's economy only expanded by a factor of 1.4.
"Many problems arose because of the narrowly focused economy of Shanghai, even though it was China's largest industrial processing centre," Hu said.
In December 1987, a serious ferry accident occurred, as the result of a major fire - 11 passengers were trampled to death and 30 severely injured. Shortly afterward, a large shellfish-related hepatitis A epidemic occurred in Shanghai.
"The whole city was suddenly struck with panic. What should Shanghai do? What is the way out?" Hu said.
By the 1980s, the dramatic contrast between the two sides of the Huangpu River, with Pudong's development restricted by its bad transportation situation, made the modernization of Pudong a priority.
"It was not simply a matter of developing Pudong, but of opening up the whole city and advancing the development of the entire Yangtze River Delta," Hu said. "Basically, the rise of Pudong became a national strategy."