New Tale of Two Cities

Daily Mail (London), March 1, 1999 | Go to article overview
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New Tale of Two Cities


Byline: JACI STEPHEN

Shanghai Vice (C4); London's Burning (ITV)

WE THINK we have problems with the Met in this country; you should see the Shanghai police force. 'You're a whore, aren't you?' said one cop, to a sobbing woman who had just been arrested. He accused her of dealing in heroin. 'That's all you Moslems do in Shanghai.' Drug-related crime increased by 250pc in Shanghai last year, a figure police are intent upon bringing down with tough tactics.

The problems began in 1992, when Shanghai was designated a special economic zone, bringing with it free trade, opportunities and, as a result, a migrant population that came looking for work. The result is corruption, crime and a widespread drugs trade.

The first programme in Phil Agland's series saw police targeting the Moslem population, whose dealers are responsible for bringing in much of the heroin from Canton. It was heartrending to see people driven by poverty to buying and selling drugs to keep their children in food.

The heavy-hitting scenes in the police stations told one story, but there were many other layers to the picture of modern Shanghai. Agland returned to Miss Tang, who featured in his last series, Beyond The Clouds.

She arrived from Lijiang to complete her medical studies and made friends with her landlady, Mrs Feng. They represented two generations, strangely at odds in this prosperous city. Miss Tang is a product of progress; Mrs Feng a child of the past.

Mrs Feng is reluctant to marry her boyfriend because he believes in equality and she just wants to be looked after. The journalist Wei Lan, who also gives marriage guidance, told her to get a grip or she'd lose what she had. They don't beat about the bush with their advice in Shanghai.

It is these contrasting personalities, and the contrast between low life and high life, that make Agland's work unique. One moment you're looking at Shanghai at night, a city of beauty and apparent calm; the next you're in a prison, where a girl sits sobbing after her boyfriend is shot for drug-dealing.

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