Stories behind 39-year sistership of Shanghai and San Francisco | 2019-07-12 10:43

"In the 1980s and 1990s, San Francisco was just learning about China. Now many people in San Francisco have been to China, especially Shanghai. If you go to San Francisco, people will say, oh Shanghai, our sister city!"

Mr. Mark Chandler, Director, San Francisco Mayor's Office of International Trade and Commerce, recently came to Shanghai for the Pujiang Innovation Forum. When he received an exclusive interview with Eastday, he reviewed the fruitful exchange achievements and memorable stories between Shanghai and San Francisco since the establishment of sister-city ties 39 years ago.

Mr. Mark Chandler delivering a speech at the Pujiang Innovation Forum in Shanghai in May 2019. (Photo provided by the interviewee)

Shanghai and San Francisco became sister cities on Jan. 28, 1980, one year after China and the United States established diplomatic relations, becoming  the first sister city of Shanghai in the US. Soon afterwards, San Francisco founded a special organization, the San Francisco - Shanghai Sister City Committee, to develop the relationship.

Mark Chandlerstarted to work as an adviser assistantto the mayor of San Francisco in 1987, and since then, part of his responsibility has been the sister cities' connection. As he said, "I've been involved with Shanghai for entirely 32 years".

Management program trainees became Pudong development talent

"I have to say, among all of our sister cities, probably no relationship has been more active over the years than the San Francisco-Shanghai relationship", Chandler said, noting that "in nearly 40 years, we have had more than 200 exchange projects in almost every field. Virtually every mayor of San Francisco has been to Shanghai, and most mayors of Shanghai have visited San Francisco."

Shanghai Vice-Mayor Zhao Xingzhi and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein sign the "Agreement on the Establishment of a Friendship-city Relationship between Shanghai and San Francisco" on Jan. 28, 1980. Since then, the sister cities have kept close exchanges in various fields such as economics and trade, science and technology, culture and sports, and have made remarkable achievements  

As a witness and a participant of the sister-city friendship, Chandler believes that some of the most outstanding events took place in the 1980s and 1990s. This was a time Shanghai was just opening up to the world, and both sides knew little about each other, plus, transportation and communication were not convenient.

These exchange programs have brought the pair closer and closer, among which, the "Business Management Program" (BMP) was probably the most outstanding one in the eyes of Chandler.

The BMP was launched in the early 1980s at the initiative of Wang Daohan,  the then Shanghai Mayor, and Dianne Feinstein, current US Senator and the then San Francisco Mayor.

Young people in Shanghai from sectors including foreign trade, finance, medicine and hotel management were picked and sent to San Francisco for training, for periods varying from six months to two years. They studied at local universities while working with businesses or government organizations. A total of 103 people were trained in the program from 1984 to 2009.

Mark recalls when the program was just beginning, not many trainees had knowledge of western economies and systems. But afterwards, many of them became excellent talents and leaders in various walks of life, devoting themselves to the city's major projects such as the development and opening up of Pudong New Area.

Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, and Dianne Feinstein, US senator and former mayor of San Francisco, pictured with members of the San Francisco-Shanghai Sister City Committee Business Management Program in November 2005.

Sister-city program establishes people-to-people ties

"I think the great value of the sister-city program lies in the tremendous ties established between the peoples and organizations, not just between the governments", said Mr. Chandler, stressing that the two governments have always been very supportive and worked well together. At the same time so many non-governmental people have been involved in the program, with members of the S.F.-S.H. Sister City Committee also coming from all trades and professions.

Moreover, he noted that the exchanges have been diversified, ranging from different fields including culture, sports and commerce. In the 1990s, "Shanghai Week" and "San Francisco Week" were respectively held in San Francisco and Shanghai.

"We bought the San Francisco soccer team and played with Shanghai men's team, and two years later the women's team. I think it's one of the first times that the US and China's football teams had met before the World Cup", he added.

Shanghai Mayor Xu Kuangdi and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown attend the opening ceremony of "San Francisco Week" in Shanghai on September 26, 1998.

Chandler stated that the sister-city relationship provides channels for exchanges and opens minds for mutual understanding. In retrospect, the exchanges were not that easy, but now they are increasingly common.

"Today, the lead ballerina of the San Francisco Ballet is from Shanghai [Tan Yuanyuan, who was born and grew up in Shanghai]", he said happily, adding that "we take it as normal because of what we have done".

Shanghai Vice Mayor Zhou Muyao and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown watch a women's soccer match between Shanghai and San Francisco in September 1998.

Extraordinary friendship embodied in World Expo Shanghai

"Si Bu Wei", Chandler pronounced "World Expo" with a slight Shanghai accent."Being part of the Shanghai Expo in 2010 was a great experience for San Francisco", he said.

His city hosted two world expos in the 20th century, China taking part in both events. The US city held "San Francisco Week" from June 17 to 25, 2010, in Shanghai, becoming the only foreign city holding an exhibition week during the Expo Shanghai.

Chandler recalls that San Francisco brought about 300 people to participate in various events at the Expo Shanghai. The delegation included government officials, industrial, commercial and educational personage, as well as cultural performers such as Chinese performers, African and American singing groups, and a Hawaiian dancing group.

San Francisco holds a forum on sustainable energy during the World Expo in Shanghai on June 19, 2010.

Just as the then Consul General of China in San Francisco Gao Zhansheng said, the "San Francisco Week" once again reflected the extraordinary friendship between the two cities.

Shanghai impression: Lively, massive and cosmopolitan

Mr. Chandler first came to Shanghai in 1993. Up to now, he has visited China 27 times, landing in Shanghai on at least 12 of those occasions.

When recalling his first trip to Shanghai, he used the word "quiet" three times in a row to describe Pudong, the Bund and the city at night respectively. But afterwards, every time he has come back to Shanghai, he has been impressed by the amazing changes that have been taking place. "Shanghai today doesn't look anything like it did in 1993, while San Francisco pretty much looks the same."

Mr. Mark Chandler receiving an exclusive interview with Eastday in the offices of the Shanghai People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (SPAFFC) at the end of May 2019. (Photo by Wang Jiaye)

"I've travelled to many places in the world, and I think Shanghai is one of the greatest cities. It's efficient and very friendly. As an American, I find it's easier and easier living here", he said.

Could you use three words to describe today's Shanghai? "Lively, massive and cosmopolitan", Chandler replied, laughing.

Food sector and youth exchanges to be strengthened

Looking to the future, Chandler thinks that "we will focus more on the economic side, because as cosmopolitan cities we are so intertwined commercially. I think there are some areas we are interested in but not have done enough, for example, food and drink."

San Francisco is known as "foodie city" these days, with a lot of new-types of food and restaurants springing up, said Chandler, adding that "I think San Francisco has great potential to share its food with Shanghai and vice versa."

Also, he thinks that the sister cities could do more on youth exchanges in the future.

Shanghai holds "Shanghai Culture Week" in San Francisco from Jan 31 to Feb 6, 2019, which showcases the city's development through a series of broadcasts, TV shows, films and sporting activities.


During his visit to Shanghai, Mr. Chandler took a rest at the Starbucks store on Nanjing Road West. It is the biggest flagship store of the coffee chain in the world, which integrates production, tasting and sale. It was a weekday, and the massive store was still full of customers, which amazed Chandler. "Even in the US, Starbucks' hometown, there is not such a big store with so many experiences. This is what Shanghai is, I think, daring to be the first and be brave on innovation. It is cosmopolitan", he said.

Mr. Chandler took a rest at the coffee shop. (Photo by Chen Yanhua)

Chandler revealed that Japanese firms developed fast in the US in his younger days. He was selected and recruited by the mayor because of his Japanese proficiency, whereas these days younger foreigners are learning Chinese and testing their skills on Wechat, a popular instant messaging application in China.

In his view, times change while market disciplines remain unchanged. Although there are currently frictions between China and the United States, the ties between the two sides will not be interrupted. "It's a delight to have friends coming from afar, isn't it?"


By Wang Jiaye

Thanks to Chen Yanhua and Yang Weihao from the Foreign Affairs Office of Shanghai Municipal People's Government

(The photos, except for those with sources, were provided by the Foreign Affairs Office of Shanghai Municipal People's Government)

By:Wang Jiaye