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Shanghai mayor in shock resignation

xu kuangdi
Xu's shock move to return to the ivory tower likely means the end to a successful political career  

By Alex Frew McMillan
CNN Hong Kong

SHANGHAI, China -- Shanghai's popular mayor, Xu Kuangdi, has made a surprise decision to step down.

Chinese state media reported over the weekend that Xu will take up a post as party secretary at Beijing's Chinese Academy of Engineering.

His choice to return to academia is viewed as the likely end to a promising political career.

The local Communist Party accepted Xu's resignation on Friday and relieved him of his party responsibilities, state media said.

Executive Vice Mayor Chen Liangyu has taken over as acting mayor.

Shanghai's answer to Rudy

Xu took the helm of Shanghai in 1995. He oversaw its rapid growth into China's business capital, a glittering city of skyscrapers, wide avenues and almost tangible optimism.

shanghai bund
The Bund on Shanghai's Huangpu river is testament to the city's tangled history and overseas influence  

Xu has been compared to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- but with a Ph.D. -- in his charisma and the way he turned around a dusty city that had fallen on hard times.

The mayorship of Shanghai has been used as a springboard to national political success in China. Xu's two immediate predecessors are China's president, Jiang Zemin, and its premier, Zhu Rongji.

Jiang is stepping down next year and may be seeking to clean house ahead of the Communist Party Congress.

Xu was also widely believed to have feuded with the Communist party secretary of Shanghai, Huang Ju. Relations are often testy between the mayors of major Chinese cities and their city secretary, who outranks the mayor.

Shanghai's return to glory

Xu also turns 64 later this month, rubbing up on the mandatory 65 retirement age for politicians. There is some speculation his surprise decision to leave could lead to a senior position with the national Communist party.

That could extend his tenure to 70. But his return to academia more than likely marks the end to his political career.

jin mao tower
Shanghai's glittering Pudong district is home to the Jin Mao Tower, the third-tallest building in the world  

Shanghai was once the busiest port in Asia, but it lost its special status after the Communist revolution in 1949. It suffered severely during the Cultural Revolution.

The birthplace of the Communist Party, it was also mostly developed by overseas money, with strong American, British, French and Japanese influence. Its downtown Bund waterfront is a blend of European architectural styles.

Xu went a long way to lure overseas money -- this time mainly from Taiwan and Hong Kong -- back to Shanghai. The city's return to glory in the 1990s is widely touted as a stunning home-grown success story in China.

Over the last 10 years, the gleaming Pudong business district rose out of swampland and disused industrial land west of the Huangpu river. Chinese officials cite Pudong's skyscrapers, including the world's third-tallest building, as a key symbol of the China to come.

Shanghai now stands as a credible rival to Hong Kong in attracting overseas banking and business, but without Hong Kong's without such strong British colonial ties.

The "Pearl of the Orient" -- less favorably known as the "whore of the orient" -- had a registered population of 13.2 million at the end of 2000, with another 3 million in "floating" population that moves in and out.


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