I visited China and Shanghai for the first time in June 2012. I found it a schizophrenic, wonderful, baffling, fascinating city.
To a western eye,the general public to be rude and pushy but gradually it dawned on me that they treated everyone like that ! Imagine first day of the sales and the rush and the arguments to get the best bargains, now imagine that to be daily life for the lift, the bus, to pay for the underground etc. and you get an idea of what to expect.
One can no longer tell the difference between local Chinese and foreign Asians. Huge shopping centers were open providing top services. You can finally tell the difference between the police and army with the cops' new sharp, dark-blue uniforms. Taxis are more reliable and friendlier - you'd never get swindled with a "DaZhong" taxi. The subways are very clean and quiet. Newer busses started appearing, and experimental public busses with TVs were being tested.
In the Western part of Shanghai (PuXi or old Shanghai), the mansions and buildings of its colonial days are mostly being restored. There's a stress on "green space" so, many old houses are being torn down to make way for public parks. And you'd also get a rim of plants growing on the side of highways. On Friday and weekends, the rim of the highways light up. The colorful spotlights on the Bund and the lighted colonial buildings provides really awesome views. In the People's Square (Ren Ming Guang Chang, formerly the racetrack) contains the Shanghai History Museum, the City Planning Museum, the Shanghai Grand Theatre, a government administration building, an underground mall, and a public park. These are must sees!
The city is trying to re-invent itself as a 21st century city and with the amount of new buildings going on, they could be right, but at the same time they still have plenty of crowded 2 storey flats with poor facilities. The new shopping centres all sell the latest high tech goods but two buildings along you will find a 1950s style shop with all the assistants and goods behind the counter. They also have crossing guards with whistles at busy junctions to look after the pedestrians. If you try to cross without permission they will soon let you know with a sharp blast of their whistle!
The guide books I found pointed you to the same expected tourist sights they do in every city. But to be honest, they are still worth going to, if only to say you have seen them and some are worth the trip to China alone.
Fortunately, I had as my guide a native Shanghaiese to show me all the things I would not have got to see. Taking me down alleys, on buses to heaven knows where and ending up at some place I would never have known existed.