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2018-06-08 13:48:39  + video 

SHANGHAI — From the glimmering heights of China’s tallest tower, window cleaner Xiong Guihua has a bird’s-eye view over the whole city. Among the ant-sized people walking the streets below are nearly 10 million outsiders, who, like him, have come to Shanghai hoping for larger paychecks, big-city thrills, and a brighter future.

People call Xiong and his colleagues who clean 15 floors of windows a day “spider-men.” It’s a label he’s proud of, but he hopes his children won’t have to dangle from a skyscraper to put food on the table. “Whenever I’m working and I see office workers chatting or having meetings,” he says, “I hope my children can be like them in the future.”

Three perspectives of life in Shanghai from those on the outside. By Daniel Holmes, Wu Yue, Lu Yunwen, and Zou Chengxi/Sixth Tone

When Betty Barr and her husband grew up in the semi-colonial Shanghai of the 1930s, they lived radically different lives: She was a foreigner, he a local. During World War II, she was interned in a concentration camp by the Japanese, while he fled to the countryside. Though Barr left China several times, she always returned, and eventually met and married her husband.

Wang Jian, who hails from neighboring Jiangsu province, has run a barbershop inside a lilong, a quintessentially Shanghainese neighborhood, for 16 years. He’s seen the city change dramatically. Outside his alley, where his neighbors’ houses once stood, there is now the IAPM mall, one of Shanghai’s glitziest shopping meccas. “Things change so fast, too fast,” he says. “Sometimes I feel tired, like I can’t catch up.”

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Window cleaners at work at the Shanghai Tower, April 2018. Daniel Holmes/Sixth Tone)