Connecting Global Cities: Sister Cities

Oct 25, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by 'Connecting Global Cities' by Colin Speakman

Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Resident Director for CAPA Shanghai.


Sister Cities are sometimes referred to as “Twin Cities” but that term has another meaning as well. In USA, it is used to refer to two cities of similar size that are geographically close together. Two examples which I have visited a few times are the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (in Minnesota) and San Francisco and Oakland (in California). Some are twins across a border and quite close to it—San Diego in USA and Tijuana in Mexico (I have visited them too). The term is also used in other countries. Sometimes such twin cities lose their individual identities and merge.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2018_Shanghai_From Colin Speakman - Colin in a CityPhoto credit: Colin Speakman

Budapest in Hungary, which began as two cities (Buda and Pest) twinned merged in 1873 to become a united city. Where I live in China I have several friends from the city of Wuhan; I wonder if they learn that Wuhan was created in 1927 from no less than three neighboring “tri-cities” of Hankou, Hanyang, and Wuchang. We can see where “WuHan” came from combining parts of each city.

However it is not that meaning of Twin Cities that I am considering here—it is the twinning of two cities geographically far apart—sometimes across oceans. So let’s refer to these as Sister Cities. Such cities are a form of legal or social agreement between towns, cities, counties, prefectures, provinces, regions, and states that are geographically and politically distinct areas and linked together to promote cultural and commercial ties. It is not surprising that quite a few of these linkages are between global cities.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2018_Shanghai_From Colin Speakman - London As Colin RemembersPhoto: London as remembered by Colin Speakman

I am quite pleased to know that my other home of London (UK) has among its sister cities Shanghai (2009)—and for good measure, Beijing, where I used to live is also a sister city of London (Greater London since 2006). No wonder I feel at home!

The concept took a leap forward after the Second World War ended and was intended to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures and between former foes as an act of peace and reconciliation as well as to encourage trade and tourism. However, such good relationships have not always endured as there can be some fundamental differences emerging.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2018_Shanghai_From Colin Speakman - Ho Chi Minh Central Business District in VietnamPhoto: Central Business District in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by Colin Speakman

Another Chinese global city I lived in for two years (2008-09) was Nanjing and I learned that it was a sister city of Nagoya in Japan. I thought this was a nice touch after the hostilities in the War of Japanese Aggression against the Chinese People, well-documented in the Nanjing Massacre Museum. Unfortunately, in 2012, the city of Nanjing suspended their sister city relationship with Nagoya after Nanking Massacre denialist statements by Nagoya's mayor, Takashi Kawamura. Another example which involved several Italian cities that were each sister cities of Russia’s Saint Petersburg—the cities of Milan, Turin and Venice—suspended their sisterly love owing to Russia’s introduction of anti-gay legislation.

We can all recall Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine – and that led to the global city of Prague terminating is sister relationship with both Moscow and Saint Petersburg in 2014. However Prague has a strong sister city relationship with Shanghai. Those in the USA might recall a more recent event last year, which led to the end of a 60-year-sisterhood between the global cities of San Francisco and Osaka in Japan—in downtown SFO a memorial to comfort women from the wars in Asia was erected and that was that. A shame that politics enters into the people to people understanding enhanced by global sister cities. Fortunately, international education can help enhance good relations between sister cities.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Spring2018_Shanghai_From Colin Speakman - Beijing as Colin RemembersPhoto: Beijing as remembered by Colin Speakman

Some notable other sister city relationships between global cities, I list below:

Beijing and Tokyo (1979), Beijing and New York (1980), Beijing and Washington, D.C. (1984), Beijing and Buenos Aires (1993), Beijing and Berlin (1994), Beijing and Moscow (1995), Chicago and Shanghai (1985), Dublin and San Jose, CA (1986), Florence and Nanjing (1980), Guangzhou and Los Angeles (1981), Guangzhou and Sydney (1986), London and Paris (2001), Shanghai and Saint Petersburg (1988), Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City (1990), and Shanghai and Barcelona (2001). The list goes on.

As one would expect, special events are held, people to people exchanges, trade missions, mayors visiting, and particularly anniversaries of the relationship (10 years, 20 years and longer). All this helps connect global cities!

Thanks Colin!

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Topics: Shanghai, China, Global Cities