This article gauges the applicability of five urban paradigms derived from the urban experience of the Western world, especially from that of Los Angeles, to the urban realities of an East Asian city: Shanghai, China. The five metaphors — world city, cyber city, dual city, hybrid city and sustainable city — are each examined against Shanghai’s urban context. The findings are that for Shanghai, and probably other East Asian cities, world city can be modified to mega city or globalizing city to denote a process of becoming; cyber city is more applicable to the physical networks connecting people, goods and information, although a ubiquitous virtual space is also emerging; a dual city and social segmentation exist on three scales: intra‐urban, local–global, and local–national; the hybrid city and sustainable city have been less of a concern in the past, but are gaining importance. Finally, given the significant role governments play in these cities, the notion of the developmentalist state is introduced. This broadened urban framework explicitly takes into account urban experiences in the East Asian context, and further extends the scope of comparative urban theorization and analysis, both spatially and temporally beyond the Western world.