This paper explores the complex connection between heritage, light and power in Shanghai since the late 19th Century, and seeks a new understanding of how mutually coupled legacies of modernity, socialism and cosmopolitanism continue to shape this city’s unique identity and image. It focuses on the recent ideological remake of the skyline along the Huangpu River, achieved largely through the flamboyant illumination designed in 2018. Combining a number of visual and textual sources with fieldwork, it reveals the persistent symbolic role the city has played in a triumphant socialist cause, and assesses how past promises of a new Shanghai and a bright future for China have been sustained in the Reform Era. It forms a preliminary attempt to depict what the author argues should be perceived and studied as the engineering of a new propaganda medium which intersects with urban space governance. The implications of this project are discussed in the context of the threats and opportunities for Shanghai in terms of maintaining the city’s unique character and meaning coming from its own history and culture, rather than in terms of Shanghai simply being a vehicle for China’s modernity.