Finding a tour operator in Shanghai isn’t hard, but finding a good one is. Unless you go through a reputable, large company then you’re likely getting ripped off. The industry standard is a degree or certificate in tour guide skills, English and basic transportation knowledge. Yet some folks continue to con the industry by short-cutting the education aspect in favor of jumping right into trying to work in the field. Tell-tale signs include older folks, particularly men, those without affiliation to a company, those with overly perfect English. There is nothing wrong with using an unlicensed guide if they know their stuff, but unlicensed guides usually charge more, have less of a guarantee that anything they tell you is true, and could lead you into a larger con.
Traveling in China isn’t like travel in Europe or other well-trodden destinations. The industry isn’t as regulated as it could be, and scams are allowed to run free so long as they stay small and don’t hurt anyone. Meaning, if they just target your money they are acceptable. That’s more cash for the economy, after all. So, don’t pay more than roughly RMB30 an hour for a guide, RMB50 at the high end. That’s USD7, which is minimum wage in America, so if you pay that in China you’re paying a more-than-fair wage, but if you pay more than that you’re encouraging more conmen into what they consider a lucrative field for exploitation. Consider that the minimum monthly income in China is under RMB2000 and if you overpay you’ll not only upset the balance, but you may be placing a target on your guide’s back. Leave your sense of charity at home, these are hard working people who want a fair wage, not your pity. Pay what’s fair and don’t tip. No one in China tips, and it just leaves the impression that you don’t know what to do with your money or you feel pity for them. Neither is intelligent.
If you are approached by a “tour guide” at a major monument or attraction you can rest assured they are not a real guide. Real guides are hired by companies who organize tours, so if you want a real guide go through a company, and don’t hire people who lurk around monuments waiting for wealthy-looking tourists.