Skip to content

China 16: Old Town – now you see it, now you don’t

One of the most fascinating aspects of Shanghai for me was the disappearing act of some of the old neighbourhoods.

Near modern-day Shanghai is the Old Town, also known as Nanshi or Southern City, one of the most traditional districts left in China’s most populated city. However, the buildings and infrastructure (or lack of) are long past their use-by date meaning tradition has to give way to regeneration – especially given the proximity to downtown.

It’s quite something wandering around the old residential and shopping areas and seeing new city highrise in the background. Demolition started over 10 years ago and looks to be happening for some time yet.

On our walkabout we ventured along this street, still teeming with everyday life…

Photo 12-09-14 7 48 42 pm

…further along it becomes quieter as buildings have been vacated and are boarded up…

Destruction of Shanghai old neighbourhood

…those to be demolished bearing this symbol…

To be demolished

…and then you enter the demolition zone.

Destruction of Shanghai old neighbourhood

Destruction of Shanghai old neighbourhood

Looks like Shanghai has been bombed eh?

Destruction of Shanghai old neighbourhood - Changsheng St

Swathes of the city’s character is disappearing, but the creep of urban renewal is overall regarded as a positive rather than negative thing. It must be pretty exciting for residents to swap ‘stink pots’ for actual toilets.

Destruction of Shanghai old neighbourhood

Destruction of Shanghai old neighbourhood

Not all of the Old Town will go as a number of streets are now protected. One place that is going / has gone is the popular Dongtai Lu market (mentioned last time) which had all but closed when my friend Sally who had been living in Shanghai left about a month ago.

Another casualty of city development, albeit from another era, is the nine-mile wall that once circled the Old Town, built when marauding Japanese pirates were an issue. Most of it came down in 1912 (when the Republic of China was born) but one precious section remains in the form of the centuries-old Dajing Ge Pavilion. On maps you can see the roads that took over the circular footprint of the old wall.

Dajing Ge Pavilion

Meanwhile in modern-day Shanghai, after demolition comes rebuild…

Rebuild of Shanghai old neighbourhood

I guess it looks dubious right now but hopefully some neighbourhood character will return in time.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. I feel really sad to see this go 😦 I understand that they want to progress but to me, Shanghai just doesn’t seem to want to keep on to it’s old stuff. If they rebuilt, let’s hope they keep some of that old style in there!

    9 March 2015
    • It was such a unique experience walking through old neighbourhoods in Beijing and Shanghai, it would be such a shame if they future generations weren’t able to do the same. Just from my brief exposure to both cities, Beijing seems far more heritage-oriented than Shanghai so yeah I think you’re right. Thanks for your comment!

      9 March 2015
  2. It sure did look as if Shanghai had been bombed! I too hope some of the neighborhood character can return.

    9 March 2015
  3. I don’t know what looks uglier, the old town or the high rise buildings. Hopefully, the new ones will be better for the people but I sort of doubt it. Your photos continue to be so educational. And I like what you write about the pictures.

    9 March 2015
    • Thank you as always Yvonne and sorry for the delayed acknowledgement – it’s been a madhouse lately :). There’s always the risk that high density housing especially in lower socio-economic areas won’t age well – would be interesting to fast forward 10 or so years and see how things are.

      17 March 2015
  4. This is very sad seeing beautiful old buildings being demolished to make way for ugly concrete high-rises. It reminds me a little of Jakarta. Stunning architecture, the last vestiges of beauty amongst the concrete jungle left to fall down and decay. Such a crying shame. I’m all for progress and good housing but too often I feel that town planners give too little thought to preservation.

    14 March 2015
    • Trying to remember what I read – I think about 35 streets have protection status (not sure what that extends to), hopefully that is permanent and will be enough of a reminder of the old town as it rapidly becomes a new-old town.

      17 March 2015

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: