Yesterday I walked over 15 kilometers through several districts and neighborhoods in Shanghai. In the morning and afternoon, I took my students in my DKU “Shanghai: Treaty Port to Global Metropolis” course to Shanghai for a field trip. We began our tour at the Confucian Temple 文庙 located in the heart of the “old walled city” area, which dates back to the Yuan Dynasty. We then walked around the neighborhood surrounding the temple, and headed across Fuxing Road to the area east of the Old West Gate 老西门, which is slated for imminent destruction. With us was Dr. Qin Shao, author of the book Shanghai Gone, a deep and thoroughly researched study of the sometimes violent process of destruction and urban renovation in the city. She taught us much through the example of her patient observations and interactions with the old neighborhoods and their residents. We then spent the afternoon walking through the heart of the former French Concession 老法租界 on a tour that I have been giving for many years, which focuses on the great artists, writers, and revolutionaries who lived in that area during the 1910s-1930s. After that I left my students at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial House 孙中山故居 and later had dinner with my Shanghai Nightscapes coauthor Dr. James Farrer along with long term Shanghai residents and fellow Old Shanghai experts Patrick Cranley, Tina Kanagaratnam, and Tess Johnston. James and I then took a long walk through some old neighborhoods where I used to live, and we ended up at a couple of new hotspots for nightlife. It was a long, exhausting, and fabulous day and night of walking Shanghai. For those out there who wish to follow in my footsteps, here are some of the highlights:
The Confucian Temple 文庙
Located in the heart of the “old walled city”, this temple dedicated to education is over 700 years old. It has recently been renovated and it is stunningly beautiful.
Worth checking out are the collection of oddly shaped rocks that according to Dr. Qin Shao represent the ancient Chinese principle of “water dripping and breaking through rock” 滴水穿石—i.e. the patience and persistence of scholarly learning through many years of daily efforts.
While leaving the temple, Dr. Shao struck up a conversation with an elderly resident who claimed she has been coming to the temple for many decades, and that her son (or was it grandson?) used to do his homework there. Apparently is has been transformed from a living, breathing part of the neighborhood social life (which it still is to some extent) into a more formalized and museumified relic of China’s imperial past. Now, one must buy a ticket for 10 yuan to enter, though elderly residents still enter for free. It’s ancient beauty stands in stark contrast to the skyscraper-laden modern cityscape as a reminder of this part of Shanghai’s deep history stretching back to the Song and Yuan dynasties.
The Destruction of Lao Xi Men 老西门: Talks with Neighborhood Folks
This is the third time this year that I’ve toured the neighborhoods east of the Old West Gate, which was one of the gates in the old walled city and is now a subway station. Since learning that this area, which dates back to the Qing dynasty and even far earlier, is slated for destruction, it has garnered a great deal of attention from historians and preservationists including the dynamic duo of Patrick and Tina, who run an outfit called Historic Shanghai. Patrick has been giving fascinating tours of this part of the city for a couple months now, and last month I had the chance to join him along with my daughter Sarah and several others. This time we strolled through the heart of this old neighborhood passing through alleyways such as Confucius Alley 孔家弄 and Old Wooden Bridge Alley 老木桥弄, while chatting with neighborhood folks who have yet to depart from this soon-to-be-demolished area.
Last month many of the houses in this area were already boarded up (preventing squatters or uncompliant residents from occupying them), but many of the fine architectural and design features were still there, such as the red carved wooden panels with Qing-era decorations. This time, the old homes and courtyards were stripped of these antique decorations, which have apparently been carted off for storage and sale.
During our walk, Dr. Qin Shao had many interesting discussions with neighborhood people, who have an encyclopedic living memory of the local history of these homes and their inhabitants stretching over the last several decades. Some of these folk have lived there over 50 years. Dr. Shao also pointed out the signage and the language that the government is now using to encourage the residents to leave quietly and accept their compensation and new housing in apartments way out in Shanghai’s suburbs. This is a process that Dr. Shao has been exploring for many years and writes about in great detail in her book Shanghai Gone. While giving a guest talk in my class the day before, she highlighted the sometimes deceitful and violent process of extraction of neighborhood residents during these demolition and renovation projects. We all learned a great deal from her thoughtful, empathetic, patient and methodical conversations with neighborhood residents, and some of my students also joined in the conversations with old folks who were very happy to share their knowledge and wisdom from many decades of neighborhood life in this area. We also marveled at the extraordinary architectural and design features of these homes and alleyways, some of which were quite elegant and stately back in the pre-Liberation era, but which have suffered from many decades of poverty, overcrowding and neglect during the Mao era and into the current age of Reforms.
The Okura Garden Hotel and the Old French Club 花园饭店
Following our tour of the old neighborhoods east of Lao Xi Men, we took the bus over to the Garden Hotel, where I showed my students the ballroom of the old French Club. Built in 1926, this building once housed a member’s only club for the city’s elites. It was open to both men and women and to all nationalities. Inside the ballroom, the club’s centerpiece, people once danced to the tunes of the jazz age, and on Sundays they were treated to performances by Mario Paci and the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra. Around 1990, the Garden Hotel was built and the French Club became the lobby and grand entrance hall of the new hotel.
Joffre Terrace 淮海坊
We then walked down Maoming South Road 茂名南路 to Nanchang Road 南昌路 and toured the old brick long tang 弄堂 alleyway neighborhood built in the 1930s, known as Joffre Terrace 淮海坊. We stopped at the entrance to the homes of two famous residents, no. 64 that once housed Xu Guangping 许广平，the common-law wife of writer Lu Xun 鲁迅 and the mother of his son Zhou Haiying 周海鹰, and next door, no. 59, the great writer Ba Jin 巴金. We also noted the residence of the modern Chinese artist Xu Beihong 徐悲鸿. All of these famous folks lived here in the 1930s-1940s.
The Old French Park 复兴公园
Walking down former Route Vallon (now Nanchang Road) we finally reached no. 100, the alleyway that once housed the editorial office of the New Youth, China’s most influential literary journal in the 1910s-1920s known as the May Fourth Era. It’s editor Chen Duxiu, who founded the Chinese Communist Party, moved there around 1920. The same alleyway also was the home of revolutionary Chen Qimei, who led the revolution in Shanghai that deposed the Qing Dynasty and founded the new Republic in 1912. Across the road is the magnificent building that once housed the original French Club built in 1918, and later became the College Municipal Francais, a catholic girls’ school, and is now home to the Science Association 科学会. We then crossed the road and headed into the old French Park, now Fuxing Park 复兴公园. Built in 1909, this park became a lodestone for wealthy and powerful elites from all over China, who built gorgeous mansions on nearby Rue Massenet, now Sinan Road 思南路. Just outside the entrance to the park is a Spanish villa that once was the home of General Zhang Xueliang 张学良 who famously orchestrated the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-shek 蒋介石 in 1936, known as the Xi’an Incident 西安事变. It is here, on the corner of Xiangshan Road, that the great revolutionary of the age, Dr. Sun Yat-sen 孙中山，孙逸仙 made his home in the 1920s and where he signed an agreement with the Communist Party 共产党 to join with his much larger and more powerful Nationalists or Guomindang 国民党. The rest is history.
Sampling Some New Nightlife Hotspots: Wuding Road and Jiangning Road 武定路交州路口
After a fabulous dinner at Mr. Willis on Anfu Road 安福路 with Shanghai luminary Tess Johnston (back here briefly for the Shanghai Lit Fest in March) along with Patrick and Tina, James and I headed out into the night. As those who have read our book Shanghai Nightscapes will know, over the years we have made countless ventures into the city nightscape to chart the development of its nightlife scenes over the past two decades. Our book covers a century of urban history focusing on nightlife, from the Jazz Age 1920s to the current age of VIP clubs and fancy bars featuring international mixologists.
Last night, we strolled down Ferguson Road or Wukang Road 武康路, a stately old street in the French Concession that once housed the famous writer Ba Jin, who moved there in the 1950s after living in Joffre Terrace for many years. I have lived in several residences in this neighborhood over the years, and James and I were walking down this road in October 2005 on the night that Ba Jin passed away at the age of 101 years. His home is now a lovely museum dedicated to his life and works. We then turned on Antai Road 安泰路 and made our way to the corner of Xingguo Road 兴国路 where a jazz bar called Heyday is located. The night was still young and the bar was just getting started, and so we decided instead to head over to a new nightlife hotspot on the corner of Wuding Road and Jiaozhou Road. There is a cozy and fairly new bar there called Barbarian, which has two levels, and it was chock full of Europeans here in Shanghai for a brief adventure, and hip young Chinese. Since there were no seats left, we went next door to another similar bar and had a couple of IPAs. I remarked that this is the new incarnation of Yongfu Road 永福路, which for several years was one of the city’s reigning bar streets, but over the past couple years has been emptied out by order of the Peaky Blinders...er, the local government and police (one surmises that the complaints from local neighbors added up over the years).
While quaffing our IPAs, I received a text message from Brian Offenther, otherwise known as B.O. who DJs in Shanghai and all over Asia. He invited us over to another new bar called Above the Globe, a Shakespeare-themed bar, which features fancy mixed drinks. It is a small bar on Jiangning and Beijing Roads 江宁路北京路口, in a building that also houses several other nightspots including the McKinnon Hotel bar which now features the Cotton Club Jazz Band (the Cotton Club sadly closed early last year after a 20+ year run). We found the club very cozy and inviting. The drinks were good (try the Macbeth) and worth the 100 RMB price tag and Brian’s eclectic musical choices and spinning made the club much more fun than the generic club lounge music of the other bars. He was playing a wide selection of vinyl albums including some Taiwanese pop stars from the 1970s-80s as well as some old American tunes, and mixing them up on the turntable.
After a drink at the bar, I walked all the way home to my neighborhood in the middle of town. That’s the most walking in Shanghai in a day I’ve done in many years, and a testament to the fine walking metropolis that is Shanghai.