Notes on the Geography of China: Shanghai: Old Town/Nanshi/Lao Cheng Xiang
Think of Shanghai first as an old, walled, but unimportant Chinese city, one of dozens of large towns dotted across the lower valley of the Yangtze. Think then of Shanghai as Europe's Chinese entrepot, growing rapidly from the establishment of foreign enclaves in the 1840s to their renunciation by the British, Americans, and French in the 1940s. (Shanghai had 250,000 people in 1900 and 4.3 million by 1947.) Think third of Shanghai as a Chinese city once again, but stifled from the 1940s to 1990 by national rulers fearful of investing in a vulnerable coastal city. Think finally of Shanghai since 1990, growing at an extraordinary rate and regaining its reputation as China's preeminent commercial center. We begin in this file with the old Chinese city, usually called Nanshi ("South City") but also referred to as Lao Cheng Xiang ("Old Town").
The Huangpu is a short (60 miles) dredged tributary of the Yangtze. It originates in Lake Djanshan, which is linked to a network of other lakes and canals, including the Grand Canal. A century ago, several thousand junks were usually tied up here, and some 2,000 larger vessels arrived annually. Arriving at the coast of China, they entered the Yangtze, went upstream two miles, turned into the Hwangpu, and two miles later dropped anchor.
The mariners found an existing town, Shanghai ("By the Sea"), encircled by a round or barrel-shaped wall built for protection against Japanese forces and Chinese pirates. The wall came down in 1913-4, soon after the Revolution of 1911, and streets now trace its course. Canals once crossed the walled city; they, too, are gone. Here, Renmin ("People's") Road rims the northern edge of the old city. That big building across the street makes you wish you had a monopoly on steel culverts, which. turned upright and plastered, magically transform boxes into temples.
It wasn't enough to get rid of the circumferential wall: Henan Road, shown here, transects the old city north to south, while Fuxing Road cuts it east-west.
Tourists come to the old city but are heavily channeled toward the section around the Yu Garden, a much modified 16th century private garden.
Outside the garden, you might as well be in a place called Chinatown. Yes, that's Starbucks.
You want something real? Try the Wen Miao, or Confucius Temple. If you think of the old city as a clock face, then the Yu Garden is about 1 o'clock. For the temple, you want to come around to 8 o'clock and walk a block in along Wenmiao Street. (Don't walk away from the center or you'll bump into Shanghai's first downtown Wal-Mart supercenter.)
It gets a "10" on Shanghai's Scale of Repose.
If you want a sense of what life is like here, however, penetrate a bit further into the old city and take the first left turn, onto Zhouangjia Lane.
You can't beat markets if you want a sense of community vitality.
Fish, kept alive by tubes pumping fresh air into each tray.
Maybe these ones look a bit healthier.
A bit of this, a bit of that. Quack!
Bones for sale.
Winter sun, with laundry.
Housing often seems to be a hodgepodge.
This is Yaojia Lane, near three o'clock.
Sipailou Road, combining an old-style market with finest Socialist living.
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