In Shanghai, some distance from the Iconic Bund, is a relatively new tourist district called Xintiandi. Surrounded by skyscrapers, the district is a pedestrian area comprised of upmarket shops, many of which are global brands (e.g., Starbucks, Shanghai Tang, Vidal Sassoon). The site is an example of heritage type preservation whereby buildings are repurposed for commercial use. While building facades remain, the original purpose of the buildings, and often their interiors are stripped away. The Xintiandi area is comprised largely of redeveloped Shikumen houses, which were smaller workers houses. Somewhat ironically, this site of tourism and global commerce was also the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist party.
Between a latte and a german beer, when visiting Xintiandi tourists can learn about both the congress and the Sikumen houses as within the pedestrian area there are museums dedicated to both. Mao moved to Shanghai to take advantage of the Cosmopolitan nature of the then city and to participate in the community of like-minded scholars established by Sun Yat Sen. It was the particular form of open cultural environment in Shanghai that enabled the rise of communism to occur in China according to Akbar Abbas. The first Congress meeting was held in 1921 with Mao as the representative of Hunan. This congress was attended by 13 delegates at a girls school. The members took a strongly Marxist position which rested on the urban proletariat as the foundation for revolution. This position changed by the following year, where the ancient movement adopted the more Leninist position of cross-class alliances, though still anti-imperialist. This strategy of alliance enabled the successful Anyuan Coal Mine Strikes. Later, in 1927, Mao was part of the Autumn Harvest Uprising, which involved conflict between peasants and local landlords. Although narrated as unsuccessful, it enabled Mao to begin to establish a power-base and enabled the founding of the Red Army. Finally by 1943 Mao was given leadership of party and in 1949 the People’s Republic of China was established. This was a period of draconian land reform that involved a violent redistribution of land from wealthy landlords to poor peasants. It is estimated that around 800,000 were killed in this process, though an upper estimate of 5 million executions is also credible, with countless additional deaths in the cities as a result of suicide. The first 5 year plan sought to move China from a primarily agricultural society to one that is industrialised. In 1958 the second 5 year plan, also known as the “the Great Leap Forward” further sought to industrialise. In addition to developing manufacturing activities, the plan included collectivisation of agriculture and introduced Putongua (simplified chinese) to increase literacy. The agricultural innovations introduced resulted in an overall decline in production and produced high rates of starvation among the rural communities. The period between 1959 and 1962 is known as the Great Chinese Famine, confirmed and retold by the children of survivors even today. In Anhui province the children of farmers told me stories of how their parents ate tree bark to survive. Thirty million people are thought to have died during the famine.
This period also coincides with the mass migration of Chinese refugees to Hong Kong. In Shanghai, the Bund offices of the HSBC also were taken over and the iconic building became home to municiple government offices. It was not until the 1990’s that Shanghai again opened its doors to a more capitalist form of economic activity, which eventually resulted in the development of new regions in the City, such as the Pudong, the redevelopment of the Bund, and in between 1999 and 2002 the redevelopment of Xintiandi. Unlike much urban development involving the tearing down of existing buildings in favour or high-rise buildings, Xintiandi retains much of the existing architecture. The area is comprised of Shikumen, or stone gate, houses. These long, thin houses were initially built in Shanghai (in the concession area) to house migrants and are fairly unique to Shanghai as they comprise both western and traditional Chinese elements. At one time, Shikumen houses comprised the majority of the housing stock in Shanghai. Originally built to house a single family, after WW2 the houses were frequently subdivided to enable a more dense population to live within in the city. As a result of the redevelopment of Xintiandi, it is estimated that about 3500 households were forcably displaced alongside nearly 800 workplaces. The cost of the development is estimated to be $170million (US). What it was replaced with are businesses and residences that are unattainable to those who had previously resided in this area– from both a cultural and economic perspective. This post is part of the DailyPost Weekly Photo challenge. The challenge this week is On Top. You can find the challenge here.
You can read a design student’s take on the Xintiandi development here. Perhaps as interesting is the discussion in the blog comments section.
For a longer discussion of the displacement of the existing community see the book Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance by Qin Shao.
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