A stroll through Shanghai's Old Town with Katya Knyazeva

Culture | by Katya Knyazeva
Posted: May 18th, 2011 | Updated: January 11th, 2012 | Comments
China Photography_travel photography_chinese culture_chinese landscapes QiaojiashanSausage_Shanghai Old Town_Katya Knyazeva Siberian journalist and photographer Katya Knyazeva is a passionate advocate for Shanghai's Old Town. Arriving in China in 2006 as a fine arts book illustrator, Shanghai's rapidly changing urban landscape struck a chord with Katya as her creativity and curiosity propelled her into urban studies and photojournalism. Nurturing this fascination with transitional neighborhoods, Katya guides guests around Shanghai's secret lanes as a Shanghai Flâneur. Over the last two years, she has put together a photographic atlas (to be published this summer) giving a comprehensive street guide and oral history of the old town. Here we join Katya for a visual stroll through the oldest and most obscure quarter in Shanghai. >>> Vista_Shanghai Old Town_Katya Knyazeva The Old Town is the last authentic Chinese area left in Shanghai. It wasn't laid out systematically by foreigners, like the Bund or the French Concession, or built to make money off refugees, like the shikumen in Hongkou. The old town grew organically — for more than seven centuries — out of a web of creeks, markets and gardens. Old Shanghai was a literary, affluent town nestled behind city walls and spilling out into the furious mercantile suburbs at Dongjiadu. Today, any street in the old town might host 1980s tenements, 1960s bunkers, 1930s lilong ["neighborhood lanes"], 1900s artisan storefronts, Qing-dynasty courtyards and Ming-dynasty temples. Zhuangjiajie_Old Town Shanghai_Katya Knyazeva Zhuangjia Jie is a good street for sitting down and watching old town life swirl around you. It is one of the liveliest streets in Shanghai; there are no cars. It zigzags through lilong and courtyard houses, the youngest of which are 75 years old. The street resonates with the sounds of markets, aviaries and voices of itinerant snack vendors. Qiaojiashan_Sausage_Shanghai Old Town_Katya Knyazeva It was a meat-curing afternoon, in the middle of July and the narrow lane Yuanyanting Nong was canopied with rows of pork sausage. WanyuJie_Old Town Shanghai_Katya Knyazeva Dongjiadu is the area between the old city and the waterfront. The neighborhood sprung up in the beginning of the 19th century and was the source of Shanghai's wealth and fame for a hundred years. Sweeping demolition in 2010 erased scores of historic houses and the fine fabric of antique streets. Everything south of Dongjiadu Church is now a giant parking lot. Still, there are intriguing remnants of the old and atmospheric neighborhood if you wander westwards, closer to the old town proper. Huiguan_Shanghai Old Town_Katya Knyazeva Shanghai had over thirty guildhalls in Dongjiadu. The guildhalls, or huiguan, served as temples, business centers, spas, theaters and social clubs for various ethnicities and trades that dominated old Shanghai. Merchant princes who owned fleets of junk boats built their halls to be more luxurious than the local temples. Almost all the huiguan were torn down; only one is left. Marine Merchants Hall was built in 1715 by Fujianese sea traders. During the Cultural Revolution, the marquee in front was violently scraped away. After that, the guildhall housed numerous families that didn't know about the gold-leaf carvings hiding behind crude sheetrock paneling. Currently the building is rid of its tenants and awaits garish renovation. CaocangJie_Old Town Shanghai_Katya Knyazeva These lane houses at Caocang Jie no longer exist. Last year, remnants of the Dongjiadu area were erased in the name of Shanghai Expo 2010. In the next few years, most of the old town will be knocked down in favor of high-rise developments and wide highways. All images © Katya Knyazeva A big thank you to Katya for sharing her expertise and images with us. If you'd like to know more about Katya and what she's up to in both the written and visual world, head to her Avezink website. Of course, nothing beats donning a good pair of shoes and exploring in person and what better way to discover the heart of Shanghai than with the people who know it best. Shanghai Flâneur tour guides come from all sorts of backgrounds from architecture or business to China studies, photography and history, and give a specialist spin to each outing.
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