Old Shanghai: Xiaonanmen

Residents give their views on the area's redevelopment

The triangle of land between Xiaonanmen metro station, the Lujiabang fabric market and the Cool Docks is a fascinating slice of old Shanghai that goes largely overlooked and is shrinking by the day as the cranes and bulldozers move in. 

Mr Chen Liang Yu-crop250Residents in the area generally seem quite happy to be relocated to Minhang district, where they will be given new housing by the government, though they also acknowledge the fact that they have not been given much of a choice. Chen Liangyu, 65, is the director of the neighbourhood committee in Xiaonanmen. He has only been staying here for around 10 years, and he says that he is still unsure when the government will issue the order for relocation. ‘This place hasn’t changed much since the day I moved in. The demolition process started in September 2007. As you can see, residents of the other neighbouring longtangs have been relocated already. I’m not sure when we can move out, but if the government says we have to move, we don't really have a choice. The government has the final say,’ he says with a chuckle.   

Gan Dizi, 79, has been living here for about 60 years. She says with a laugh that the government has wanted to move the residents out of her area for over 20 years now, but they're still waiting for the official notice. According to her, this area has somewhat been trapped in a time warp – nothing has changed since she first lived here. ‘The houses here are so small and old. The new place should be better,’ she says. ‘We really hope that we can move into a new house - any place is fine. The compensation payment isn’t much, but that doesn’t really matter. I’m more interested in getting a new home.’ 

Wang Shi Kai-crop250Mr Wang Shikai, 77, has been living in this area since he was born. His friend laughingly calls him the 'richest man in the district' because he owns a house – passed down by his parents – that is over 200 square metres in size. He sits in his rattan chair, one hand holding onto the leash of his Pomeranian, the other holding a cigarette, and is more than happy to speak to us. ‘Yes, of course I'd like to move,’ he says. ‘This place is too cramped to live comfortably. Most of us don't even have a proper toilet to use because the government didn’t create any sewers for the waste to be channelled into. We’re still using a bucket to dispose human waste.’   

He adds that their wooden homes have also become dangerous, as the structures inevitably become weaker over the years as rainwater dampens the wood and affects the durability. A small crowd gathers during our chat with him, all seemingly interested to hear what he says. Despite his apparent status in the community, he is refreshingly humble. ‘My friend, that one,’ he says, pointing to a semi-bald man in his 70s, ‘He's sick. As much as I would love to move out of here, relocation to our new homes in Pujiang [in Minhang district] is going to be difficult for him - the nearest medical facilities are quite a distance away.’