Modernity seemingly stops at the entrance
to Zhang Yuan (or Zhang
Garden), located along
Taixing Lu. North of the gate, less than a hundred metres away, is the Nanjing
Xi Lu metro station, bright neon lights, bustling crowds, cafes and shopping malls.
South of this rustic entrance, however, lies a completely different world – a
that once hosted public speakers
voicing their opinions about the state of the nation following the signing of the Treaty of
Nanking, which saw Shanghai and other Chinese cities opened up to foreign trade.
It was also famous for being a film-screening venue in the late 1890s, before
it became a pleasure park complete with roller-coaster rides in the early 1900s.
We find Mr Cai, 81, chatting with a group
of elderly women along the road outside their residences. He says that he's
been living in Zhang Yuan for over 40 years now, and similar to the residents
, he claims that government had intentions to relocate everyone
over two decades ago. Though the buildings look nowhere near as dilapidated as the
ones in Xiaonanmen, Mr Cai is eager to be relocated, saying that the homes are at
least a century old, and that the living conditions are poor. But we sense that
it may also be because he's anticipating a windfall - he proudly claims that
their properties are worth at least 10 million RMB due to their prime location
in the city centre.
Zhong Plaza, a trendy
new compound that hosts bars and restaurants such as Starling
and Tap House
recently sprouted up near Mr Cai's home, but he says that the new development
hasn't affected the residents much. 'The crowd doesn't bother us. The roads
here are busier now and there are too many cars parked along the side. I don't like
that.' But that was about the only complaint he had.
We wander further into Zhang Yuan and meet chatty Madam Li who gets excited when talking about the future of the
area. She has lived in this estate for 39 years now, having moved from Hongkou
to Zhang Yuan after her marriage, and she doesn't think that the development of
Zhong Plaza is an ominous sign of imminent
demolition for the residential buildings. 'I think the government may eventually get
us to move out, but it's impossible that they'll tear the homes down – there's
simply too much history and this is an iconic place in Shanghai. I think they'll turn these old
houses into a museum of sorts, to showcase the rich heritage of this area,' she
asked if she would be willing to move out when the time comes, she surprises us
with an emphatic, 'Yes! We'll definitely move!' She goes on to explain the sort
of living conditions they have to endure, and invites us into the common
kitchen area behind the entrance to her home. 'During periods of heavy rain,
this place gets flooded. The drainage system is really poor,' she says,
pointing at floor tiles caked in grime.