Old Shanghai: Wujin Lu

Residents discuss demolition in Hongkou district

‘We’re still in talks over compensation, but we know we’ll have to go eventually,’ says Mrs Huang, one of the few residents left in the charming collection of shikumen that comprises Gongyi Li beside Sichuan Bei Lu metro station. ‘Everyone else has been relocated to way, way out in the suburbs and taken the money; they’ve been tricked. But we know we’ve only got a couple of months left here.’

In August, it seemed a reprieve could be on the cards for the community when netizens highlighted the historical value of a structure at its heart. Yihong Yuan, a former private residence built in 1912, once hosted a speech by Sun Yat-sen and the outcry over its potential destruction forced the Hongkou government to reconsider. Now occupied by a wet market, the building is plastered in posters declaring that it will be preserved and given a change of use. ‘They’re keeping that building and one around the corner from us with a couple of nice balconies on it,’ says Mrs Huang’s husband. ‘But everything else on this block will be razed.’

wujin lu

Much of it has gone already. Last month, authorities held a series of diamond wedding celebrations here for elderly residents (who had already been relocated), declaring that it was also a chance to bid farewell to the longtang. When we visit on a pleasantly warm weekend afternoon, the alleyways are eerily quiet. Turning down one narrow passageway, we’re met by a series of children’s toys stuck to the walls beside bricked up doorways. It’s hard not to see them as forlorn figures below a banner encouraging residents to accept compensation earlier in order to get the best choice of housing when relocated.

‘They don’t even have a proper house to give us,’ says Mrs Huang when we ask about the new development she’s been offered. ‘We had a guy come around and he just showed us a picture of a piece of land. “This is where your flat will be,” he said. It was just grass.’

Old Shanghai

Explore the city's past with our guide to disappearing neighbourhoods, historic buildings and more

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