Shanghai Walks: JG Ballard's Longhua

Explore the southern Longhua area of the dystopian novelist’s youth

Following the popularity of our JG Ballard book walk in April led by Duncan Hewitt, this treasure hunt explores a different set of sites associated with the dystopian novelist’s youth. While April’s walk traversed the leafy pavements of Panyu and Xinhua Lus to discover Ballard’s former residence and more genteel early years, this route takes in the Longhua area south of Xujiahui where Ballard and his family were interned during the Japanese occupation and which today features swathes of dusty construction.

Unfortunately, taking in the site where the family were kept (today the IS Shanghai Middle School) would add at least another half an hour to this walk and the school is usually closed to the public, so we’ve opted to leave it out. Nevertheless, exclusive tours are available for our readers courtesy of Ballard buff Sven A Serrano, who teaches at the school.

As detailed on Ballard archivist Rick McGrath’s site, many of the sites associated with Ballard’s time in Longhua are at best in disrepair. The changes that the area is currently undergoing mean that there are some dusty stretches involved in this walk, but we’ve weaved in some greener spots and some areas of historical interest remain.

Starting point Longcao Lu metro station, line 3

Walking time 2 hours


Take exit one out of Longcao Lu metro station, using the elevated footbridge to cross the traffic-choked intersection with Longwu Lu onto Longshui Bei Lu. Continue east on Longshui Bei Lu until you reach a fork in the road; take the left road (also confusingly named Longshui Bei Lu) which is thankfully calmer and leafier than the main drag. Continue on in the direction of Longhua Martyr’s Cemetery, a vast expanse of greenery with a blue glass pyramid at its centre hosting tributes to revolutionary soldiers. Turn right onto Longhua Xi Lu and, if you’re superstitiously-minded, stop and have your future foretold by one of the rag-tag fortune-tellers set up outside the pagoda.

First built in 242 AD, Longhua Temple and Pagoda have been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times since and according to Ballard in Empire of the Sun, ‘the Japanese mounted anti-aircraft guns on [the pagoda’s] decks and it was virtually a flak tower.’

Q. How many storeys are there on the pagoda?

Continue south on Longhua Xi Lu and pause for a breather on the bridge as you cross the green and peaceful canal. Just over this bridge on your right hand side is a monolithic grey brick wall which stretches the length of Longheng Lu. Behind this wall is the old Shanghai-Hangzhou railway line. In 1945, Ballard impulsively decided to leave Longhua internment camp to walk five miles and visit his former home at Amherst Avenue.

He followed the embankment of the old Hangzhou-Shanghai railway line, which previously encircled the western perimeter of Shanghai. ‘Half a mile in front of me was a small wayside station, no more than a concrete platform and a pair of telegraph poles,’ Ballard writes in Miracles. Here, he witnessed Japanese soldiers strangle a Chinese man to death. Today, the guardhouse, part of the track and a few old signals are all that remain and can be glimpsed by climbing onto one of the ledges beside the wall along Longheng Lu.


Q. The other side of the guardhouse opens out onto the corner of Fenggu Lu and Jichang Xi Lu, though unfortunately the owner of the shop now in its place is not receptive to visits from Ballard enthusiasts. What does the shop sell?

Opposite the railway guardhouse stands the former Longhua (or Lunghwa) Airport terminal building. Opened in the 1930s, this was Shanghai’s main airport until Hongqiao International Airport was converted for civilian use in 1964. The Lunghwa airfield features prominently in Ballard’s Empire of the Sun and although it’s not immediately recognisable as a former airport today, at the back of the building (more easily viewable by entering into the rear of the complex from Jichang Xi Lu) is an old air traffic control tower.

Q. What is the terminal building today?

Cross over and head left down Fenggu Lu past the terminal building. Just past the junction with Yunjin Lu on right is the former runway – look for the ‘Shanghai Longhua Airport Civil Aviation’ sign. In Empire, the young Jim talks of a kamikaze unit being based at Longhwa and of Mitsubishi Zero-Sen, Nakajima Hayabusas and Hayates all using the airstrip. Today, the now bleak stretch of tarmac is mostly used as a carpark, while signs adorning the walls surrounding it appear to have it marked as the site of a forthcoming housing complex.

At the crossroads just beside the airstrip, turn left and head north on Yunjin Lu. A few metres down on the left-hand side, you’ll be able to glimpse the tops of several plane tails over the wall. This is the back of Shanghai Civil Aviation College and if you’re lucky, you may be able to sneak in through the black gates for a better look.

Q. From the outside you can see a life-size model of an aircraft. Which airlines is it under?

Before the World Expo in 2010, these aircraft were on full view to the public, however they’ve since been covered in the grounds of the College and have seen better days. Continue along Yunjin Lu and look for number 5 on the opposite side of the street.

Q. Which Institute is located here?

Proceed along Yunjin Lu and put the dustier part of this trail behind you by turning right onto Longheng Lu and walking beside the stretch of canal that runs toward the Huangpu. Scraggy barges are moored beside towering apartment blocks which have transformed Longhua in recent years. Not that Ballard would likely be perturbed by such changes; the author once famously described nostalgia as ‘that most detestable of all emotions’.


Q. Just before you reach Longteng Avenue bridge where the canal opens into the river, a sign behind the hedgerows bans what?

Take the Longteng Avenue bridge across the creek and you’ll arrive at Xuhui Riverside, one of the more successful and pleasant recent redevelopments. With a climbing wall, small skate park and a running track skirting an extensive stretch of the Huangpu, this is a great place to amble away an afternoon beside the river. Toward the northern end near the Binjiang Planning Exhibition Center, there’s also an old steam train and the remnants of old railway lines which have a particularly off the beaten path feeling, as long as you can dodge the numerous wedding photographers who are increasingly flocking here.

Getting home Head north on Dongan Lu from beside the Family Mart store and you’ll come to Longhua Zhong Lu station on line 7 after just a few minutes’ walk.

Pit stop Unfortunately, food and drink options along this walk are mainly limited to the beginning and endpoints. At the start, a host of food stalls can be found beside Longhua Temple. At the end, your choices are Family Mart or smart Italian restaurant Isola Bella (3222 Longteng Avenue, near Dongan Lu).