Demolishing Shanghai’s Old City, Spring 2006

Before it can be nostalgically remembered as “Shanghai’s Old City” and before newly constructed “traditional buildings” can be experienced by both foreign and domestic tourists as authentic “Chinese culture”, historical structures must be cleared. This afternoon I came across a set of photos I shot in Shanghai in April 2006, which show just such a clearing.

The photos were taken in part of the old Chinese city section of Shanghai in the period between the local residents’ departure and the arrival of the wrecking crew. I remember the contrast between the silence within the buildings’ empty shells and sounds of the bustling crowds making their way through the narrow lanes nearby.

The textures of the buildings–peeling paper, broken glass, crushed stone, oily stains and splintered wood–were highlighted by the sunlight and shadows. Empty chairs, old posters, Mao quotes and coarsely-blockaded windows and doors–evidence of the previous inhabitants–were frozen in mid-demolition.

With the owners long gone, the whole area seemed post-apocalyptic. Of course, to think of it in this way would be incorrect–this was not the “end of civilization” but the destruction, according to government public relations banners, that heralds civilization’s imminent arrival. The silence was eerily harmonious.

On the way home, a few blocks away I walked through another part of the neighborhood.  Imagine it was probably harmonized before the Expo.

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