Zheng Zu'an: Chinese researcher identifies 3 major blunders during urban renewal in Shanghai

Historians in the News

Zheng Zu'an, a researcher at the history institute of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, has pointed out three major blunders during the city's urban construction over the past century.

The dismantling of Shanghai's city wall after the 1911 Revolution was disastrous, Zheng wrote in a recent edition of the Journal of Social Sciences.

The wall, built over a span of three centuries starting in 1553 in the Ming Dynasty, would otherwise be a top attraction in Shanghai, just like the ancient city wall in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province.

The second major "historic folly" in Zheng's words was the filling of many waterways crisscrossing the city center. Otherwise Shanghai would be more intriguing with a maze of creeks.

Today, only street names such as Zhaojiabang and Xuejiabang (bang means creek) remind people that these were once creeks.

It is ironic to see property developers, such as those in Xintiandi and Xujiahui, dig ponds in recent years to landscape their areas, while so many natural waterways were ruthlessly buried.

Zheng also lamented at the many historical buildings that have been torn down over the past century, including landmark cinemas and markets.

The old Songshan Cinema, for example, used to attract the attention of many passers-by thanks to its unique arched roof. It was demolished a decade ago. The site is currently occupied by a modern shopping and residential complex known as Times Square.

In the pursuit of modernity represented by skyscrapers and wider streets, our cities have been paying a high price for erasing an important part of their own history. And such change is irreversible.

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Randll Reese Besch - 1/2/2008

Here, if it is fifty years old it gets demolished. It is very hard to find any buildings older than that outside of a narrow protected zone.