Lessons should be learned from Tianz­i­fang

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Bei­jing

liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Tianz­i­fang is a street mar­ket in Shang­hai fash­ioned for tourists out of an old Shiku­men­style hous­ing com­plex that fea­tures two wings of iden­ti­cal build­ings along a nar­row al­ley en­closed by tall stone gates at both ends.

But the ren­o­va­tion and over­com­mer­cial­iza­tion of Tianz­i­fang, as many peo­ple be­lieve, does not al­low tourists to ex­pe­ri­ence the real lo­cal com­mu­nity cul­ture of Shang­hai.

Shiku­men, ini­tially de­vel­oped by for­eign­ers for refugees from Jiangsu and Zhe­jiang prov­inces es­cap­ing a farm­ers’ re­bel­lion in the mid 19th cen­tury in East China, housed 60 per­cent of Shang­hai’s pop­u­la­tion at its peak be­fore the city gov­ern­ment’s large-scale ren­o­va­tion pro­ject in the 1990s. The nar­row liv­ing space hold­ing many fam­i­lies of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions formed a spe­cial com­mu­nity cul­ture of Shang­hai.

Lo­cat­ing in such an old neigh­bor­hood is an im­por­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic of Tianz­i­fang. But some tourists feel dis­ap­pointed with it, be­cause ex­cept the build­ings, ev­ery­thing there is not rel­e­vant to Shang­hai. The mar­ket is filled with petty com­modi­ties made in Yiwu, Zhe­jiang province, snacks and sellers from across the coun­try.

“I do not think I am in Shang­hai while strolling in Tianz­i­fang. Shang­hai needs to make it more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of lo­cal cul­ture,” a tourist from Fu­jian province told lo­cal media.

Gov­ern­ments in many Chi­nese cities have de­vel­oped such his­tor­i­cal places for tourists. The cen­tral au­thor­ity sup­ports the de­vel­op­ment of cul­tural in­dus­try, tourism and ser­vice sec­tors.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments re­gard the old road tourist spot as ideal pro­ject over­lap­ping the three ar­eas. But the gov­ern­ment should draw some lessons from the tourists’ dis­ap­point­ments with Tianz­i­fang.

If the orig­i­nal res­i­dents are pushed out from the old streets, the con­struc­tions will die as an in­te­gral part of cul­tural en­tity, which is en­livened by their na­tive in­hab­i­tants. The gov­ern­ment should seek a bal­ance be­tween main­tain­ing the old lifestyle of the res­i­dents and the com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment of their com­mu­ni­ties.

Sec­ond, the de­vel­op­ment of such a pro­ject as Tianz­i­fang should ben­e­fit lo­cal res­i­dents, who should have a say on many im­por­tant mat­ters con­cern­ing the pro­ject, such as what kinds of busi­nesses should be in­tro­duced to the mar­ket, and whether the dec­o­ra­tion and ren­o­va­tion of some build­ings are in line with re­quire­ments of not only con­struc­tion safety but also pro­tec­tion of the his­tor­i­cal build­ings.

The gov­ern­ment should or­ga­nize hear­ings seek­ing lo­cal res­i­dents’ sug­ges­tion, and there should be a ne­go­ti­a­tion mech­a­nism to strike the bal­ance be­tween pro­tec­tion and de­vel­op­ment.

The com­modi­ties sold in the lane mar­ket should be re­lated to lo­cal peo­ple and their life, oth­er­wise an old street mar­ket in Shang­hai be­comes a dull sou­venir shop.

Western cul­ture plays an im­por­tant role in Shang­hai, and melds with lo­cal cul­ture grad­u­ally, as it has done over the past 200 years. Shiku­men is a mixed genre of ar­chi­tec­ture of the Western and Chi­nese styles.

The gov­ern­ment should do more to ex­plore Western cul­ture’s roots in Shiku­men and make it more tourist-friendly for for­eign visi­tors, which is be­yond the abil­ity of lo­cal res­i­dents.

The au­thor­ity needs to pay more at­ten­tion to im­prove the con­di­tions of public hy­giene and con­ve­nience for res­i­dents and tourists. An ur­gent need of Shiku­men ar­eas is to have more clean and com­fort­able toi­lets.

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