Book Review and Giveaway of “Shanghai Shikumen” (上海里弄文化地图)

Shanghai Shikumen Book 01

UPDATE: Congratulations to Patrick, the 10th commentator! Random.org picked you out of 18 commenators. Drop me an email via the contact sheet and I will dispatch the book to you!

Thanks again to everyone who participated! For those who are in Shanghai, remember to pick up a copy! Amazon.cn has it on sale.

** I am giving one free copy to a lucky reader regardless of where you are in the world. Leave a comment below about yourself and why you’d like a copy. Entries close 5 minutes before midnight May 3, Beijing time. I will pick the winner at random. **

(欢迎中文读者!如果想用中文来看博科,可以在右边点下翻译钮 “Blog translated”)。 我会选出一位幸运读者送出《上海里弄文化地图》的一本书。请在博客文章下留下个人发言,介绍自己。比赛5月3日半夜停止。我会随机选择。)

For me, the hardest thing about documenting Shanghai’s ubiquitous lilong (or lanes) residences and shikumen isn’t the tedious amount of time invested in research and photographing them, but surprise, surprise, actually finding the hidden gems.

While there is substantial and organized information on Shanghai’s western architecture thanks to dedicated archivists including Tess Johnston and Paul French, there is no equivalent English directory for the hundreds of Shanghai shikumen and lanes, which is a challenge given their rate of demolition.

As an outsider without initimate knowledge of the city, I depend a great deal on the internet, Google maps and collecting anecdotes from residents to piece together the what, where and whys.

There was one key source I often turned to – a photographer on Flicker and the Chinese equivalent, Douban who went by the name of Gropius (the famous German architect who pioneered the Bauhaus School) or Xi Zi (席子). His work was a treasure trove of beautiful shikumen and lanes that I never knew existed, along with names and addresses, which I would use to guide myself around the city. He was receptive to questions and had a large Shanghainese following online.

A few years ago, while shooting in a heap of what used to be a beautiful structure in Hongkou, I met a man in his late 30s, early 40s doing the same thing. Lo and behold, it was Xi Zi.

We became friends and I’d meet up with him on several occasions to shoot and even interviewed him for the blog. He almost never used a map and knew of hidden spots that even local Shanghainese had no idea existed. He photographed the same places over and over again, mapping a timeline of their demise.

After 5 years of continuous shooting, Xi Zi (whose full name is Xi Wenlei (席闻雷)) and his good friend Jiang Qinggong (姜庆共) (or Lao Jiang as he calls himself, a well-known publisher of history and the arts) have finally put out one of the best photo books on Shanghai shikumen that you’ll ever find. Both authors grew up in shikumens and as Xi Zi once said to me, for the younger generation, the shikumen will be just a concept as many of them have never lived in one.

“Shanghai Shikumen” or more accurately “Shanghai Lilong Culture and Map” (上海里弄文化地图) condenses explanations and diagrams of various shikumen styles, 40 shikumen lilong travel guides, 400 shikumen lilong directories and 120 accompanying images of both the exteriors and interiors of the shikumen.

Interestingly, Xi and Jiang have chosen to emphasize their work in images rather than in text, a departure from traditional Chinese publishing standards. The best part of the book is the litany of maps (both pre-1949 and the present) that help the tracking and identification of shikumen and lilongs more efficiently. All in both English and Chinese.

For the authors, the book is as much a way to reach out to the younger generation of Shanghainese about their history, as it is appealing to foreigners with a deeper curiosity of the Chinese aspect of Old Shanghai.

That this easily accessible shikumen guide has not been published earlier is baffling to me, which is why I recommend readers to pick up a copy and start exploring as some of these neighborhoods may not be around for too long.

Where to buy

“Shanghai Shikumen” (上海里弄文化地图), 162 pages, March 2012, Tongji University Press (RMB 42)

1. Dukou Bookshop(s) (上海渡口书店)

- 828 Julu Lu, near Fumin Lu, Jingan District 静安区巨鹿路828号, 近富民路

- 245 Madang Lu, B1, Xintiandi Style Mall, 卢湾区马当路245号新天地时尚B1楼

Online bookstore

2. Link Shanghai Gallery in Tianzifang (搭界)

- No. 5 Lane 248 Taikang Lu, Shanghai 上海市泰康路248弄5号

Shanghai Shikumen Book 03

Shanghai Shikumen Book 02

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21 Comments

  • Reply April 25, 2012

    Woods

    Hi Sue Anne,
    Now that look like another must have book for us photography lover in Shanghai. I’d love to own a copy and you know it will not stay on my bookshelves ! ;)
    I think I’d buy that book anyway !
    Thanks for sharing.

    Damien

  • Reply April 25, 2012

    Inês Laranjeira

    Hello Sue Anne

    I am portuguese communication designer and phd student food focused on image and culture. I´ve just arrived in Shanghai and will stay until July 19. My brief stay in Shanghai would be to document (photography and video) the city food scene related to community. While my web searches I found Shanghai Street Stories. I am certainly interested in this book, I believe both architecture as food shape our cities. It would be also interesting and helpful for my work to meet.

    Inês

  • Reply April 25, 2012

    La Renarde

    Hello,

    I am a long time reader of the blog, and love your pictures, even if it’s the first time I comment. They really manage to seize all the little details and the life of Shanghai.
    I find that the more I stay in Shanghai, and the more I love this city. I am regularly surprised by hidden gems as those lilongs, and this book seems to be a good way to discover more about them. Anyway, I think that even if I do not win it, I will probably by a copy too.

    Thanks for sharing this book, and all your other discoveries about SH !

  • Reply April 25, 2012

    Graham Bond

    Hi (again),

    I’d certainly love a copy of the book. I too have spent many a happy hour wandering around the back streets of Shanghai (particularly the areas south of Fuxing Dong Lu in the Old City) and would love a permanent (well, ‘solid’ if not exactly permanent) reminder of those days – not least because I wasn’t nearly as diligent as your in collecting images of my strolls! Would it also help to say that I am no longer in China and, therefore, would find it hard to drop by the bookshops to buy myself a copy:)

    Good luck with everything, and keep up the good work,

    Graham

  • Reply April 25, 2012

    harvey

    I have been in a shanghai for one year now but know little about lilong residences and shikumen, so I’m especially interested in this book. I also love photography!

  • Reply April 25, 2012

    Charlie

    Hi
    Having lived in an old Shanghai Shikumen for 6 months in 2008 I am an avid reader of your blog and love seeing your photos. Whilst i am saddened by the destruction of many of the original shikumen in the city, it is nice to know that many of the residents respect the reasons for their destruction (the further improvement of the city) and the fact that many are re-housed in better areas. Luckily the house I lived in was listed and so cannot be taken down (for now…). The contrast between the citiy’s original features and new modern architecture is one of the many things that makes Shanghai such an amazing place to live or visit, but sadly each and everytime I return (which is usually about once a year) things seem to become weighted more in favour of creating new rather than preserving the old. Owning a copy of the book would enable me to reminisce about the good days now that I am living back in the UK and (from the looks of it) would allow me to carry on practicing my chinese reading abilities.
    Thanks
    Charlie

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Gabriele

    Oh, it’s random, so well, I’d like the book because I love free stuff about Shanghai and photography, plus I’m in Shanghai so I can get it without shipping fees. Yay-

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Thomas Sweeney

    I have always been enamored w/local building vernacular & secondary spaces w/in an urban fabric. I have quietly searched for blogs/websites like yours to see how people view similar circumstance in cities around the world. I also appreciate the aspects of research & composition that come through in your work. Hope you continue on your search – it is helpful to see it in my own quest to educate my self about different methods of living, ways of using my cameras & the work continues to play a role in my painting.
    I would like to add your book to my arsenal.
    Thanks for your time & thank you for taking the time to post your work & your thoughts for others to see.
    Thomas Sweeney

    http://sweeneysgrocery.blogspot.com/
    http://sweeneysgrocery.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2010-04-02T07:27:00-07:00&max-results=7&start=14&by-date=false

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    hilda

    That’s the place i grow up:)

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Patrick

    I lived in Shanghai for a few years myself and like some of the people above I spent a lot of time exploring the Shikumen. I’d love to have had this book. I’d still love to have it! And it would be a lot easier to get it from you than figure out the shipping :)

    Most importantly it’s great someone finally produced something like this.

    • Reply May 5, 2012

      Sue Anne

      Congratulations Patrick! You’re the winner for the book giveaway!

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Min Wei

    Thanks for letting us know! If I can’t win the book here, I will definitely buy it. Good reference book.

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Lutz

    Hi Sue Anne, I am glad to be part of this “draw” :-)
    If I am winning that book I will read it and also give it away to spread the word.

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Kryn Sporry

    in a word: Wow!!!
    I gotta get me a copy! I just love walking through those old neighbourhoods! Once I explored an area around qufu lu in hongkou, and I took some pics in one of those old areas. Everyone was staring at me, and not everyone appreciated my presence I think. Then my language teacher pointed out that I actually photographed a banner in that area that was a protest against the demolition of these areas. It’s a real shame these areas are being demolished and replaced with shopping centers that last only 10 years or so. Such a wealth of history lost for the sake of 10 years of commerce. I think someone needs to get their priorities straight. The preservation of these old neighbourhoodshas so much more value than a shopping mall. Restore those areas to their former glory. Show the world what Shanghai was like, and proof that it can still hold that glory!

  • Reply April 26, 2012

    Arnd

    Great news, looking forward to read it!

  • Reply April 27, 2012

    Kirk Lau

    Heck! i am just posting.. because of posting..
    I am gonna buy the book ANYWAY.. if i got drawn, draw again! LOL
    Cheers!

  • Reply April 27, 2012

    Chris

    Hi Sue Anne,

    I am a regular reader of your blog (top of my list)and have a friend in SH. She was not born in SH but she likes promenades and discovering lilongs, so that would be the perfect gift for her.

  • Reply April 30, 2012

    Lily

    Hey, whether I get the book or not (translate: I really want it!! :D), I just want to say thank you to you and all the other photographers who are documenting the disappearing streets of Shanghai. When I was little I used to think “I would photograph all these beautiful places when I grow up and come back”. But alas, the next year I returned, much of what was familiar to me was gone. The ancient houses on the opposite street had been demolished and converted into a construction site for the construction of yet another metro line (in the Luwan district, the old French Concession area). I feel like a part of me has been lost together with the demolished buildings…

  • Reply May 2, 2012

    Lukas

    I am a regular follower of your blog and a big fan of “old” Shanghai – just like everyone else I would also love to have a chance of getting the book!

  • Reply May 4, 2012

    Sue Anne

    Congratulations to Patrick, the 10th commentator! Random.org picked you out of 18 commenators. Drop me an email via the contact sheet and I will dispatch the book to you!

    Thanks again to everyone who participated! It’s been really lovely reading your comments, knowing you are out there supporting the blog. Don’t fade away, pop by to say hello every once in a while…

    For those who are in Shanghai, remember to pick up a copy! Amazon.cn has it on sale.

  • [...] preserving the heritage represented by these old icons. Hardly a day goes by when, in weblogs like Shanghai Street Stories, an old building threatened by demolition to make way for new construction is not documented. That [...]

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