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
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