Disappearance of old Shanghai

Shanghai has been undergoing tremendous changes during the past couple of decades. Granted, the city (and China in general) is on the right track and all these changes are, generally, for good—it is becoming cleaner, greener and more spacious; also very importantly, its citizens are given a chance to live in better homes (albeit generally quite further away from city centre). This being said, when the old gives way to the new something is invariably and irrevocably lost. What is? Well, mostly things intangible—a style of life, if you will, or, at the very least, the way it used to be. And, irrespective of the fact that the new is (mostly) better, the old and the process of change deserve to be recorded—if only to know the roots of the changing, or even newly emerging, identity.

Then there is also the actual process of disappearance of how things used to be. Whenever I encounter an event where something ceases to exist, I find myself inevitably puzzled. It might be something as abrupt and fundamentally tragic as an earthquake or a tsunami, or, as in the case of Shanghai, it can be a steadily and meticulously executed plan of improving standards of living. In all instances my train of thought gets predictably stuck sadly repeating the same question over and over again, "Wait, but what does it mean?" The answer, of course, never comes, even if I resort to some serious staring into space. The act of asking the question, however, always leaves a trace and imperceptibly changes you into a slightly different person; it somehow makes you bear an extra weight of an unknown nature that, if accumulated over a long period of time, might bring you closer to wisdom—or down. Recording the process of disappearance at least hopefully helps to keep things in the domain of sanity.

In year 2007 a large block of old houses called Zhong Cao Xin Cun (中漕新村) was demolished in central Shanghai. I happened to photographed in the alleys while they were still intact and subsequently recorded the process of their disappearance. The sequence of photographs presented here will show you how thing used to be (photographs #1 through to #9) and then take you through the process of demolition, right to when only an empty lot of land is left. It should be noted, however, that the two parts are closely intertwined: the pictures of how things used to be indirectly suggest the necessity of the coming changes, and photographs of the process of disappearance bear a signature of and further depict how things used to be.

What is so special about Zhong Cao Xin Cun? Not much, really. However, the very lack of any distinctiveness makes this block representative of a number of very similar blocks in Shanghai that are being demolished and give way to either parks or new buildings. The process of their disappearance in general represents the changes that the city is undergoing and hints at the direction in which it is headed.

Why did I have to create this photographic record if it is not my identity that is changing? Or is my identity changing with it, too? I do not know, really. It probably is one of those instances in life when your intuition firmly tells you that it should be done and, in spite of the fact that logic fails to catch up in a timely manner and come up with a plausible reason for doing it, you rush in. If I do not do it, then who will?

(N.B. It needs to be emphasized that the photographs should be viewed in the intended progression and from the beginning to the end, because some images might be quite mundane and/or bear no meaning if looked at out of the context of the sequence.)

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