“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Coming Down Alert – Shanghai’s Dongtai Lu

Posted: September 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

Ever since Shui-On group built the faux heritage nonsense that is Xintiandi the fate of Dongtai Lu has really been sealed. Demolition.

The market itself (a bit more tat and fake than curio and antique) has only been on that site since the 1980s. Dongtai Lu was once Rue Tai Chan in the French Concession and constructed around 1902. The street was originally named after Taishan in Guangdong Province and well-known by many at the time as it is estimated that over 75% of all overseas Chinese in North America until the mid- to late-twentieth century could claim origin from Taishan. It was    renamed in 1906 after A. Hennequin, a member of the Conseil Municipal and an agent of the Messageries Maritimes shipping line. Though French he was elected Chairman of the British dominated Shanghai Club in 1878. The road was a popular location for street entertainers long before it became a market.

I expect it’s been a while since anyone scored a real bargain down Dongtai Lu. Going back to the early 90s it was still possible to find old books and old Shanghai signage and I got a few maps there. I’ve heard of wonderous finds at bargain prices but suspect these were truly miracles. Still it had a certain old school charm and such streets (think of New York’s flea markets, London’s Portobello Road or Paris’s Cligancourt) are, I think, essential pieces of a city’s infrastructure. More tower blocks and probably coffee shops and a luxury mall won’t add much I fear. Of course many of these properties are uncomfortable from the point of view of modern conveniences, but not unrecoverable by any means if there’s a will to do so – which there, of course, is not. As ever I doubt any of the current residents will be able to afford, or have the sway, to stay living in the area and the community will go as well as a mixed environment in downtown Shanghai.

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