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

As it Bites the Dust – The Hidden History of Xinzha Lu

Posted: May 10th, 2017 | No Comments »

News this week that much of the shikumen clusters along Sinza Road (now Xinzha Lu), that run from the street down to the Suzhou Creek, are empty and awaiting demolition.This area of 1920s housing has suffered repeated blows – in 2013 traditional lilong were demolished around Datian Road near Xinzha Road (below); more has gone to allow for the subway station and various other nondescript high rises. Things turned nasty back then over compensations – some families had lived in Sinza for over 70 years, even back before World War Two. They were all sent off to Jiading and that area is a hi-rise now ( the pics below from early 2013).

and this is what replaced it…

This is bad news for several reasons: 1) Xinzha Road’s “residential district” is a cluster of shikumens that are now among the last intact clusters left and show (as once did the vandalised and bastardised Xin Tian Di and Jian Ye Li, as well as numerous other once) the original architectural styles of the city; 2) the recent plans issued by the Shanghai government and various foreign architects detailing “preservation” along the Suzhou Creek are worthless; 3) that Shanghai will lose more of its dwindling stock of unique architecture (shikumens and lilongs do not exist in any meaningful sense anywhere outside Shanghai) which is akin to architectural extinction; 4) enough with the jerry built tower blocks already; 5) I would expect the new tower blocks developer to enclose the bankside of the Creek and therefore further limit access to the waterway for pedestrians (this is already a problem on the north side of the Creek and has long been true of large swatches of the southern side that are impassable to pedestrians – once again showing how various government/foreign developer plans are BS) and; 5) Sinza has a long and interesting history that has been largely forgotten already and will now be erased from the collective memory and formal history. So a few historical notes on Sinza; the first being well known and the last perhaps not so…

Sinza was of course within the International Settlement – as well as being the name given to a street and police post it was also a sub-district, people referred to Sinza as a place, an area, a district. Sinza is derived from the Chinese word for New Toll Gate (11 miles up the Soochow Creek from ‘Louza’, the Old Toll Gate). Close by the residential shikumen cluster now being bulldozed the main street was home to, among many other offices and businesses, the China Inland Mission, who, in 1930, moved their headquarters to 1531 Sinza Road to co-ordinate all their missionary work across China. The Victorian-style 1531 building complex (below), complete with lots of arches and pillars grouped around an extensive compound, was also home to the China Inland Mission Hospital. The six-storey Home Block had the Prayer Meeting Hall in the centre with a hospital and its staff residences as well as a home for missionaries passing through Shanghai. The Sinza Police Station, built in 1899 on the road, was always known as the Sinza Road Station.

The Sinza Bridge, across the Creek, also still exists in a modern form but has been in operation for well over a century in previous forms (below)…

Sinza Road was also the last place many Shanghailanders ever arrived in the city before disappearing underground – MacDonald’s was one of the Settlement’s major undertakers…

I could go on listing former residents and businesses, but there’s also a more hidden history of Sinza, from World War Two…

In 1940 the Japanese had not taken over the Settlement formally (pre-Pearl Harbor), but they were expanding their influence. As well as the Little Tokyo district, across the Creek in Hongkou, Sinza became a major target for their activities. In November 1940 Japanese army linked interests opened the Asia Club in the district and Sinza  into a new street of sin that was a mini0-version of the infamous Shanghai Badlands to the west of the city. The Asia Club offered gambling with opium smoking divans upstairs. The rookeries and lanes of the Sinza shikumen cluster now being demolished became a Badlands in miniature – kidnap gangs and hold-up men lodged in its deep, dark lanes incognito among the many brothels that sprung up. Standover men followed the punters in to rip off their profits at gunpoint. There were gun battles nightly in Sinza. Hwa-Wei (lottery) parlours, grind joints (low end casinos), Philopon (methamphetamine) distribution shacks with Yakuza shabu merchants from Tokyo, plus a cabaret with all-transvestite taxi-dancers appears overnight. The Japanese Gendarmes patrolled from Gordon Road (Jiangning Road) across a couple of blocks, and a hundred alleyways, along Sinza as far as Tatung Road (Xinqian Road). The Shanghai Municipal Police effectively kept out of Sinza and the Sinza Road Municipal Police Station became a ghost town.

That was Sinza through to 1945 when it reverted to a residential district again….

Mini-Badlands; residential compound – it’s now all just about to be rubble…..


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