Books · China

Trickle-Down Censorship- book review

Censorship is one of the most well-known and detested attributes of China. Many people are already aware that Facebook, Youtube, Google, and the New York Times are blocked and that newspapers and news shows cannot report freely on many sensitive topics. But censorship goes far deeper and is more complex and widespread than that as shown in Trickle-Down Censorship, author JFK Miller’s account of his time working for That’s Shanghai magazine from 2006-2011.

Despite the long time period between when he last worked in China and the present, his book is not really outdated because the sad truth is that censorship is not just still present but also much more widespread and harsher than before. But while regular citizens can try and ignore it, journalists and editors have it the worst because it is a constant in their work. Even as an editor at That’s Shanghai, an expat mag that mostly covers food and entertainment, censorship was a major threat to each story Miller worked on or approved.
Miller also goes through aspects of modern China through the scope of censorship, which mostly works because of how ubiquitous it is. At the end of it, Miller decides enough is enough and calls time on China, as I did myself.

The main point is censorship and there is plenty of aspects to it. It can be arbitrary as there are no firm rules and the censors do not need to explain specifically what is the issue; it can be applied to everything from serious political pieces to photo-essays on pyjamas; it is futile to resist, at best, one can fight to keep a “objectionable” sentence or passage. The worst is that it becomes so prevalent and expected that not only do you get used to it, but you actively apply it to yourself, as Miller did while editing and even assigning stories. “It is frightening just how quickly you acquire the ability,” says Miller. As a reminder, Miller worked for an English-language expat magazine that mostly features food, hotel, and club reviews, not some newspaper or political magazine specializing in hardhitting exposes.

And Chinese censorship is not just resilient but adaptable and sophisticated, extending even to the online space where censors utilize software to filter keywords and resulting in the blocking of blogs and social media posts to even text chat messages on WeChat. Coincidentally, this week saw news about China’s government announcing a crackdown, yet again, on unauthorized VPN software, which lots of expats and locals in China use to access banned websites.

The only main issue I have with the book is the cover which features an outline of China, that includes Taiwan. It is a somewhat strange and perhaps cowardly decision because it isn’t like the book would be able to be sold in China, given its topic, so one wonders why he had to do that.

Experienced expats won’t be surprised at much of the content, but other readers will likely find a lot to inform themselves.
Otherwise, Trickle-Down Censorship is a fine account of Chinese censorship, a sad reminder of the power of authoritarian regimes, even in this day and age.

China

Shanghai’s New Year tragedy

As most people know, 2015 started off horribly for Shanghai when a stampede happened during a New Year’s Eve gathering on the Bund. The tragedy took 36 lives and injured 47, though this latter number probably only counts the seriously injured. There were over 100,000 people packed alongside the riverside promenade and street on the Bund hoping to celebrate the New Year when suddenly a stampede broke out along a staircase near a viewing platform (and not outside a club where people inside were throwing out club coupons that looked like US dollars onto the street below). Ironically, the authorities had actually canceled the fireworks to prevent large crowds from gathering as had happened in previous year, but there were other events such as a laser light show and the people still came out in huge numbers.

This might be a bad omen for the city and China. Or it might be a sign of the state of the nation and a deadly reminder of what to improve. The tragedy and its aftermath brought to the fore several serious problems in the country. Don’t get me wrong; deadly stampedes have happened elsewhere, including in Germany and in Hong Kong. But these tragedies don’t happen by accident and lessons can always be learnt.

First, to be honest, the tragedy was not surprising to many of us who live, study, or have been to the mainland.
There were way too many people packed into the area. This is not uncommon in mainland China and neither is inefficient people and site management. I was caught up in the midst of big crowd trying to squeeze into a parking lot at Huangshan last Spring Festival, and many expats and mainlanders have had similar experiences. I would say that there’s often a lackadaisical attitude by authorities in general towards managing crowds whether it be having too little staff at ticket counters or having narrow entrances and exits.
For closeup overhead views of the stampede, check this link of photos taken by a photographer on the site.

The police admitted they underestimated the crowds because they didn’t expect so many to come out since the fireworks had been cancelled. Yet there have also been reports that many people did not know about the cancellation, which would indicate inefficiency from the authorities. The irony of the situation would be bemusing if it wasn’t so tragic.

There were turbulent scenes at hospitals as relatives had to jostle with police and hospital staff due to desperation and frustration. Again, this is not uncommon on the mainland and it shows the authorities need to put in more effort to providing aid and information to the public. Unfortunately the opposite might be happening.

Censorship and control are taking place. People who criticized the authorities online have been interrogated by the police. Relatives of the dead have also been followed and hindered from talking to the media. They have also said they have been refused permission to take back the bodies of their dead relatives. Local Chinese media have been ordered to restrict their criticism and follow rules such as using official headlines. This article describes the various ways how the authorities are monitoring, controlling and even intimidating relatives.

The authorities are also responding to the tragedy in a heavyhanded way by cancelling other public events such as . While growing crowds are a concern for many events and places in the mainland during holidays, cancelling events is not the best option. Limiting the number of visitors, improving crowd management and increasing the number of security and staff at public places would be better options.

People also need to look at their own behavior and realize there’s a lot that needs to be improved. On the mainland, there’s a lot of boorish and inconsiderate behavior in public, especially in crowded places like subways and lines. Pushing, shoving and standing in each other’s ways are common enough. For me, the subway in Beijing is a particularly sore point.

Yet, I’m not sure that things will progress much. The authorities may have been open to admit some fault, but their treatment of the relatives and interrogation of online critics shows that even such a massive tragedy will not bring on full accountability and transparency. Also, there is the issue of whether the authorities will learn from this and improve their crowd control and management skills or just resort to blanket bans of events, as some are already doing. I hope I could be proven wrong though.

China · China travel · Travel

Skylines: Shanghai vs Hong Kong

Earlier this year, I went to Hong Kong and Shanghai, and even though I’ve been to both these cities several times, I took a lot of photos, in particular Shanghai. Both places are world-class cities, with a strong commercial and financial industry, and both consequently also boast very impressive skylines as if to drive home their status. These skylines are also great to view, especially at night. Hong Kong’s business skyscrapers (as opposed to their residential skyscrapers) are concentrated on Hong Kong Island’s Central and Wan Chai districts, while Shanghai’s are in Pudong, opposite the Bund. I can’t say which one is more attractive, but here’re some photos for you to judge yourself.

Shanghai’s Pudong

These skyscrapers are directly opposite the Bund on the other side of the Huanpu River, so it’s a good way to see two great sets of architecture at once. The colorful, circular, UFO-pod, Oriental Pearl Tower on the left has been a symbol of Shanghai since the mid-1990s, but my favorite towers are actually the bottle-opener-topped World Financial Center and the Jin Mao Tower. A new tower, the Shanghai Tower, is currently being constructed alongside the World Financial Tower, which will be even taller than these three.

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This was taken from the observation deck in the World Financial Center looking down on the top of the Jin Mao tower, which gives you an idea of how tall the WFC is.

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Hong Kong

You can view these towers from the Kowloon side, with the Tsim Tsa Tsui waterfront being a particularly good spot, or on the ferry coming across to Central or WanChai. Or you can also view them from on top from the Peak, one of Hong Kong’s most famous places. Even though you’re viewing the towers from behind and from the side, it’s still a fantastic sight.  The tallest tower is the rigid, cone-topped International Finance Center (which I now realize has a somewhat phallic resemblance), HK’s 2nd tallest building, but my favorite tower is the Bank of China tower, which is the angular one with the straight triangular lines to the left in the pic below. Hong Kong’s tallest tower is actually on the Kowloon side, in the newly developed West Kowloon area, but it’s not as impressive as these older ones.

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China · Sports

Random links – China, Taiwan, renting, dinosaurs

Home ownership has been something that has perplexed me for a while. Since I was in university, I’ve looked at the astronomic prices of homes (then in Toronto and now in Taipei and Hong Kong) and wondered why more people didn’t rent. I know the supposed benefits of owning your own place- the secure feeling of owning your own home which then forms a big part of your assets, as an investment, and as something you can pass on to your children. Yet costwise it seems sometimes it doesn’t make sense. No matter how good a location or the potential surge in values, there’s no reason why you should buy a home that would cost you several decades to pay off. In America, more people also seem to be embracing renting, a sentiment which I strongly agree with. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to own a home, but at a reasonable cost. Besides, change is a bigger aspect of our lives than our parents or grandparents, with moves and job changes and long-term travel more common now.

This recent development in China was a slight surprise to me, but the reason for it isn’t surprising. Expats are being forced to turn away from Beijing and Shanghai to lesser metropolises like Chengdu and Hangzhou, due to more Chinese returning from overseas. More and more Chinese going abroad to study  and picking up Western skills, knowledge and savvy, and many will of course want to return home. As such, it’s not going to be so easy for expats to make it in China, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a role for them. They, and myself as well, will just have to try harder and be open to new opportunities in other cities.

In golf, there’s more good news on Chinese prodigy Guan Tianlang, as he made the cut to move into the final round. Guan made history by being the youngest person to play in a golf major, and he made further history by being the youngest to make the cut. His age- 14. Guan is from Guangzhou and has already played and won tournaments with adult competitors. Good luck to another Chinese succeeding in sport (though golf is not actually a real sport).

Here’re a few more interesting links on China and Taiwan from earlier this week and which I posted on my China blog Random China.

Chinese tourists are swarming the world and for some, it’s a big concern. The article is subtitled “The good, the bad and the backlash”, which gives a good idea of what it’s about. Not surprisingly it mentions Hong Kong, where some of the worst anti-mainland bias can be found, especially against mainland tourists. 83 million Chinese traveled overseas in 2012, becoming the top spending tourists in the world and overtaking Americans and Germans. This is good because it means more Chinese have the means to travel and are able to spend well. This is a positive development and I just hope the numbers will continue to increase. Of course, there are adverse effects from the big numbers and cultural differences and unfortunately, bad behavior from a significant minority. The article does a good job to examine this last issue with several Chinese quoted saying that many Chinese do not condone rude behavior and are indeed aware and ashamed when fellow countrymen act badly abroad.

Dinosaurs were found in Yunnan province recently. Actually, these were fossilized dinosaur embryos that were estimated to be 190 million years old! The fossils might even contain tissue remains which could be extracted for research. That’s pretty amazing to think that organic matter could have survived so long.

I was initially surprised when I first saw the headline of this article, but after some thought, not so much. Basically, Taiwanese don’t read much, much less so than people in countries like France, Russia, Japan, and mainland China. This worries the government so much that the ministry of culture has come up with a plan to help local publishers. The Atlantic Monthly article describes the decline in reading and, and mentions this is contrasted by Taiwan’s many bookstores, highlighted by the very well-known Eslite, an elegant local version of Borders (US) or Chapters (Canada). The main conclusions are that Taiwanese mainly buy Western bestsellers or self-help books, reading isn’t very popular, and that the local literary scene is not in good shape.
I do have local friends and acquaintances who read, and Western books are indeed popular. I can’t confirm the article’s assertion that nobody reads (the title is definitely a very hyperbolic one). Many people do read newspapers, magazines, and manga (Japanese comics). However, I’d say I don’t find it surprising that locals don’t read much books on average, since I feel that many young people, or even middle-aged people, don’t seem curious about or want to know more about the world. Since most available books are written by non-Taiwanese and about the world, I’d think this doesn’t help to make books very appealing. Couple that with the fact that the local media is not very professional and focuses more on gossip and scandal than hard news, making for a less informed population, and that there’re many forms of entertainment and leisure to distract Taiwanese, and it’s not hard to see that reading, especially serious literature and nonfiction, may be seriously declining. As the writer says, many people in libraries here are either studying or browsing magazines or newspapers, or making out (I can’t say I’ve seen this), while Eslite is popular but it’s mostly a hangout spot (to be honest, I do see many people reading whenever I’m there).

China

The future will be all urban China

The future is going to be bright and dynamic for urban China, says Foreign Policy’s August Cities issue. Cities issue- actually it’s more like the China issue. There’s articles and slideshows galore of Chinese cities. The articles include one apiece on Beijing and Shanghai, one on Guangzhou, Shenyang and Kashgar as cities with unique characters, and even one damning Chinese cities. The last one slams Chinese cities as plain, uniformly ugly, and bad to live in, and it  kind of goes against the article on Guangzhou and the 2 other cities. On a negative note, I have to say this collection of articles represents the two extremes of China reporting- deeming China as the next superpower, as the country of the future, the one with the world’s most dynamic cities, – and conversely, blasting China for being crude, ungainly, and dirty. I can’t quite agree with his general criticism. I haven’t spent much time in China but I felt that Beijing and Nanjing and Hangzhou and Shanghai all have their different charms and character. It’s true there’s a tremendous lot of massive, gray, concrete buildings, but then modern Chinese architecture and city planning is slowly progressing.

Don’t get me wrong, I think in general the articles are pretty good, so go read the articles because they’re quite interesting and will probably stimulate your brain a bit. To top it off, there’s even an interview with everybody’s favorite Chinese scamp, Ai Weiwei. To be honest I’m not totally sold on this man. I do think he speaks some sense, and his bluntness and directness is good, but then he also seems a bit full of himself and he’s a bit on the hyperbolic side. I can understand that after all he’s gone through, even having his head cracked, why he’s a bit bitter and cynical on his country though.

The articles aren’t actually all about China of course, though the China presence is overwhelming. The reason why I wrote the headline and the first sentence is that the magazine lists 75 cities as the most dynamic of 2025, and 29 of them, over 40 percent, are in China. The 29 are led by Shanghai and Beijing, predictably, with Guangzhou, Tianjin, and Nanjing also there. However even provincial cities like Wuxi and Dongguan make the list, as did lowprofile provincial capitals like Hefei (capital of Anhui province) and Jinan (Shandong).

Nothing would make me happier if predictions like these came true and Chinese cities would be the most dynamic in the world (as Shanghai is right now), but I still think these kinds of articles are too optimistic and it’s necessary to keep grounded.

Africa · China · Sports

Shanghai goes crazy over Drogba

Shanghai Shenhua’s messiah finally arrived in Shanghai, as the wild scene from Wild East Football shows. Didier Drogba, Ivorian and former Chelsea star, was welcomed by a huge mob of adoring fans at Pudong airport who chanted his name, their club, and some nice words for archrival Beijing Guoan, who Shenhua, coincidentally, would play that night. Drogba was unveiled (check out the big cheer at 1.58 when Drogba says “ni hao” to the crowd) before the game at Shanghai’s Hongkuo stadium (see video highlights here or below: that night, but not as a player), and no doubt, helped inspire Shenhua beat Beijing. I’m not a big Chinese league football fan but I couldn’t help feeling chills at the passion in the airport video, especially at 2.05 and 2.50 (warning: vulgar language).

Uncategorized

“Shenhua’s nuclear bomb has arrived”

Shanghai Shenhua really did it and got Didier Drogba. Fresh off of winning the Champions League and the FA Cup, the “Devil Beast” Drogba will now be scoring at will (presumably) in the Chinese league soon. The Chinese public and press eagerly await Drogba. The title of this post was uttered by Wang Dalei, Shenhua’s starting goalkeeper and Drogba’s teammate. However, would Drogba really succeed and adapt to the sometimes chaotic and amateurish conditions in the league, especially at his club? Would the club be too top-heavy (great strikers, but weak midfield) and unbalanced to do well?

Not totally surprised, but the French went out and played an abysmal game to tamely exit the Euro 2012 at the hands of defending champions Spain. However I admit I didn’t watch this game and am relying on the reports of this match, but from all accounts, it seems France were out of it and didn’t really mount any offense, even though they trailed 1-0 all the way until the final minutes when they conceded a penalty. Coming into this tournament and during the first two games, France seemed as if it had turned a corner. But then having qualified for the quarterfinals, they lost their final group game to Sweden and then came reports of infighting. Right now, the coach Laurent Blanc, a member of their 1998 World Cup winning team, is under some pressure to go. Well, good riddance to them.

Germany predictably beat Greece in their quarterfinal match that was so filled with political and economic connotations. Jokes and politics aside, Germany won 4-2 in a match that was far mor onesided than the scoreline indicated. And they did so without 3 of their regular starters including striker Mario Gomez or midfielder Thomas Mueller. Unfortunately this display of dominance means that Germany has now been made the sole occupant of the favorites mantle from the press and I fear that naturally this means another team will win. Germany will play the winner of tonight’s match between England and Italy.

China · Sports

Guangzhou destroys Korean champions 5-1 in Asia

Good news in Chinese football surprisingly as Guangzhou mauled Korean champions Jeonbuk 5-1 in their opening Asian Champions League clash on Wednesday. Guangzhou Evergrande, the defending Chinese champions, are expected to do well given a (relatively) star-studded side featuring pricy and skilled Brazilians and Argentinians and veteran Chinese national team players like Zheng Zhi and Gao Lin. Even still, the rampant scoring that occurred, on Korean soil no less, was a pleasant shock and hopefully will be a definite sign of things to come for Guangzhou. The other sides flying the flag for China in Asian, Beijing Guoan and Tianjin Teda, lost and drew respectively against Korean and Australian opposition. For now, Guangzhou leads the way for China.

China’s top league also started this past weekend. Beijing Guoan followed up their Champions League disappointment with another loss to newly promoted Guangzhou Fuli, the second Guangzhou club, while Shanghai Shenhua battled it out with Jiangsu (based in Nanjing) 1-1. Nicholas Anelka, the man whose joining Shenhua earlier this year made big news around the world, was out with an injury. Guangzhou Evergrande start off their season on March 16th against city rivals, the aforementioned Fuli.

China · Sports

Chinese football update

The Economist takes a try at examining at why China is so terrible at football/soccer. This malaise has gone on for much of the past decade, with things having gone downhill since China’s dismal 2002 World Cup appearance. The reasons are easy to figure out, but in terms of narrowing it down and coming up with a solution, it’s a puzzle. The Economist writer initially says that the core reason is the system is rotten, namely how football is administrated and managed, especially with youth development which is based on training kids in intensive schools from a young age. But not surprisingly, he brings up several more reasons such as matchfixing and a weak domestic league. I am tempted. I agree with all of them. Still, the authorities have taken some action against domestic matchfixing and in hiring a decent Spanish coach, so I am a little more hopeful.

In more optimistic news, French striker Nicolas Anelka joined Shanghai Shenhua on a 2-year contract, making him the biggest name in Chinese soccer since… forever. Though I did find out that Carsten Jancker, a former German national and Bayern Munich striker, also played in China for a short time a few years back.

China · China travel · Travel

Shanghai-the old, the ultramodern, and the ancient- part 2

The 2010 World Expo, the Oriental Pearl Tower, in the middle of Pudong’s Lujiazhui highrise business district, and the historic Bund, right across from those highrises, are what makes Shanghai so famous worldwide, representing respectively it’s international aspirations, its financial and commerce boom and its history. The Bund and Xintiandi represent Shanghai’s recent history (this being by Chinese standards) while the old 1,000-year-old town of Qibao is a piece of ancient past. The Shanghai Museum, while it doesn’t focus on Shanghai, shows off a small bit of the nation’s vast history.

The Bund is one of the most well-known places in Shanghai, almost as iconic as the Oriental Pearl Tower, I think. It’s a stretch of historic European-style buildings along the Huangpu River that were built in the 19th century mostly by the English. This period is a major part of recent Chinese history because it was after the English defeated China in the First Opium War that China ceded foreign concessionary areas in treaty towns such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Ningbo. This meant that Great Britain and other foreign powers like France and Germany were able to occupy land in these towns and actually have sovereignty over that land, meaning Chinese laws did not apply. The Bund was where the British set up shop and eventually with other countries established the International Settlement, and those European-built bank, embassy and trading house buildings mostly still remain, in good shape and still in operation. They look impressive and represent several types of architecture including Art Deco, Gothic and Renaissance. Besides the historic buildings, there’s also the Waibaidu Bridge (China’s first all-steel bridge that was originally built in 1856), the People’s Heroes Memorial (for revolutionary martyrs from the first Opium War onwards) and a statue of Chen Yi, the second mayor of Shanghai and former foreign minister of China.

When I went there, it was relatively early in the morning, the sky was overcast, and there weren’t many people. More people came gradually but even then, it was far from crowded. This was a recurring theme throughout the trip. No matter where I went, there were no crowds. I guess I picked the right time to travel in China. Anyways my aunt and I crossed the Waibaidu Bridge, walked to the gigantic People’s Heroes Memorial, then strolled along much of the Bund. The views were nice, the European buildings on one side, and the Pudong highrises on the other side, across the Huangpu River. The old and the new side by side, or rather across from each other, the obvious visual architectural cliche was staring me in the face. But I couldn’t help feeling a little bit of sadness at the fact that there aren’t really any Chinese equivalent to these grand old European-style buildings in Shanghai, temples and palaces aside. Yet this is also a perfect illustration of how major the European influence on Shanghai was to its rise as a city in the early 20th century and its current status as China’s foremost city and bridge to the world. Afterwards I went to Nanjing Road to do some browsing and ended up having lunch and buying some food there. Nanjing Road is famous for its shopping, though some of the stores seemed outdated, and has a pedestrian zone running through a major part of it. Cars can’t drive on it, but train-like vehicles that carry tourists can and regularly drove back and forth, packed with local tourists. There were old school food and department stores, modern local brand stores such as a multilevel Li Ning, and of course, restaurants. There was also a multilevel “Bao Da Xiang Shopping for Kids” store. At one intersection, my aunt pointed out the building where her father used to work for many decades. My relatives also took me to see Taiwan Road, a small sidestreet just two streets down from Nanjing Road (many Shanghai streets are named after places across China and Taiwan, regardless of post-1945 issues, was a part of China up until 1895). They also took me to Ningpo Street where they had lived in the past. This street was quite residential and not touristy or fancy like nearby Nanjing Road. On both sides were two-storey buildings with stores at the bottom. Some homes had clothes hanging out the window and rickshaws drove past with heavy loads at the back. This part of Ningpo Street was how most of Shanghai looked like in the past, I should think, a world different from the fancy highrises and townhouses and wide streets that are prevalent now.

Read part 1 to this piece here.

Despite Shanghai’s lack of a long history in comparison to cities like Beijing or Hangzhou, it does have an important role in recent Chinese history. In addition to being a major trading port after being made a foreign concession port (foreign powers were given land that they had complete control over and allowed to trade) in the late 19th century, Shanghai was the site of the first congress of the Chinese Communist Party and both Sun Yat-sen and Chou Enlai lived here, though at different times. The specific place was Xintiandi, where all around where the first congress took place, ironically, there is a lot of fancy buorgeoise establishments like expensive restaurants and pubs are (joking about buorgeoise of course, I’m no communist). The site of the first CCP congress was alright even though I had not initially planned on coming here. I expected it to be propaganda central; but while it’s no surprise the place was portrayed like a revered ground and the congress attendees, including some guy called Mao, were painted in highly heroic terms, major history really did happen based on the outcome of this congress. The attendees were all in danger throughout and even had to sneak out and flee at the end to escape the KMT authorities. To be honest, many historical sites in China contain some form of propaganda whether it be exaggerated and slanted viewpoints on events or simply omissions. This is a pity because a nation cannot fully earn the respect of its people if it doesn’t allow itself to be criticized even looking backwards. Anyways back to the tourism sites and enough of the political pondering for now.

Xintiandi is filled with elegant brick buildings and the streets are lined with trees, which had a Western feel to it, not surprising since it was part of the French Settlement. The congress site was situated in a building that was part of a complex with alleys running through with expensive and foreign restaurants, including a Paulaner Munchen. There was a preserved Shikumen house, distinct multistory houses that were built in the late 19th century and unique to Shanghai, a (more elegant) counterpart to Beijing’s famous hutongs. A little farther away from Xintiandi were the homes of modern Chinese political giants, Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Zhou Enlai. They both lived in spacious 2-storey homes on Sinan Road, but with completely different interiors. Dr. Sun’s home, where he lived from 1918 to 1924 (his wife lived there until 1937), was quite elegantly furnished with wooden planks and tasteful furniture where Zhou’s home was very spartan with basic furniture and no real decor. Actually the home was the Shanghai branch of the CCP after the end of World War II and before the Civil War got underway so it wasn’t intended to be a luxurious residence. Several captions inside the home highlighted, describing how austere and dedicated so-and-so was in not demanding better quarters etc. Unfortunately no photos were allowed to be taken in both homes and there were many security guards around. Right across from Zhou’s house was where KMT agents monitored his activities from another house, an indicator of the suspicions that the KMT and CCP had towards each other that would lead to the Civil War.

 

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, left, outside his house, and Mr. Zhou Enlai, standing in the front garden of his home, both of which are located on the same street.

While  Shanghai’s recent history is quite rich as exemplified by the Bund, Ningbo street, Xintiandi and its historic CCP sites and shikumen homes, Shanghai also had an ancient 1,000-year-old side that I wasn’t aware of. This was Qibao, an old town that existed from the Song Dynasty. The buildings and streets were preserved so that they looked like they did in ancient times. Walking through the alleys teeming with people and lined with antiques and calligraphy shops and food vendors on both sides, it reminded me a bit of Jiufen and other old streets in Taiwan towns like Yingge and Sanxia that were preserved for tourism. Sure enough, there were a lot of food vendors selling snacks like stinky tofu and pancakes as well as meat (even fried pigeons on a stick). My sensitive stomach often means I’m not adventurous with food and this place was no exception. One thing that separates Qibao from those old streets in Taiwan, besides being slightly scruffier, was that it had some historical structures. After crossing a small stone arch bridge, we came across a 3-story bell tower which we had to pay a small admission fee to enter. At the top floor, there was a giant bell that you rung by slamming a wooden pole against it. On the balcony, there was fine view of the open area in front of the pagoda which included a pond with a small rock garden and a pavilion next to it. The backdrop to all this was a giant mural of a lush jungle and waterfall on the wall of the apartment building right next to the pond. Behind the bell tower, I was able to see a neighborhood of old houses, with the distinctive traditional Chinese curved tiled roofs and unpainted concrete walls.

Canal at Qibao. I wish I had gone to the gold temple in the distance.

 

Walking through Qibao reminded me of old streets in small towns in Taiwan though Qibao is bigger. At right, you can see the rock garden with a beautiful mural right behind it.

Finally, I also visited the Shanghai Museum. I’m a fan of museums, but I initially didn’t plan to come here. Besides not being sure if I had enough time, I also thought since most of the artifacts inside weren’t from Shanghai and that they’d be the kind of stuff I could see elsewhere in China. Well, I did go to this museum and it was good. The museum is located in People’s Square, and its shaped like a pot. Not one of those metallic ones you use in the kitchen nowadays, but an ancient Chinese ceramic pot. The inside was spacious and consisted of exhibition rooms that surrounded an open area in the center that stretched all the way to the top (the Shengzhen Museum is like this too). There were some decent jade, furniture and calligraphy exhibits, but the Ethnic Minorities section was the coolest (it even had a canoe that the people of Taiwan’s Orchid Island used). The section featured costumes, artifacts and even weapons of minorities including the Tibetans, Mongols and Manchus. The Buddhist sculptures exhibit featured some impressive pieces including stone slabs with figures sculpted on them resembling scenes from real life and giant human-sized sculptures of Buddhas and Guanyins. I was surprised some of these statues weren’t encased in glass, but basically out in the open. People could even touch them, though you’re not supposed to and I didn’t see anybody do it.

  

  

Zhou Enlai’s former house, really the office for the local Communist Party branch, left, and part of Xintiandi, right.

 

Pagoda at Qibao, left. At the top, I was able to peer at these old homes in the back of the pagoda.