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Stone-gate houses became city’s soul

English.news.cn   2013-11-16 08:56:21            

Delicate patterns on columns and window frames at the Blackstone Apartments on Fuxing Road are reminiscent of the golden old Shangai. (Source: Shanghai Daily)

By Yao Minji

BEIJING, Nov. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- Chen Zhaodi, 90 years old, still remembers the old days when she yelled at and chased after her two younger brothers, trying to get them off the rooftops of the old shikumen (stone-gate 石库门) houses in the different longtangs (lanes 弄堂) where they roamed.

“My brothers loved climbing and jumping across the rooftop tiles to play hide-and-seek with other kids in the longtang,” Chen recalls. “My parents were always working, so I had to act like a mom.”

Chen’s parents ran a small shop in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, before they moved to look for more opportunities in Shanghai, invited by a wealthy relative who established a business here. They first settled in Hongkou District, where the relative’s company was located.

In 1937, shortly after Japanese troops bombed and took over the area, they moved in and stayed for nearly three years in Si Wen Li (Gentle Lane) on today’s Datian Road in Jing’an District.

There were more than 700 houses built around a dozen of connected lanes and many refugees found a roof there that year.

It was built around 1914 by a British businesswoman, later renamed after the firm that purchased it, and is now being demolished and rebuilt into modern houses and department stores.

At first, Chen’s family of five took two rooms on the first floor, but as refugees arrived to join them, they ended up sharing one room with another family of four. A curtain divided the families, but “we could see and hear everything,” Chen says softly.

“The idea of privacy didn’t exist. Since we juggled so many people in one house, it was important to keep a good relationship, and my parents often warned us to stay quiet and to be polite to all our neighbors. It was the same for other families. We all helped each other in the difficult years,” she recalls.

Shikumen houses, named for the stone-gate entryway frames carved with simple patterns and the wooden door often painted black with bronze door knockers, stand as proof of the early cultural fusion between the East and the West in Shanghai.

Shortly after Shanghai opened as a treaty port in 1843, the national Taiping Rebellion and the regional Small Swords Rebellion brought floods of refugees from nearby Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces into the city and later into the foreign concessions.

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Editor: Zhu Ningzhu
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