19 July 2018

A virtual guided tour of Jinze

A bridge among many
Jinzezhen is located in a suburb of the prefecture of Shanghai. It is still far enough from any subway that makes accessibility fairly limited. It retains many of the endearing qualities of Chinese canal cities. It is neither poor nor wealthy which might explain its relative lack of modernization although it shows signs of attempts by the CCP to create a workers' paradise. The damage is not yet completed.

At one end of the city are a few underused factory buildings constructed some time after 1949. They all seem to have been based on a standrd construction method. I saw similar details at the Shanghai Expo where the former industrial site of Pudong was given over to adaptive reuse.
Branded Factory

Waterfront factory

We were told that a Hongkong businessman was running a kind of architectural salvage and reuse operation in these buildings.  It's certainly positive that some of the building elements were appreciated and perhaps some of the salvaged pieces might go into restoring designated buildings, but the bulk of the business likely served to act as decoration in new construction.

Screens awaiting new breezeways

Stone column bases

Upcyclable building materials

Familiar timber framing elements

I was impressed by just how much salvage had been amassed in one place that still felt empty. The workmen were getting ready to leave for the day so I wasn't interrupting their workflow and they seemed happy to know that a foreigner was interested in their work.
The most common style Chinese tablesaw

Planing bench

Beam in transition

The most common style of worksite bench

Repaired timbers

New wood with witness marks
The projects spilled out into the courtyard of the former industrial site.  All this activity was adjacent to an armory that served multiple regimes, which also sat mostly empty except for an artist residency program.  Where once was a military tank assembly line, a sewing factory had been in the same buildings which explains the remnants of dropped acoustic ceiling tiles.
Foreign artists and workspace

Clerestory windows of former arsenal

My wife and I ended up spending the night in one of the artist residences. I learned from the director about the location's history and his pessimist attitude to the program's long term viability. It's seldom that one receives a straightforward, logical answer in the Middle Kingdom. The concern is that the Shanghai municipality wants to protect its water supply by moving heavy industry away from waterway areas, which is completely understandable as it applies to foundries and metal plating factories, less so to sewing machines.
Every campus must have its perimeter wall

The Jinze Art Center main gate

One unexpected discovery was an art school located centrally. I'm stil not clear as to all that is taught therein; the gate was closed during both times that we passed by.
Stone posts lying next to brick pile in a garden

Stacks of used rooftiles

Warehoused cut stone

Cut stone stacked between empty industrial buildings

Walking deeper into Jinze and away from the canal sides, I began to discover that the whole area was dotted with piles of architectural elements in odd corners in surprisingly large amounts.

Xu Family Hall, protected status in 2010, left hand side plaque; street sign indicating 12 residences

Xu Family Hall plaque,(right side)  updated protected status 2017

One complex in particular afforded many intriguing clues as to its erstwhile splendor and the degree of laborious details that were lavished upon it. Two plaques apparently issued by two different legal entities hint at the importance of this structure. Although it appeared that some of the residents were no longer present, it's impossible to confirm how many still called this a home.

Interior courtyard looking outwards
Stone carving details

The layout is a sequence of courtyards with doorways at each threshold, presumably indicating degrees of transition from the public to the private and various household functions. The

Purlins and carved roof beams

Dougong motif in relief (斗拱)
Portico connecting courtyards

Breezeway tracery


2nd floor apartment

There are no clear indications that preservation measures are yet underway on these or any of the other plaqued 'protected' buildings. Keeping residents in these apartments until formalized preservation begins might be a low cost form of security. Much of the damage due to conversion and utility upgrades occurred decades ago.
safety scaffolding

vegetables amid the rubble

I did see one example of a vain attempt to encase a building with scaffolding that is sadly too far gone to save. The scaffolding now seems to act as a barrier to protect residents and other houses when it finally does collapse. 
Signage seemingly only used in Jinze

"This is a dangerous house; pedestrians attend to safety; no entry, no loitering/ squatting (?)"
As I wandered more deeply and confidently through the twisting alleyways, I lost track of the number of structures that are likely too far gone to save. I spotted a sign that is far more detailed than most Chinese warnings yet equally ambiguous as to intentions. My wife conformed that she had not seen such a sign elsewhere. It's not clear whether a legal authority was condemning the buildings, giving fair warning to explorers, or subtly encouraging longterm residents to leave of their own volition.

dereliction porn centerfold

before the fall

Impending rubble

residential area
garden feature

Many buildings didn't even merit this sign. Lack of ownership or title leaves so many salvageable houses to succumb to demolition by neglect. Perversely, many locals might simply regard these old structures as resources to be mined for their materials. It's a sad tangle of neglect, poverty, and complacency as best as I can fathom.
 Ming style Cabinetry

Cabinets inside the porn dereliction building

Amazingly these derelict structures are often still full of stunning pieces of furniture. Even one building with a partial roof was being used as a warehouse for packaging materials.

abandoned housewares in unsafe house

Traditional wooden door hinges

As it happens so often old things are left outside or abandoned. There is an emphasis on newness and few Chinese know how to evaluate high quality furniture or preindustrial architecture. Even fewer know how to repair it. I was often able to photographed these items by extending my arm through unglazed window openings so exposed these areas are to the elements.
Coopered chamber pot

yoke and rack table

discarded handmade cabinet near trash bins

Splayed leg table

And in other places handmade furniture is left outdoors, almost as to highlight the contempt for such reminders of the past. My plan is to return in a year, and yearly thereafter to witness how Shanghai manages the challenges of preserving and renovating Jinze to respect the past while acknowledging the needs of the present future residents. I am cautiously hopeful since I see the greatest amount of civic pride amongst Shanghai denizens. The most positive changes in the PRC often enter in through Shanghai.
a bridge and commemorative plaque