Pictures taken in early 2013 of one of the last old neighborhoods in all of China (ok, Wuxi it is in this case). It is slated for demolition, its residents will be moved to "higher ground", i.e.; non-descript but modern 20-story apartment blocks somewhere on the periphery of the city.
There are a number of interesting elements at play here in this area. An old bridge (actually, two), an old pier (the Silk pier)for canal barges; low-density housing right next to the waterway; pedestrian-friendly street grid (the roads are seldom wide enough for cars); an aging population; no designated public spaces, therefore life takes place outside the gate anyway and anywhere; old industrial heritage sites: a) related to a dense sprinkling of curious and perhaps unique Ming dynasty brick kilns (formerly about 120 of them, surviving to date - in various states of repair and decline - around 56); b) related to silk manufacturing.
Into this historically grown fabric of houses, kilns, factories and matou (piers) the present-day city elders found it wise to insert a number of tourist sites while sanitizing the canal and the neighborhood. Those tourist sites are quite successfully integrated I would argue (one a silk museum placed right off the old silk loading dock, the other a lovely little museum dedicated to the brick kiln enterprises of the area), but they don't carry the neighborhood in GDP terms. For that, it has to be knocked down completely, and rebuild as a new fake old village/neighborhood. Which means that Mr. Li (see pictures #9 and #10), and with him thousands of other long-term residents, has no choice but to move. Private boats are banned on the old canal in Wuxi, btw, which is firmly under the jurisdiction of a number of state agencies (well, it always was, but private boats made up the bulk of the local operations), the tourism board among them, which collects tourists at a matou (pier) downtown (at the Nanchan Si plaza, which needs a complete redesign in my view), and shuttles them along.
I selected this particular spot in dedicating its own gallery to it since it is a site of significance on account of the old Qingming Bridge, and on account of the various other characteristics and attractions mentioned above. All of which means that Mr. Li's fate is sealed. China is preparing an application for the Grand Canal to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 out of its Yangzhou office, and - in conjunction with the latest political slogan to create a "Beautiful China" - under-performing housing stock ("blighted neighborhoods" I guess in American Urban Renewal parlance from the 1960s) along the canal is being substituted with rather generic, high-income tourist attractions and consumer oriented canal-side streets, which, btw., for economic and other reasons, only extend half a block deep, they don't form a new grid at all, but remain as purely bi-directional corridors for the new money-spending, one-day-only masses.
俞孔坚: 京杭大运河国家遗产与生态走廊 (2012/5, Beijing daxue chubanshe), pp.438-457;
无锡运河记忆 (Gu Wu xuan chubanshe, 2009/5)
Visited over four days in February 2013. Cameras used: Leica and Sony.
Thomas H. Hahn
© Thomas H. Hahn Docu-Images