The first time I met my friend, we were in Minnesota and she told me about her beautiful home in downtown Shanghai. It was in a historical district, was not far from the Bund, and was in a pre-revolution architectural style now hard to find in much of China. She told me that she had finished paying for it, and that if I wanted, we could open a coffee shop in that home or start an English school, or do anything we wanted with it.
When I met up with her in Shanghai, I stayed in her apartment, but we went to visit that home. An artist was staying there for months, stepping out of our ways as we creaked through wooden staircases, ducked under low ceilings, and made our ways into old rooms. It was the kind of house that would be the setting for a novel. It was the kind of place you imagine a member of the Shanghai literati ducking into late at night after a soiree. You could hear the walls chuckle with hushed voices as the ghosts of its past welcomed you in.
But it was a house that would no longer be her house within the year.
To read her article (written in Chinese) click here. Long story short, however, the Shanghai government wants her house as part of a sightseeing historical district. My friend resisted, saying that it was her house, and therefore not a scenic spot, but as the houses in the neighborhood became sights, she felt the pressure closing in. Signs and notices stuck to her door day after day. Demolition careened blocks away from her own front door.
Progress was inevitable.
In fact, her community is full of history, and I can understand why historians would want to preserve it in some way. Literary greats such as Lu Xun, Mao Dun, and other pre-revolutionary writers had homes not far from hers. When I saw them, they were still untouched, tucked away in their alcoves with simple plaques posted on the outside to indicate that someone famous had once lived there. Something that would take effort to find, and would only be found by those truly eager to find it.
I try to imagine what might happen to her home now, or what sort of signage might go up. “Here stands an old house?” “Here is a piece of Shanghai?” Perhaps the local government will add figurines of people like my friend, depicting their lives mere weeks before.
All I know is that this story probably sounds familiar to those hearing about it, because it happens everywhere in the world. And, like many braver than me, my friend is still fighting it. I have no powerful connections, I have nothing in my arsenal that can help her. I only have this post, which she hoped I could write. If only to know that behind historical spots, is actual history, is actual people.
And somewhere in Shanghai, a woman refuses to fade.