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Lanes go back in time

By Shi Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-06-18 09:27
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Shanghai's narrow, twisted longtangs hold many of the city's secret, Shi Jing reports

Lanes go back in time
80 Wuding Road's character is derived from its distinctive Shikumen houses. provided to china daily 

With the earliest being built around 1850, houses crammed along narrow, twisted lanes (longtangs), are a unique feature of the city. Many retain individual and original architectural features such as elaborately decorated entrances, ornate gables and bridge galleries. Others have been renovated into upscale contemporary housing for the city's well-to-do. Many longtangs in the city still retain a strong sense of community and pride among its residents and, therefore, are an essential part of Shanghai both architecturally and culturally. Here, we feature some of the more famous longtangs in Jing'an district, in the city's downtown area.

1. New Fukangli

New Fukangli is a perfect combination of a modern residential community and Shikumen (literally "stone gate"), an architectural style for residential buildings in Shanghai combining Western and Chinese elements that first appeared in the 1860s and mostly occupying the maze of small intersecting lanes that run off the main thoroughfares in the city. The staff of the community committee are experienced in receiving foreign visitors. The residents here allowed overseas guests to visit their homes during the 2007 Special Olympics. So there would be little cultural shock on behalf of the locals and foreigners need not to be intimidated while visiting the lane.

2. 80 Wuding Road

The lane carries the distinctive character of Shikumen houses. Compared to Shanghai's newer lane housing, this area exudes a stronger sense of Chinese culture and resembles more to the Siheyuan style, which is widespread in northern China. Although squabbles are inevitable in such small space, neighbors here are still friendly and share with each other.

3. 623 Wanhangdu Road

This lane probably accommodates the most residents among the 10 lanes areas detailed in this article. Once the living quarters for staff of the Bank of China, the lane announces its history with the Bank of China Villa standing its entrance. Grocery stores, hawker stands and plenty of parking lots make living here convenient.

4. 1420 Wuding Road W

This is probably the shortest among the 10 lanes and you can look into it at the entrance. The community stands as a tranquil retreat from the high-rise buildings, and outside hustle and bustle. At dusk, greetings like "Uncle Zhang, who are you playing chess with today?" or "Auntie Li, have you sung with the chorus yet?" and other cheerful banter will he heard among the locals.

5. No 3, 520 Yuyuan Road

Traditional local lane games such as kicking shuttlecocks and skipping can be seen here. Signs on the walls of homes in the lane stress the sporting characteristics of the lane. Even the parking lot sign is fashioned into a hopscotch drawing. Go to the end of the lane and look out for the clever mynah bird who carries on conversations with attendant humans.

6. 113 Changshu Road

Sitting quietly in a modern setting of cafes, fancy restaurants and department stores, the lane is a drawcard for the senior residents in the community. The sound of the elderly singing in the activity center echoes down the lane. The white-wash walls and green-frame windows of the homes evokes a Mediterranean air. This lane is a great example of community development and response to the Expo theme of "Better City, Better Life".

7. 591 Nanjing Road

If you are interested in martial arts, then this lane will be one of your must-sees. Kungfu, karate and qigong - a traditional Chinese system of deep breathing exercises - clubs can all be found here. Although the houses in the lane are relatively new, there are some old-style touches that make the place worth a visit. Timber lattice has been set up between buildings to allow green vines to climb and sprawl. The lane is close to the Nanjing Road shopping precinct.

8. 590 Weihai Road

It might strike you on the first sight as a little shabby, but it is one of the most representative lanes in Shanghai. Red-brick walls, iron gates in Baroque style, vendors selling local snacks such as radish cakes at the front of the lanes and colorful laundry hanging from bamboo sticks jutting out from windows, takes you back to 1930s Shanghai. At the end of the winding lane, you will reach Wujiang Road, where you can try some more tasty local snacks.

9. 633 Changde Road (Hengdeli)

During the third national survey of cultural relics, house number 65 in Hengdeli was verified as the former residence of Nie'er, the composer of the March of the Volunteers, the national anthem of the People's Republic of China. The musician lived here when he joined the Mingyue Musical Drama Society as a violinist in 1931. If you are here to find some traces of this national hero, elderly residents living in the lane will be glad to show you around.

10. 1220 Nanjing Road W

There are more than 200 households in this lane community. A residential building with distinctive Spanish style stands at the entrance to the lane. A pleasant environment is one of its characteristics of the area. Camphor trees, Magnolia grandifloras, palms and about 30 kinds of other trees and plants make up the six major green areas in the community, forming a delightful contrast to the different building styles.

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