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A street that leads to a new beginning

By Li Yingxue | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-27 12:52
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The Shushan Gunan Street historical and cultural block has become a gathering place for a new generation of zisha craftsmen.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Nestled at the foot of Shushan Mountain, beside the tranquil Lihe River, Gunan Street in Yixing, Jiangsu province, whispers tales of a bygone era. Once the vibrant heart of zisha, or reddish-brown pottery production, this historical street pulsated with the creativity of artisans and the commerce of traders.

Today, after undergoing extensive renovation, it has become a gathering place for a new generation of craftsmen dedicated to preserving the unique artistry of zisha pottery.

In April 2010, the Jiangsu provincial government officially recognized this area as the Shushan Gunan Street historical and cultural block. The district's layout, with the river encircling the mountain and the street running parallel, has preserved the essence of zisha pottery production, trade, and transportation since the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

Chu Chengliang, vice-president of the Yixing folk cultural relics and artifacts association, explains that the preservation and restoration of this neighborhood were spearheaded by the government. They set the precedent by selecting five key areas, inspiring residents to prioritize preservation and undertake necessary upgrades to their own homes.

"The local government regularly gathers feedback and advice from local residents about how to maintain and improve the district," Chu adds. "Then they review these suggestions at the end of the year to see what they've accomplished. This has really got people involved in sprucing up our neighborhood."

Today, Gunan Street is not just a place to study the history and culture of zisha pottery, it has become a lively community where artisans and experts in the craft thrive. Many old houses along the street are now leased by craftsmen for pottery making and habitation, attracting lots of young talent.

"The government kept the street's original vibe intact, even restoring some historical features," Chu explains. He mentions that by hosting events like weekend markets, they have brought in young people. The revamped shops on Gunan Street are not just pottery stores, however; there are also dining options, making the street more diverse. Many local residents have also moved back, turning their homes into small craft workshops, art shops, and tea houses.

Led by Wang Jianguo, a professor at Southeast University's School of Architecture, the team has designed many public spaces in the area, in collaboration with the local government, enhancing local life. They have also helped plan the restoration of several houses and provided design services to the community.

"We've taken a gradual approach to renovation," explains Shen Yang, another Southeast University architecture professor and a member of Wang's team.

"We've even designed model rooms to help residents with their own renovation, showing precise dimensions for doors, windows, pillars and beams.

"While the area may not have many large traditional courtyards, it's a lively neighborhood. The transformation of the district is an ongoing process without a definite endpoint," he says.




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