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Seven Treasures Town (2)
Qibao - An Old Town in Shanghai
七宝老街

10 June 2010
 

Looking the Seven Treasures Town centre from the main bridge

In the past on the market days, peasants and vendors would display their farming products and daily items for sale on both road sides (sometimes blocking the access to the shops and homes), attracting buyers and browsers from nearby towns and surrounding villages. By then the street would be as crowded as this one.

During the hot summer season (that was long before air-condition era), in South Yangtze towns like this, after dinner the residents would bring out bamboo chairs, wooden stools, or place door planks on stands on the street in front of their home for daily evening breeze-catching, gossip-exchanging parties. Imagine a news conference room as big as an entire street and a discussion group in front of each household! In such an environment even a donkey would have learned a few things about the world by simply mucking around the town.

Nowadays all the buildings in the Seven Treasures Town would be fully utilised for commercial purpose. But in the old days, for a typical Chinese town, there were always residents living in the rear quarters and the upstairs, which made it possible for Golden Lotus (潘金莲) to meet her fate by accidentally dropping a small bamboo pole from an upper floor window, when she tried to use it to draw the curtain, to hit the head of a get-rich quick businessman who just happened to pass by. The incident caused by such town planning arrangement later cost her beautiful head but helped create two classic Chinese novels - The Water Margin (水浒传) and The Plum in the Golden Vase (金瓶梅).

It typifies the main difference between an authentic Chinese town of yesterday and the showcase traditional Chinese town of today. The essence of the old Chinese towns is that there were residents living there and being the integral part of the townscape, which is what made the streets vibrate through out the season and in all times. Co-existence, correlation and integration are the core of Chinese civilisation (and city planning), in contrary to the contemporary Western mentality that intends to categorise, classify and divide everything in the universe (and to separate the urban space by coarsely defined functions).

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