Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Destroying to Restore: Disappearing Life in the Shangqiu Ancient City

Mark Rowswell, aka Dashan, a performer in China famous for his Chinese language skills and comedy, recently tweeted about a city I rarely see mentioned:

The tweet reminded me of my own visit to Shangqiu and how everyday life continued amidst construction in its ancient city. A subsequent tweet by Rowswell and an accompanying photo captured how some of the life there hasn't continued in the same way.

portion of ancient city wall with leftover marking from a building which had once been built against it

The mark of the building which had once stood against the wall made me wonder how much of what I had seen in Shangqiu was now gone. Rowswell's photo specifically reminded me of one I had taken inside the western portion of the ancient city wall at Dieze Gate (垤泽门).

building attached to the city wall near Dieze Gate (垤泽门) in the Shangqiu Ancient City in November 2010

When I took the photo back in November 2010, I questioned whether the buildings next to the wall would last long. Now I was especially curious. I am not near Shangqiu at the moment, and, even if he were still there, I figured it would be a bit odd to ask Rowswell to go over and snap a photo.

Fortunately, there was another option. Baidu's online street-view service, which didn't exist when I visited Shangqiu, has greatly expanded its coverage during recent years. Not only does it now cover portions of the Shangqiu Ancient City, it offers a similar viewpoint.

More recent view of Dieze Gate (垤泽门) in the Shangqiu Ancient City from Baidu's street view service

The tree, a little larger, remains, as apparently does some of the activity near the wall. But clearly much is gone. Seeing the remains of the demolished buildings wasn't entirely unexpected, yet I still felt a complex combination of emotions I have experienced before elsewhere in China.

When I visited this location the buildings and the life around them caught my attention as much as, if not more than, the ancient city gate. I wonder what life was like there during the wall's early years. In some ways it may have more closely resembled what I saw five and a half years ago than life there now.

Regardless, the buildings are history. Perhaps it was the right choice. And perhaps someday in the future people will want to reconstruct the buildings for the same reasons they were destroyed.

Like Rowswell, I have mixed feelings.

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