Restoring charm

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[Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

At the exhibition, one video installation provides a glimpse of the lives of people residing in this crowded neighborhood. The video shows how people would pick vegetables, dry their laundry, and play board games with neighbors in the common outdoor area because there was simply not enough space indoors.

In recent years, filmmakers have been traveling to Zhang Yuan to re-create scenes from the 1980s and '90s. The set of a movie scene shot in the compound has also been re-created for the exhibition. In this scene, actors gathered in front of a tiny black-and-white television in a back lane and watched as China's women volleyball team won their first world championships in the 1980s.

As several families used to share a shikumen house, they often had no more than one room for the whole family.

"In some extreme cases, a small room was home to a family of three generations," Ge says.

To address this situation, some families created space by building a second level within their rooms. Today, the ladders that these people used to climb to the upper level can still be found in many of the rooms.

Through the decades, authorities from Jing'an district have made continuous efforts to improve the living conditions. The plumbing, water and gas supply were renovated so that each family could have their own kitchen space. Small bathrooms were also built in some of the homes. But many of the residents still had to resort to archaic means of human waste disposal-more than 500 households in Zhang Yuan still had to rely on chamber pots until 2018.

If you go

Zhang Yuan, 99 Taixing Road, Jing'an district, Shanghai 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Monday-Saturday, July 1-Sept 30. Visitors can make appointments via Jing'an Zhangyuan WeChat account. The green health QR code has to be shown to gain entry.

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