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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Forward to the past: Historical preservation in globalizing Shanghai


This paper examines the role of historical preservation in spatial restructurings of postindustrial cities, through a detailed case study of Xintiandi, a preservation-based redevelopment project in inner city Shanghai. At Xintiandi, two blocks of Shikumen houses, a Shanghainese tenement built by Western landlords for Chinese tenants in the colonial period, are turned into a chic entertainment quarter by international developers and architectural firms, with support from local governments. The history of Shikumen as dwellings of lower-middle-class tenants for most part of the twentieth century is carefully erased. Instead, by emphasizing Shikumen’s international linkages, such as its Western-influenced architectural features, the private-public coalition has repackaged Shikumen into a symbol of Shanghai’s cosmopolitan colonial past, and used it to project an even brighter global future. The paper argues that historical preservation in post-industrial Shanghai serves the same development goal of urban growth, and in the process, historical elements in the built environment are selectively recycled and inserted in the newly created transnational space.

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