new or old?
Kuanxiangzi and Zhaixiangzi (Wide and Narrow Lanes) in Chengdu were originally built during the Kang Xi period of the Ming Dynasty, about 1700.
During the past several years the area has been transformed (some would say “restored,” others would say “Disneyfied”) into a tourist attraction and upscale shopping / restaurant / nightclub district. Some original elements of the neighborhood were retained – old brick archways, fragments of ancient walls, even a couple of entire courtyard houses of the “nobility” – but much was simply swept away to be replaced with mediocrity or fake ancient-style buildings housing Starbucks and the like.
Visiting this area always gives me mixed emotions. Yes, the entire area could simply have disappeared (as is currently happening to Shuijingfang), but couldn’t the process have been handled with less clumsiness? Do you really need a 3-story “ancient” shopping mall right beside a one-story courtyard house?
The area also has some interesting early 20th-century buildings that I believe were built under French “cooperation” – France has a long history of influence in Chengdu – in western classical styles.
Looking at this building, I thought “Oh, it’s an original doorway that’s been preserved.” When I was processing the photo, though, I noticed that the wood support above the carved bracket had been rather badly “distressed” using streaks of dark-gray paint. Does this mean that the whole structure is fake? Is it a combination of old and new elements? Is it live, or is it Memorex?
China isn’t alone in re-creating historic districts like this; any number of American cities have “tarted-up” older areas that attract yuppies and tourists, with fake gaslights or new “old” brick streets. Such areas are popular for a while, but they often lapse again into decay.
Still, how can you enjoy an authentic Ming or Qing-era atmosphere with piped-in Michael Jackson music and signs that say “Foxy Club?” I’ll sip my caramel Frappuccino and ponder this.