Shanghai 3: Historic Shanghai

A few days after our presentation at the Shanghai International Literary Festival, we joined Tina Kanagaratnam and Patrick Cranley of Historic Shanghai on their superb bus and walking tour of Mom’s childhood places from Remembering Shanghai. In Tina’s words, “The opening chapter contains a scene familiar to Historic Shanghai members: looking at a dilapidated, once-beautiful old house, and trying to divine its history from its bones. This book is Isabel and Claire’s journey in divining their family history—which is also Shanghai’s history—in a well-told tale that is by turns jaw-dropping, exciting, touching, tragic, and insightful.”

Here are just a few of our images, present-day and reconstructed. The latter-day condition of the structures makes it clear why we had to commission illustrators to re-create remembered images.

My mother’s family home:

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My grandfather developed and owned many commercial and residential properties on Fourth Road (now Fuzhou Road), a popular cultural area teeming with book emporiums, printing presses and scholar’s specialty stores.

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Here’s our group at Zhongshan Park, formerly Jessfield Park, with an aspiring historian in the foreground. My grandmother lived in the avant-garde Xiyuan, seen across the pond in this postcard, in the early 1940s.

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On my last day in Shanghai, I went to visit my dad, who passed in 2012 and is resting in the Shanghai suburbs about forty miles west of the Bund. A final quote, for now, from Remembering Shanghai: “The cemetery provides prosperous overseas Chinese a final resting place back in their homeland. Though the grounds are immaculately landscaped, a Westerner might find the decoration bizarre. Sculptures interspersed throughout the cemetery depict what the developers must have believed are worldly objects and experiences that ought to be taken to the afterlife. A herd of elephants roams across an immaculate lawn, within walking distance of bespectacled boy monks, the Seven Dwarves (sans Snow White), a ten-foot-tall golfer and a family of laughing pigs.” (My father was born in the Year of the Pig.)

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Since writing about this cemetery, it’s warmed my heart to learn of quite a few friends who are also there to keep my father company.