Artsy Alleys Crafty Lanes

TIAN ZI FANG
Address: Lane 210, Taikang Road
Metro Line 9 Dapuqiao Station Exit 1 and walk half a kilometer north

During the 1930’s, Shikumen or stone gate buildings on narrow alleys were popular in China. It is a combination of traditional Chinese style dwelling and western architecture, like the French colonial buildings. But in the recent past decade, China’s redevelopment programs have demolished many of its old structures to give way to modernization. Present-day Tianzifang area was among the targets. The residents, artists and businessmen did not agree with the plan. Thus, they joined efforts to thwart the government’s attempt to pound their residential and commercial spaces. Their primary reason being the preservation of history and culture which if managed well will be an attraction to tourism and a boost to local business. They were right indeed. The place has retained most of its original and unique facade which makes it popular among tourists and a favorite among the young.

Tianzifang has now become a major tourist attraction in Shanghai. There are more than 200 varied small businesses from art studios and galleries, craft shops, design houses, fashion stores, cafes, restaurants and bars. And it remains a residential area with locals living above the shops.

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XINTIANDI
Address: Lane 181, Taikang Road
Metro Line 1 Huangpi Road (South) Station, or
Metro Line 10 Xintiandi Station Exit 6 to Madang Road and walk north

Unlike Tianzifang, Xintiandi is a metropolitan French Quarter redevelopment. It is a classy, affluent and car-free area for shopping, gourmet restaurants and luxury shops. Thus it is considered to be the lifestyle center in China. It is also home to the Chinese elite as it is one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

On one side of Xintiandi Road is a long stretch of restored Shikumen buildings that house a multitude of cultural, recreational, commercial and residential facilities. (If you want to see the locals’ normal daily life, try entering one of the residential alleys.) And on the opposite side is an array of modern buildings that cater to signature fashion shops and high-end dining.

One principal feature of Xintiandi is its historic relevance. The first congress of the Chinese Communist Party happened in one of the Shikumen buildings in this area which is now preserved in the museum. I was completely awe-struck by the contrast of this place. It is a perfect example of a culture and lifestyle hub that fuses the old and new China, therefore aptly named Xintiandi, which means “new heaven and earth”.

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The artsy alleys and crafty lanes of Tianzifang and Xintiandi are among the best places to hang out not only for leisure but also in understanding Shanghai’s diverse culture.

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"The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is."— Mark Helprin