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May 1, 2015

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Home » City specials » Hangzhou

Swede retraces his grandfather’s footsteps

WHEN Swede Goran Lundberg reached the peak of Mogan Mountain, the 69-year-old flashed a childlike smile. The reason, his grandfather owned the land more than 100 years ago.

Among lofty pines and a lush meadow, the land his maternal grandfather, Sixten Nilson, purchased in 1908 covered 16,000 square meters.

Known as a summer resort, Mogan Mountain, also known as Moganshan, is in Deqing County, Huzhou, and is about a 50-minute drive from Hangzhou.

Nilson was one of more than 60 foreigners who bought land in Moganshan about a century ago and one of hundreds of expatriates who was living in Shanghai and fled to the area every summer to escape the stifling city heat.

Today the mountain belongs to the Moganshan Management Bureau, which is attached to the Zhejiang provincial government.

Lundberg says he doesn’t want the land back and isn’t seeking compensation.

“I am here to complete the picture of my family and to hand down the history to my grandchildren,” the Swede tells Shanghai Daily. He first visited Moganshan with his wife in 2008 after he retired.

Last week, he returned carrying three thick folders of archives he found in Sweden.

“I just want to know how many constructions were built on the land, when, how and by whom were they built, and the history of these houses,” he says.

A Shanghai Daily journalist helped him contact local authorities and pinpoint the exact place once owned by his grandfather.

According to the land deed signed in 1908, as well as previous land deeds of the same place, the land comprised two plots, one named “Spring” and the other named “Terrace,” in Jin Zao Keng.

The northern boundary is Wong Road, which is not on modern maps of the area. However, experts said it could be a path connecting Upper Wong Road (pronounced Shangheng Road in Mandarin) and Changxing Road.

The western boundary is the Chinese Inland Mission villas on the top of the hill. The eastern and southern boundary is Tung’s hill, Tsu’s hill and Wong’s hill, of which the names are unseen on modern maps.

The name of the area has changed from Jin Zao Keng to Qing Cao Dang (Green Grass Sway).

Wu Chengtao, deputy director of Mogan Mountain Infrastructure Office and a local historian, says land names changed often back then.

“Plots of land were sold frequently and each owner liked to give the land their own name,” he says. “Then during the Republic of China (1911-1949) era many literati came to the land and rewrote the names to be more poetic.”

The land owned by Lundberg’s grandfather had two houses, one built in the 1920s by an American church that was bought by a Chinese woman in 1931. The other house was built by an American and sold to a Chinese in 1928.

In 1928, the then Zhejiang government set up a committee to manage the properties on Moganshan. Nilson was out of the country at the time.

“I am now satisfied with everything I have seen and learned. I can go back to add more photos to the album of my family history and tell my children and grandchildren the story,” Lundberg says.

In 1900, Nilson immigrated to Shanghai and worked with the maritime police and later a telephone company and electricity department. Just like many foreigners who lived in Shanghai, he disliked the summer heat (some things never change) and was deeply impressed with Moganshan after visiting while on vacation.

The mountain became famous among Shanghai expatriates after an American priest hiked around Moganshan in 1894 and wrote articles about the enchanting hills. Soon more foreigners went to the area.

In the late 1890s, a foreigner bought 30 hectares of a tea plantation for a mere 50 Mexican dollars. He started a trend. By the 1930s more than 300 foreigners and hundreds of Shanghai elite called Moganshan home during the summer.

In 1908 Nilson bought a plot in Moganshan from two other foreigners for US$625. He also became a member of the Moganshan Summer Resort Association, an organization started and run by foreign property owners of the mountain.

Wu says foreigners had a big impact on the mountain, noting they built a swimming pool, tennis court, church, post office, bank, clothing stores and even a cemetery.

Old photos of expats on Moganshan from that era show fashionably dressed people who wore the latest hairstyles.

“Locals at the beginning were against the foreigners,” Wu says. “But later on they realized the economic benefits and treated them better.”

Nilson’s daughter was born in Shanghai in 1914 and the family left China in 1916. They did not return.

Before he left Nilson handed over several files about the land to the Swedish Consulate, which today can be found in a library of archives in Sweden.

The last foreigner, an Englishman, left Moganshan in 1949. Six years later Zhejiang Province government reclaimed the land.

Lundberg’s family still possesses old files, including a copy of the Chinese land deed, a hand-drawn English map of the land and Nilson’s registration letter (in English) to the association.

Lundberg spent a week searching for files back in Sweden and says he also found many materials about Moganshan and Shanghai dating back 100 years. He found a map of the land that foreigners had purchased in Moganshan, a map of houses that foreigners built, and bilingual receipts given by Chinese sedan carriers.

One map surprised historians because a Catholic church, which was believed to have been built in 1925, appeared on a map drawn in 1904.

“The historical materials regarding Moganshan are incomplete in China,” Wu says. “We welcome other foreigners whose ancestors had a connection with the mountain to bring more files so that we can fill in the gaps.”


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