Grounds of Shanghai's agriculture to be replanted

Yang Yang Fang Yubin
Zhaojialou, where Shanghai's agriculture originated, has launched an urban village renovation project that is expected to take at least three years.
Yang Yang Fang Yubin
Grounds of Shanghai's agriculture to be replanted
Ti Gong

Zhaojialou Ancient Town features the Jiangnan-style watertown landscape with a river flowing through the tidy, black-tiled, white-washed houses.

Zhaojialou Ancient Town, where Shanghai's agriculture originated, recently launched an urban village renovation project that is expected to last for a minimum of three years. When completed, the town is expected to become another trendy landmark commercial hub that emerged from urban renewal, similar to Xintiandi in downtown Shanghai, and celebrated for its Jiangnan-style watertown landscape.

Officials from Pujiang Town of Minhang and senior executives from Hong Kong Shui On Construction signed the Zhaojialou Ancient Town urban village revamp project on April 20.

The two sides agreed that Shui On will refurbish Zhaojialou into a Jiangnan watertown version of Xintiandi roughly within three years, and when it is fully completed in five years, its farming culture, history of water control and legend of city god will be fully developed, to make it an iconic global farming culture tourist destination.

Historical records reveal that areas surrounding Zhaojialou used to be a coastal plain 4 kilometers from the sea dike during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

After the royal court of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) moved its capital to Lin' an (now Hangzhou City) in 1127, farmers, scholars and officials of the Northern Song Dynasty moved southward with the regime from their homeland in central China. Some of them settled in this Zhaojialou area.

Tan Dezhong, a military advisor who resided nearby, became aware of these acres of frontier land and the swarms of laborers streaming in from the outside. He considered hiring them to cultivate the land.

Tan built a platform at the north end of the street for the farmers to gather before they began to plow the land. The platform, known as Zhaojialou, or the Grain Calling Mansion, became a symbol of virgin land cultivation.

As it grew into a celebrated town, the area gave birth to a number of elites, including Qin Yubo (1296-1373), a magistrate who was so much loved by the residents that he was worshiped in the City God Temple near Yuyuan Garden, and Ye Zonghang, a talented water-control expert who saved Shanghai from floods.

Zhaojialou Ancient Town now covers 150 mu (10 hectares) of land and boasts its rows of horse-head firewalls and gable walls resembling caps worn by Guanyin Bodhisattva, Yaojiabang River and historic gardens and halls.

As a 4A-titled tourist destination that is situated close to downtown, Zhaojialou has been popular among residents and tourists since it opened to the public in 2010.

Grounds of Shanghai's agriculture to be replanted
Ti Gong

An artist's rendition of Zhaojialou after the renewal project

Grounds of Shanghai's agriculture to be replanted
Ti Gong

The entrance archway of Zhaojialou

Urban renewal

Zhaojialou Ancient Town has been in operation for more than a decade, but its land use, traffic, infrastructure facilities and greenery and watery distribution are gradually falling short of its pace of tourism development.

Netizens commented on its lack of uniqueness, while residents living in its urban village complained about the hustle and bustle of the area's commerce and tourism, as well as its lack of sufficient infrastructures.

In June 2022, the Shanghai Housing and Urban-Rural Development Management Committee approved an urban renewal project for the ancient town.

The project is encircled by Jiageng Road in the east, Yaojiabang River in the south, Huichi Road in the west and the Xiaoyan Lake in the north. The refurbished land will cover 71 hectares, far larger than the size of the current tourist site.

Zhaojialou Ancient Town in the future will boast its Xiaoyan Lake tourist resort, its ancient town core tourist site and a farming culture community, where people can enjoy walking along its alleys, taking a boat on the river or lake, shopping, enjoying art exhibitions or concerts, camping at its lakeside clearings and farming in its croplands.

Shui On, with more than 30 years' experience in the realty sector in Shanghai, has played an essential role in renovating the architecture of some shikumen (stone-gate houses) in downtown Huangpu District into the now trendy landmark Xintiandi commercial hub. It has also successfully developed and operated the Rainbow City, Hongqiao Tiandi, Panlong Tiandi and KIC realty projects, and boasts rich experience in bulky land urban renewal, cultural preservation and community operation.

"We respect the culture and identity of each place. We launched a deep survey on Zhaojialou about two years ago," said Lin Runqing, manager of the Zhaojialou urban renewal project of Shui On.

Meanwhile, Pujiang Town, where the ancient town is situated, is seeking to relocate residents and merchants.

"We are inviting store owners to relocate into the nearby Qibao, Zhujiajiao and Xinchang ancient towns or streets," said Tao Xingwei, Party secretary of Pujiang. "Meanwhile, we're trying our best to preserve some of the very authentic stores and welcome the return of their owners after the renovation."

Ji Baozhong, a 68-year-old resident, signed a contract to relocate during the project launch ceremony on April 20.

"It felt hard to part with my home, an old residence with a history of 80 years. As the house ages, with many facilities deteriorating, I chose to relocate into a new home," Ji said.

The renovation project is expected to take within three years, and be completed within five years, Lin said.

Thus far nine of the district's renovation projects have gained city-level approval. The first batch of six projects is nearing completion, and the district is quickening its steps with renovating a second batch of three projects – Zhongxin Village in Zhuanqiao Town, Zhaojialou Ancient Town and Duhang Old Street in Pujiang.

Grounds of Shanghai's agriculture to be replanted
Ti Gong

Officials from Pujiang Town and Hong Kong Shui On Construction break the ground for the renewal project of Zhaojialou Ancient Town.

Grounds of Shanghai's agriculture to be replanted
Ti Gong

Workers tear down the old buildings in Zhaojialou in preparation for the ancient town's renewal project.

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