Good reading on art, customs, architecture

Minghang District has commissioned a series of 25 books spanning folk art, traditional customs and architecture of the area. Five of them have been published.

Minhang District, which has been a wonder of economic development, is equally interested in promoting its cultural credentials.

The district government has commissioned a series of 25 books spanning folk art, traditional customs and architecture of the area.

“When speaking of Minhang, many are under the impression that the district is bereft of culture,” said Wu Yulin, who is overseeing the book project. “They think of this as a place of new money, where people are rich but have no cultural roots.”

When the Minhang district was created through the merger with Shanghai County in 1992, economic development was the top priority. But with the economy firmly established and thriving, the book project aims to highlight other aspects of life and environment in the district. The project is funded by the Minhang Political Consultative Conference and the Committee of Cultural and Historical Data.

“I feel the need to help promote the culture of Minhang so that people can appreciate its true beauty,” Wu said. “We know many interesting events took place in here, but no one recorded them and they are lost over time.”

Wu started out as a journalist and later opened a printing company that brought him huge profit. However, his love for literature never faded. Seven years ago, he sold the printing company and founded Bright Mirror Culture Media.

“Money is just numbers, but books will last.”

Five books have been published so far. Among them, Wu compiled “Three Thousand Worlds at the Fingertips,” “The Singing of the Crane and Rivers of Zhuanqiao” and “Local Dialect.”

The book series is titled “Discovering the Beauty of Minhang.” Each book cover bears an inscription of the series title from famous calligrapher Wu Yiren, a Minhang resident.

“Shortly after I became a member of Minhang Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference last year, I received this task,” Wu said. “To be honest there was a lot of pressure and we only had six months before publishing.”

He said it’s unusual for the government to entrust a third party, like his company, to write and publish historical accounts.

“In that respect, Minhang is ahead of other districts,” he said. Thankfully, Wu’s five-year experience of being the chief editor of magazine “City Season” helped a lot. He soon reached out to scholars like Chen Gongyi and Chu Bannong.

Chen is a retired Chinese teacher and the development consultant of Pujiang Town. Chu is a linguist and a scholar on jiaoquan houses, a special kind of houses frequently seen in the southern region of the Yangtze River Delta.

Chu started to record this style of architecture in 1983, when he joined the team to write in the Shanghai County annals. The work contained a 400-character paragraph on jiaoquan houses.

‘Urbanization caused the houses to be razed around 1980, and before long, almost all of them were gone,” Chu said. “I was really sad because part of me was gone, too.

“This is probably the first and the only book on the old houses ever published in Shanghai, even in China,” said Chu. “I have been trying to raise awareness of this architectural heritage for some time and protect any of its remains.”

During the process of writing, Chu once embarked on an investigation with Feng Guoyin, a retired professor from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, to search for any remaining houses that might still exist in Minhang. In Pujiang, they found vestiges of structures that lay in ruins.

“We still don’t know how many old jiaoquan houses may still exist in the Shanghai area,” he said. “I wish I had realized earlier how fast the old houses were disappearing. I wish I had spoken out sooner. But I have been doing what I can to make up for lost time, and I hope more people will join this cause.”

‘Full Moon at Zhaojialou’

Written by Chen Gongyi.

 In the book, the writer recounts old tales about the bridges and historical figures who were born or lived in Zhaojialou Town. Only 8 kilometers from the seawall, the town in Pujiang was once a busy commercial and agricultural center of Shanghai. Its prosperity made many residents wealthy, and the family gardens they left to later generations are rich in heritage. Shanghai’s Chenghuang, the City God, comes from Zhaojialou, and the ancient bell now in Longhua Temple was originally from a temple in the town. Local specialties include crabs, pigs’ feet and white wine.

‘Local Dialect’

Compiled by Wu Yulin

This book is based on the work of a 1930s scholar named Hu Zude, a famous country gentleman from the Chenxing area. He was the first to collect local proverbs, songs, riddles and argot from local residents.

The book also explores the development of the Shanghai dialect since that time.

‘Let’s Talk About Jiaoquan Houses’

Written by Chu Bannong

The book’s author Chu Bannong grew up in an old jiaoquan house in the village of Dongwu in Xinzhuang

Town. The houses were post and panel structures, built in a ring-like shape. They looked somewhat like four houses forming a circle. Mortise and tenon joints bound parts of the houses together. These structures were said to be so strong that they could withstand storms and earthquakes.

In a book called “Songjiang Dialect Tutorial,” written by a French missionary and published in 1883, the

house was used as an example for the word jiaoquan.

Yet today, Chu has found only three jiaoquan houses remaining, and they are poorly maintained.

In this book, Chu recorded the detailed structure of these houses and included over 80 photos of them.

‘Thing Singing of the Crane and  Rivers of Zhuanqiao’

Compiled by Wu Yulin

The book focuses on Zhuanqiao Town and Beiqiao area, recording the development made in recent years and the inevitable loss that came with urbanization.

It also collected the stories of famous residents, such as calligrapher Wu Yiren and actor Lu Liang.

‘Three Thousand Worlds at the Fingertips’

Compiled by Wu Yulin

The book focuses on the legacy of craftsmen skilled in cultural heritage arts, including paper-cutting,

knitting, jade carving, embroidery and micro carving.

Wu is a member of the Council of Folk Culture Association. Years of working in the field has given

him an array of resources upon which to draw for the book's content.

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