Haipai culture showcased at Hongkou center

Shanghai's Haipai Culture Center in Hongkou District has become a key site to promote Shanghai-style culture with a number of lectures, exhibitions and other cultural events.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Historical records, posters and props used in early filmmaking and screening at cinemas were showcased to the public at the Haipai Culture Center in Hongkou District in June 2017.

Shanghai’s Haipai Culture Center in Hongkou District has become a key site to promote and develop Shanghai-style culture with a number of lectures, exhibitions and other cultural events.

The center, the first of its kind in the city, within the Sichuan Road N. Park along the bustling commercial road opened to the public on June 16, 2017.

It was targeted at becoming a new cultural landmark of the city, based on the historical and cultural background of Hongkou, to drive the inheritance, innovation and prosperity of the haipai (Shanghai-style) culture, according to the center.

Throughout the year, experts, scholars and artists, including Wang Peiyu, a noted Peking Opera performer, Gu Haohao, director of the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe, and pingtan (storytelling to music) artist Gao Bowen, have been invited to give lectures and discuss the inheritance of haipai culture.

Haipai, or the East-meets-West Shanghai style, originated in Shanghai in the 20th century and is often used to describe theater, paintings, novels and architecture with a strong Shanghai angle. Like the city, Shanghai-style is considered inclusive and diverse.

Hongkou was the birthplace of contemporary haipai culture.

A large swathe of the migrant population lived in the district after the 1920s. Among the settlers were those from Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and also the earliest expats from the United States and Japan, according to Xiong Yuezhi, a historian with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Xiong was among the scholars invited by the center to a series of public lectures on the “Shanghai, an open city” theme earlier this year. The lectures were organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up.

The local culture became more diverse after about 23,000 Jewish refugees arrived in the city between 1933 and 1941 to escape the Nazis during World War II. Most of them lived in Hongkou, said Xiong.

“The typical haipai culture and the spirit of Shanghai can be concluded as grand, tolerance, profound and beautiful,” Xiong said in one of the lectures that received wide applause from the audience. Over 120,000 people also watched the lecture online.

The center has also held lectures and exhibitions on the history of haipai movies as well as the traditional Chinese operas that originated in the city.

In one of the most popular lectures, Peking Opera performer Wang taught the audience some basic operatic singing skills and performed the common expressions used in the art — including surprise, anger and happiness. The lecture attracted an online audience of nearly 200,000.

Ti Gong

Wang Peiyu, a noted Peking Opera artist, teaches the audience some basic operatic singing skills in one of the lecture series themed “Shanghai, an open city.”

As an important part of the haipai culture, Shanghai movies have become a popular theme picked up by the center to display to its visitors.

At the center’s opening exhibition in June last year, historical records, posters and props used in early filmmaking and cinema screenings were on display.

The exhibition commemorated the 120th anniversary of the first recorded motion picture screening in China at the Astor House Hotel on the north side of Shanghai’s Waibaidu Bridge.

One highlight is a newspaper report dated May 24, 1897 from the North China Daily News, an English-language newspaper in the city, which stated: “In the Astor Hall on Saturday night, residents were afforded the first opportunity in Shanghai of witnessing the demonstration of the wonderful machine, which under a variety of names has become so popular at home.”

Another highlight is a bust of Antonio Ramos, a Spaniard who moved to China in 1898. Regarded as one of the pioneers in popularizing motion pictures among the Chinese in Shanghai, Ramos bought a roller rink at a busy Shanghai intersection and converted it into a movie house with a seating capacity of 250.

Historical records on display also show that Shanghai witnessed the construction of theaters specially designed for movies in the 1920s, and that’s where most of the major Chinese films premiered.

By the 1930s, there were more than 30 cinemas and 46 film studios scattered around Sichan Road N. Many directors, producers and actors lived and worked in Hongkou, making it an important base for the birth and early development of China’s film industry.

Nearly 50,000 visitors and over 500 visiting groups have been attracted to exhibition, according to the center. It has compiled the photos and other contents of the exhibition into a photo album as an important archive for the Chinese movie history and haipai culture.

The center has also been cooperating with professional institutes to open a batch of salons, opera classes and book clubs.

A woodcut painting exhibition, for instance, has been held to commemorate Chinese literary giant Lu Xun (1881-1936), who spent his last decade in Hongkou.

“The center has public lectures every month, cultural activities every week and visitors from both home and abroad every day,” an official with the center said.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

File photos of Lu Xun are on display at the Memorial Hall of Lu Xun. The renowned writer spent his last decade in Hongkou District.

The center also aims to explore the connection between haipai and “red culture,” which celebrates the fact that Shanghai served as the birthplace of the Communist Party of China.

There are 57 historic sites near the cultural center along the commercial road. They include the Memorial Site of the 4th National Congress of the CPC, the League of Leftist Writers Museum, and homes of renowned writers and intellectuals from early last century.

The old league building is hidden on what used to be Darroch Road, known as Duolun Road now, which during the 1920s and 1930s was a community of famous writers and artists such as Lu Xun, Ding Ling (1904-1986) and Mao Dun (1896-1981) — many of whom joined the league. Many of their works were representative of haipai literature.

The public will now have access to some of these writers’ former residences. Jing Yun Li, for instance, which is listed as the “No. 1 Celebrity Lane,” will be restored and developed for exhibitions. Lu Xun, Chen Wangdao (1891-1977), Mao Dun, Ye Shengtao (1894-1988) and Rou Shi (1902-1931) were among the celebrated Chinese writers and scholars who lived in typical shikumen (stone-gate house) buildings in the lane.

Haipai culture is the most important culture tag of Shanghai and the cultural tradition that local people are proud of,” said Wu Qiang, director of Hongkou’s publicity department.

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