Eastern China

Shanghai skyline

Hong Kong skyline

Has the skyline of challenger Shanghai (above) surpassed that of defending champion Hong Kong (below)?  You make the call.  I still find Hong Kong more spectacular but Shanghai has caught up very quickly, in parallel with Eastern China's turbo-charged modernization catching up to the developed world.  Chinese national tourists throng Shanghai to be mesmerized by its concrete, glass and  steel jungle, oblivious of the concomitant loss in historically and artistically important architecture.  The character of Shanghai's historical districts has effectively been completely eradicated now, and the city is leading the modernization charge westward across China.


Hangzhou West Lake

Hangzhou West Lake

The legendary West Lake (Xi hu) has maintained its beauty though little of notable interest remains in the rest of Hangzhou.  As in France or England, the Chinese value programmed or designed garden parks over natural or unmanaged parks, and the West Lake is a perfect example of such manmade splendour . 





Quanzhou bike

Quanzhou house

Quanzhou shops

Images from the old town of Quanzhou (Fujian province) that may not exist in 3 years time.   Quanzhou was the one of the largest ports in the world when Marco Polo  departed from here, but little remains from that epoch except a lovely cluster of old wooden buildings in the old town, which are disappearing at an alarming rate, with concrete and tile monstrosities appearing in their stead. Already, the contiguity of their uniform look has been lost, with historical buildings rarely appearing juxtaposed with each other.  The residents want the comforts of modern buildings (who can blame them for that?), and restoration with modernization is much more expensive than replacement with prefabricated modern industrial designs.  It's the government's duty to preserve sites of historical and cultural interest that everybody in China will regret losing in 20 years time.  If they had stepped in here as recently as 5 years ago, they could have preserved the district and quite possibly inscribed it as a UNESCO world heritage site.  It is too late now in Quanzhou, and this trend is reiterating itself every day in every historical city in eastern China. 


Gulang yu xiamen

<>Shanghai is often cited for its notable European architecture, along with northeast coastal cities Qingdao and Tianjin, but I much preferred the Dutch and portuguese streets in the airy and leafy island enclave of Gulang-Yu, situated a short ferry ride from Xiamen (Fujian province) over Shanghai's French quarter or Bund.  Operated as a colonial concession until the early 20th century, old consulates of many countries from the USA to Japan remain intact, untouched by war or urban homogenization.  Now it thrives as a tourist attraction for an almost exclusively Chinese crowd, and serves as a beacon of how cultural conservation can be economically rewarding.     

Gulang yu beach Xiamen

<>Looking back rom the shores of Gulang-yu island toward the mainland, the special economic zone of Xiamen has prospered quietly, without attracting the international media fanfare that Shenzhen (across from Hong Kong) has.  As with Shenzhen and Hong Kong sharing recently recent cantonese cultural links, Fujian province and Xiamen and Quanzhou cities in particular share cultural ties, albeit more distant ones, with the overseas Chinese diaspora, who have emigrated since the 16th century primarily from this region and Canton, to colonize territories such as Taiwan across the strait, Malaysia/Singapore, southeast Asia and further afield North America, and Peru.  The excellent Museum of Overseas Chinese in Xiamen documents the historical migrations, having been funded of course, by overseas emigrants.  It is no coincidence I came to realize appreciatively, that southern Fujian residents and the overseas migrants share a common friendliness, openness and tolerance to outsiders that is not evident in most of Eastern China.  


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