Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chongqing Nostalgia. Where Is It?

I took the following photos earlier this month during my visit to Chongqing, where I could find few traces of anything familiar from my childhood.

The Liberation Monument (解放碑)
The Liberation Monument (解放碑)– Yes, that piteous little thing in the center – the Liberation Monument used to be the great landmark of Chongqing.  Is the towering building on the left purposely trying to mock and humiliate it?

Flat Bread (烧饼)
Flat Bread (烧饼) – Oh my childhood favorite snack! Street vendors of flat bread used to be seen in every block of downtown Chongqing . Now walking through the entire Central District I found only one, hiding in a corner of Eighteen Steps (十八梯). The couple who were making flat bread at first panicked seeing me taking photos; they thought I was a "cheng-guan" (城管) who came to seize their little business.

Controversial Nude Sculpture
Controversial Nude Sculpture – On Chongqing's first Yangtze Bridge, the four nude sculptures, "Spring," "Summer," "Autumn" and "Winter" sparked a big controversy that embroiled the entire city, even the country, in the early 1980s (I participated in the debate).  The artists eventually yielded to public pressure and added a sheer veil for each figure.  The one in this photo is "Spring." (It apparently has been moved because the bridge's width is now doubled.)

The Obsoleted Ferry – In this photo, where a new bridge for light rail is being built, there used to be a ferry dock that I frequented as a child.  My home was on the south bank of the Yangtze looking down those rocks, my childhood haunts.  When I left China in 1988, there was only one bridge on each of the two rivers, Yangtze and Jialing, that surround the city, and ferries were the main connection between the three land areas (The South Bank, River North, and Central District).  Now the total number of bridges exceeds twenty, and all ferries have become obsolete.


Anonymous said...

Hi, when was you last visit to Chongqing before this one? what's the general impression?

Yong Huang said...

The name "Liberation Monument" or "解放碑" is definitely a misnomer. Hopefully, with improving relationship across the Taiwan Strait, more people will realize the importance of putting the old name back, "抗战胜利纪功碑" to mark the Chinese victory over the Japs. The Monument is belittled by adjacent "concrete sky-scraping tents" in physical dimension, but belittles them in spirit and historical charisma.

Anonymous said...

What do you think about romanticism and Chongqing's development? This is something that has been interesting to me about China for some time now. the idea that as China develops an entrenched middle-class, this middle class will develop romantic, westernized notions of architectural preservation, working-class mores, etc.

I found it interesting that you chose to photograph the tower behind the skyscraper, when you could have easily chosen another vantage point. For me, this is a somewhat "western" take on architecture and monuments, whereas a more (excuse me if I am being presumptuous here) Chinese view might have been to frame it as the new skyscraper being a symbol of progress and the old pagoda representing all that was archaic and "embarrassing" about China. Another example might be western festishization of hutong and traditional Chinese dwellings, whereas many Chinese people just want buildings that are new and have windows that seal and keep in the heat or air conditioning, and they cannot tear down that old stuff fast enough.

I find it very interesting that the Chinese middle class has, much like the western middle class, began to romanticize "old" things as somehow more authentic and genuine. Yet the rural classes yearn to be free of the authentic and genuine and to embrace all of modernity, historical preservation be damned.

A few years ago, I noticed that my neighbors here in the U.S. began to pay large sums of money to learn to do things - make handmade soap and candles, live faux-rustic lives on the weekend, tilling organic farms and planting crops, just the sort of thing that their parents and grandparents had worked so hard to escape doing.

Do you think that this is part and parcel of becoming a "global middle class", embracing such nostalgic ideas about the working class and one's agricultural forbears?

Forgive me if this is rambling, but I am a big fan of your blog and I've had a flirtini (a pink martini) tonight and I know that you are one of the few, if not the only, China-related blogger who can grasp what i am desperately getting at.

Keep up the good blogging, and keep an eye on Bo Xilai, like all other reformers he is not to be trusted, you were one of the first to spot his medicine show.


Xujun said...

James, those are interesting questions. Coincidentally, I'm writing a book review now about China's middle class, which I will post soon, and would like to hear you opinion about it. I'm also working on a piece on what Bo Xilai is up to in Chongqing, so stay tuned. As to nostalgia, I'm not sure it's particularly a middle class thing, though I am indeed a middle class person. Your comment on the first photo's vantage point surprised me, I hadn't thought of it as particularly "Western," in fact the angle was suggested by my brother-in-law who lives in Chongqing. Nonetheless, your view of class/national differences is interesting and I might come back to discuss it later.

S.K. Cheung said...

Just a question about the photos. Did you use too high of an exposure, or is that haze par for the course?

Xujun said...

Hi S.K., Chongqing used to be called a "fog city" in the 1940s. Now it is hard to tell fog from smog - but it is like that most of the time.

Fabrizio said...

very nice post, I am really hoping to have a chance to pass through Chongqing this summer. What are the thoughts of older generations of Chonqing residents in regard to this massive transformation? It would seem hard to keep a hold on pieces of the culture that get caught in such a strong transitional period.

Xujun said...

Thanks. Please see my new post today for more stories on Chongqing.