On Foot: Historic Walk Through an Old Shanghai Neighborhood / by Kevin Hsu

On a brisk, sunny Saturday in March, a group of Stanford alumni journeyed through the historic lanes of the Jing’an Villa neighborhood in Shanghai. The walking tour revealed many examples of architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in what today is still a thriving community.

Anthropologist Non Arkaraprasertkul explained how the unique lilong buildings combine both Western and Chinese architectural features. Lilongs are often categorized into older “shikumen” style homes (late 1800s-early 1900s) and later “new type" structures (1920s onward), which were built to accommodate Chinese moving into a thriving Shanghai in the early twentieth century.

The houses were seized by the Communist government and assigned to workers in the 1970s, though a few older families managed to remain in their homes. Later on, during Shanghai's frenzied construction boom of the 1990s and 2000s, numerous lilong were demolished. Many remaining lilong neighborhoods are now considered protected cultural heritage, but their ultimate fate remains unclear.

During the tour, members of the group walked through graceful archways, leaned against old brick walls, and enjoyed the tranquility of the Sun Court garden—one of the earliest examples of a large apartment structure built around a courtyard in Shanghai. They also visited the refurbished interior of a design studio and witnessed neighborly exchanges in the lanes.

The event was co-sponsored by the Stanford Club of Shanghai and the Human Cities Initiative at Stanford, as part of the Stanford+Connects family of events.

Questions? Contact Kevin Hsu khsu@stanford.edu