Back in January, I twice blogged about the tragic destruction of Shanghai’s 135-year-old carmelite convent (here and here). Located on the grounds of the old Shanghai Film Studios lot in the midst of the bustling and expensive Xujiahui neighborhood, there was really no hope for this historic property. Outside of a few blogs, nobody in Shanghai – least of all, the convent’s high-rise neighbors – made much of an issue about losing another piece of Shanghai’s rapidly disappearing architectural past. And nobody from the Shanghai Film Group (China’s oldest and largest production company), owner and (re)developer of the property, ever found himself in the position of having to justify the demolition or the redevelopment plans.
But then, right around Chinese New Year, folks living in the neighboring residential high-rise complex, noticed that Shanghai Film Group’s publicly posted plans for the redevelopment would damage their property values: the quaint lane between the respective developments is slated to become a two-way thoroughfare, and the old Film Studio lot is being prepped for high-rise office space that will block out its neighbor’s sunlight. So, in late February, angry residents of this neighboring high-rise hung multistory banners from the side of their buildings with messages like: “Shanghai Film Group Environmental Assessment Fake. Lying to the Government Hurts the People,” and “Central Government Asks People to Harmonize. Why Do You Want To Be Against the Central Government?” No surprise, nothing much happened: the banners came down and the redevelopment continued apace.
But the neighbors are tenacious, and so, last night, under darkness, new protest banners were unfurled. Click individual images for enlargements (translations below) of the photos that I took at 7:30 AM, today. While reading, keep in mind two things: first, Ren Zhonglun is a deputy to the National People’s Congress, the powerful President of the Shanghai Film Group (official photo, here), and the producer and executive producer of several films, most notably Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution; and second, these banners hang from high-rise buildings on one of Shanghai’s busiest thoroughfares in the heart of one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods. They’ll be seen by tens if not hundreds of thousands of people during their presumably brief lifespans.
Left to right: A: “Public lands to construct corporate high-rises, Shanghai Film Studio you are rapacious!”; B: “Deputy to the National People’s Congress Ren Zhonglun dupes the government and the people, tarnishing the image of the Party”; C: “(If) not busy cutting streamers, it is important that Ren Zhonglun come out and resolve the issue.”
A couple of thoughts.
The people who own the apartments in these highrises are wealthy and – in some cases – very well-connected. They have no reason to fear negative consequences from this obvious attempt to embarrass a powerful and wealthy member of Shanghai’s elite. That is to say: this is an uptown fight between two wealthy groups that won’t attract much attention unless somebody – an even higher-ranking Party official, say – decides that it’s gone on long enough, and it’s becoming an embarrassment to the city (presumably, that’s the result that the residential property owners are trying to provoke). To a certain extent, protest has become an informal, unwritten political privilege that accrues to China’s property owners when they band together (other examples abound, and I’ll link when I have more time). Lower middle-class Shanghainese renters or – worse! – migrant laborers wouldn’t even think of pulling something like this, and if they did the response, presumably, would be swift, certain and, well, not so nice.
But I digress. Protest is protest, and it’s gotta start somewhere. So, hats off to the burghers of Caoxi Bei Lu for having the guts to dig in their heels when somebody threatened to take away the sunshine.
And as for Mr. Ren Zhonglun: this is what you get for knocking down that Carmelite convent, you rapacious government-duping, streamer-cutting jerk.
[Special thanks to two friends: one for the mayhem, and one for the translations.]