Life in the old streets
Series was taken in the old area of Xiping Town, Songyang County seat,
Zhejiang Province, China.
Songyang is an ancient county with a long history for more than 1800 years.
Built in Qing dynasty, the old area of the county seat reached its peak in
the late of Qing dynasty. Before 1980s, it was the county seat center with
many shops crowded with visitors. On both sides of the street were lined
with two-story old wooden houses densely with shops of groceries, snacks,
fluffing cottons, coir raincoats, steelyards, tailors, hard wares, cylinder
bowls, portraits, seals and others. On market days, three or four meters
wide streets saw the flood of people, pedestrians jostled one another on the
way with the sound of peddling, bargain and shouts. The lanes in the old
streets extended from the sides out, crossed and entangled, forming like a
When I was in the fourth grade in primary school in 1984, I transferred from
Yuyan district to the county seat full of curiosity to everything.
The very next day, parents took me to the barber’s in the old
street to make me neat and fresh before studying in the new school. The
barber’s located in the bustling street area lined with continuous
customers. The barber’s was opened in 1981 and owned by two sisters who got
on well together. Looking at the back of the two sisters, I had never
thought I have been having my hair cut in the shop for nearly thirty years
I often followed
going shopping in the old street. I seldom saw such a busy street in my
hometown, but I like going shopping. I would ask parents when I saw the new
things. During the holidays, people would buy each bag of sugar and orange
cake as gifts, which was regarded as the best ones at that time. With
the shop assistants firstly packed it with fine paper, and then used thick
paper to do a shape of ladder, on top of which put a piece of red paper
When I passed by several terrible coffin shops, I would think
of coffins in the ancestral halls and huts of my hometown, where children
were reluctant to play. I was always far away and timidly and quickly went
away from them.
My parents often took me to the old cinema. When entering and
exiting, the audiences were too crowded in the narrow streets to make
headway. We were hand in hand for fear of lost. Sometimes, I rode my dad to
squeeze way out of the crowd. I leaned
on his broad shoulders often having a sweet sleep.
family economic conditions did not allow us often to dine out. When I was
greedy and wanted to eat pork noodles in the street, I would keep at my
mother to take there. My mother often met my requirements to bring me a big
cup and give me a few cents. I flew to the food shop asking for a large bowl
of noodles and shared it with my family. The taste is still fresh in my
Changes in the County Seat
After 1990s, the county seat has accelerated its urbanization
with reconstruction and expansion of the streets, making many old streets
fresh to look wide and straight. The tall brick buildings erected on both
sides, whose bottom located the street shops with fashion clothes, hair
salon, pastry, electrical apparatus, etc. Pop music and attractive
advertisements could be heard from the shop gates, behind which were lined
with residential districts. The old area gradually substituted by tall
buildings to form many a “villages in the city”. The downtown area gradually
turned to the main streets. However, the narrow lanes were too lonely to
lose their former prosperity.
the barber’s is still there, but the elder sister retired to
remain younger sister alone to run the shop. The assistants of food shop no
longer packs sugar, orange cakes and something like that. Many various and
exquisite packages of health and nutrition appear in the shop. After the
funeral reform in 2003, the coffin shops making children afraid disappeared
overnight. With the popularity of television and the rapid development of
network, the new and old cinemas don’t release films. As for the food shops
in the old streets, somehow, it is unable to find the original taste of pork
noodles. Many people have moved into the new houses, remaining the old,
rustics and workers in the old streets.
Under the impact of the city culture, some traditional
industries in the old streets are dying out. New industries are springing
up, vanishing and refreshing constantly. The number of the shops in the old
streets near the downtown is more than those which are too far away to rent.
Many shops and houses fell into disrepairment and were inclined and broken
to be dangerous. Some residents made unauthorized repairment and
reconstruction to destroy the original architectural style. Shops were
installed the roll-up doors instead of the traditional wooden doors for it’s
not convenience to open and close and decorated and painted, losing its
original appearance and meanings. The old streets looked cool, messy, ruined
and decay, which is not the former picture in my childhood memory.
I still like to walk in the old streets after working.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of recorded consciousness, I seldom focus on
the old streets around me. I began to be aware of taking photos of the old
streets until 2007. With the gradual increasing of the photos, I slowly
found ideas and direction in photography combined with interviews and
shooting, figures and environment. Currently I have interviewed more than
200 people working and living in the old streets and have gained more than
50,000 literal materials.
The people are the masters in the old streets and
the creators and successor of the street culture. Its change mainly come
from people, closely related to the process of urbanization. Attention paid
to and records on the old streets’ people and its development can really
show the growth of the old streets. Meanwhile, person is who in the
environment belonging to person. The old streets’ people in the typical
environment can be the united combination with mutual background, showing
the figures survival conditions and spiritual outlooks through the details.
If it is said that the new street is a daring and energetic young with
trendy clothes and fresh blood of the new era, then the old
one is the aged dressing in a slanting gown full of gully shaped crinkles.
The customs lingers on but the prosperity goes away. In the rapid process of
the urbanization, the old streets will be submerged and swallowed or become
a vassal and manmade tourism landscape of the city. The old streets like
human beings with its life. One day, they will disappear like the end of
human so naturally. What I can do is to leave more images with the camera
and write more stories for the old streets.
In the future, the old
streets will leave behind the light recollection in mind. People only see
its charm and charisma from the photos.
Photos listed in order of
September 12th , 2007, No.49 South Street. Sixty-nine year old Yang Jilian
and his sixty-three year old wife Chen Xiangjun are doing the local flavor
snacks: oil pancakes. This kind of cake is made up of oil and flour with
crispy crusts, which is similar to moon cake of Suzhou in the shape, texture
and taste. The cake usually is made from before Hungry Ghost Festival (the
15th day of the seventh lunar month) to after the Mid-autumn Festival (the
15th day of the eighth lunar month). At present there are only two shops to
sell oil pancakes in the county seat.
September 15th, 2008, No.172 People’s Street. The
Zhang Zhiyuan completed the woodcut "FuWa" in April, 2008 and
wanted to donate it to Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee as a memorial
through a friend. Unfortunately, he received a reply that the committee
stopped receiving Olympic souvenirs. Zhang was born in 1955, inherited his
father’s (Zhang Shichao) craftsmanship. His father started an engraving shop
with a history of over 50 years from 1952, in partnership with other
Photo 03: December 12th, 2009, No.144 People’s Street. The
fortuneteller Huang Jinfu’s shop is most simple with a signboard, a table
and a few stools. Huang was born in 1952, followed his teacher to learn
fortune-telling in 1986, engaged in a variety of industries, and helped
acquaintances to do some fortune-telling in his spare time. He opened his
fortune-telling shop in Lishui and Songyang in 2007 and 2009 until 2010.
04: Juanuary 2nd, 2010, No.7 Shangqiang Lane. The barber
Wu Linfa is having acquaintances’ hair cut at home. Wu is at the age of 80,
engaging in hairdressing for 70 years. He is said to be the oldest
hairdresser in Songyang County seat.
05: January 30th, 2010,
South Street. The seventy-three year old You Feiyun is buying vegetables.
Flowing vegetable hawkers can give convenience to the residents in the old
06: January 30th, 2010, No. 145
Huang Weibing and Wu Jinmei is cooperating very well with palm bed. Huang
was born in 1962 and started to learn the skills at 13 and made a living at
16 for 35 years. Huang feels
there will be
no successors in future to carry the torch.
There is only his shop in the county seat at present.
07: January 30th, 2010, No.7 Qiaoting Street. When the
blacksmith Lou Youjia strikes the iron, his wife Hu Chuncui also helps with
him. Born in 1931, Lou started to learn blacksmithing at 15, engaging in the
industry for more than 60 years. He is a senior of the profession in
the old streets.
08: March 14th, 2010, No.2 Zilihui Lane.
Sixty-four year old mute Yu Zaigang is at home making wreath frames with a
faithful shepherd dog accompanying him. The dog was bought by his grandson
to the Yus.
Photo 09: April 25th,
2010, No.107 People’s Street.
Fifty-five year old Cai Xiaohua is repairing watch. Cai family inherited and
engaged in watches and clocks and dental industry, which Cai's grandfather,
uncles, elder brothers exclusively or concurrently engaged in. Cai’s skills
were learned from his mother’s 3rd brother.
10: May 16th, 2010, No.100 People’s Street. Herb shop owner
Wang Xianyun likes playing erhu. The herbal carton boxes are written with
the name of drugs, and directory on the wall make it easier to search for
herbs in plastic bags. He is the age of the Republic. He started medicine at
15, and used to be a barefoot doctor when he was young and opened his herb
shop in the early of 1990s.
11: May 30th, 2010, No.11 Heng Street.
Sixty-five year old Wang Genshui is sewing the traditional breasted clothes
for the old. Wang with left foot disabled lived a rough life and engaged in
selling stamps, clothing, hairdressing, selling cloths after graduation from
primary school. He opened his shop in 1980s until now.
12: June 15th, 2010, No.99 People’s Street.
Que Wanwei is replacing a bottom for an old kettle. He and his brother Que
Wanxin inherited the iron skills from their father Que Weiwen. They opened
shops by their own.
13: July 4th, 2010, No. 97 South Street.
Ding Changshou and his son Ding Sheng are making twister crullers at the
gate of their shop in the morning. Their food shop was opened in 1987 mainly
to provide breakfast with some cigarette retail.
14: July 31st, 2010, No.3 Yanhang Lane.
Eighty-three year old Chen Jinju is drinking the appetizing soup sent by her
youngest son. The nave laid with her husband Ye Youxin’s (1921-1983)
portrait. Chen’s three sons are very filial, wanting her to live with them,
but she is still used to living in the old house in the old street.
15: August 8th, 2010, No.102 People’s Street.
Ninety-one year old Chen Pinlin often sits in the hall, looking at old
photos on the walls with deep thoughts. The TV screen reflected his figure.
Chen Pinlin has no children but adopts a niece as daughter. His wife died
three years ago. Now he lives alone and hires a nursemaid to take care of
Photo 16: October 31st,
2010, No.3 Tatou Street Lane.
Seventy-seven year old Pan Lixiang is at home repairing and cleaning
hairtail. Her husband Ye Shichang died seven years ago and Pan lives alone
17: November 14th, 2010, No.62 North Street.
Seventy-two year old Ying Faliang is preparing lunch. Ying is a staff of
original farm tools factor in Songyang County. He has a son and three
daughters and lives with his wife Xu Junqiu now.
Photo 18: January 22nd, 2011, No.10 Panhou Street Lane. The
couple Zhang Song and Zhou Tuxiang and their daughter and son-in-law are
having lunch together at the bedplate used to make quilts. Zhang was born in
1960, learned fluffing cotton from his teacher in 1975, and began to make
coir raincoat and cotton in 1978, and set up shop in 1990, engaging in
cotton industry for 35 years.
19: March 5th, 2011, Heng Street. When
it is raining, Ye Tufu is busy keeping off the rain out of
his street stalls with rainshed carried from his home. Born in 1930, Ye is
suffered from arthritis and spurs for six years, making him a cripple.
20: March 5th, 2011, No.158 People’s
The blacksmith Que Xianming is having lunch made at home and sent by his
wife. Que learned blacksmithing at 14 in 1967 and engaged in the industry
for more than 40 years.
21: March 5th, 2011, No.40 South Street.
The little girl is waiting for Yin Aihe the boss of a noodle
shop to make noodles. This noodle shop has been run by Yin’s grandfather,
father and mother, Yin and her husband with a history of nearly hundred
years. Compared with the 1980s and 1990s when the customers crowded in the
shop lining to wait for their turn, the market days in the old streets are
less lively, let alone on ordinary days. In fact, there is no business today
except on the market days.
22: August 13th, 2011, No.172 People’s
Two high school students are learning painting in Xu Xiuhe’s portrait shop.
The shop was opened in 1991 with a history for more than 20 years.