The rebirth of Shanghai's “Red Flag” Village

Updated 2017-12-23 13:30:18 Xinhua

The hostel Liu Yuchun used to run in northwestern Shanghai has yet to disappear from the online map on his smart phone, but Liu is sure of its fate.

Liu checks the location of the hostel through a popular app on his phone.

"Look, click on the birds-eye view, the buildings are still there, but they are being demolished," Liu said. The hostel he once owned was in a bustling urban village named Hongqi, which means "red flag" in Chinese.

The urban village, the largest in Shanghai, has been under large-scale renovation since 2016. Hongqi stands witness to the transformation of a shanty town into a cosmopolitan area that glitters just like the rest of Shanghai.

URBAN VILLAGE

Liu, from southeastern China's Fujian province, started his business in Hongqi village more than 10 yeas ago. He rented several houses and turned them into what he called "white-collar apartments."

It was a good starting point for small business owners and the city's new arrivals.

Hongqi, occupying about 400,000 square meters in Putuo district, had been home to a number of fruit wholesale and seafood markets since the late 1990s. There were also more than 1,000 small businesses such as garages, laundries, barbershops, grocery stores, printers and timber mills.

At its peak, the village accommodated some 100,000 people.

But along with the low cost of living were the smell of rotten fruit, oversized trucks charging through narrow lanes, and deep puddles after summer downpours.

Only about 30 percent of residents were long-term dwellers, Liu said. People left as soon as they could afford higher rents.

The online map will soon display Hongqi after its facelift, and the memory of the past is fading. Everything will be different, Liu said, smiling.

Gui Dexiang, 65, was eager to welcome the changes. A Hongqi resident from birth, Gui was proud to have grown up under the "red flag," a symbol of pioneering spirits.

The village was established in the late 1950s as a people's commune. It was among the first examples in China of the transformation from village to a collective share-holding company in the late 1990s. Later, an intercity bus terminal run by the village became the first in the country to sell tickets online. These were the moments of glory for residents here, said Gui.

But as the city developed, many houses in the village were leased. Some were expanded -- without permission -- to accommodate more business, he said.

In the 2010s, the village became a notorious shantytown.

"There were grave safety risks. A small fire could be very destructive in a disorderly area like Hongqi," he said. There were six high-voltage power poles in the area and many more overhead power lines.

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