Tag Archives: Wastelands

A Lost Town and Forgotten Temple

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Typically, a brown street sign in Changzhou denotes something of cultural value and significance. The above, for example, advertises something called Xucheng Temple and Ruins. It’s next to a narrow little street off shooting from Xiacheng Road in Wujin — this would be on the eastern side of the Science and Education Complex adjacent to College Town. However, sometimes in China signs are not all what they seem. In fact, if you followed this sign, you would end up in a wasteland.

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There is really nothing to see out here. But what about the sign? What about the temple? That would be this….

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Part of the temple is still there, but closed to the public. The front part, however, has been demolished. I know this because I had visited this area four years ago, and it looked different. The front door of the temple was still there. The road here not used to be shattered, and the nearby bridge lead to a rather creepy building where I heard a hoard of pigs screeching and scratching around. That creepy building is now gone, too.

How about the sign’s advertised “Xucheng Ruins?” Yup, that’s actually still there, I think. It has a historical preservation marker.

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So, that means something historical, right?

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Well, maybe — if you’re counting a mound of dirt and pile of stone slabs. In fact, this whole area is something of a seemingly barren and morose landscape. It’s like a memory that is fading away, but still somehow clinging on by its finger nails.

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The above is a marker for Shangdian Ancient Town 上店古镇, and the marker speaks about this. However, if you enter those Chinese characters into Google, nothing comes up, even in Chinese. There was once a Chinese language blog post about the town, but even now that is a broken link. As for Xucheng Temple, there is an entry for that on Baidu’s Chinese language version of Wikipedia, but that seems grossly out of date. The entry ends by mentioning that the area was declared a cultural site worth protecting in 2008. That hardly squares with how the area looks now. There is, however, one thing that has remained intact.

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That would be a grave site. The above is the tomb of Yun Nantian 恽南田, a noted painter from the Qing Dynasty. Yun Nantian has had worldwide fame and has had gallery exhibits held outside of China. He was a native of this particular section of Wujin. His specialties included caligraphy and painting flowers.

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All in all, something was here. Several years ago, Changzhou was accused of being a “ghost city.” This is a term often leveled at over-building and over zealous urban development. The term really isn’t accurate for most of Changzhou these days, and since that initial accusation five to six years ago, major construction projects have finished and many of the eerily quiet parts of Wujin have filled in. So, a ghost city? Maybe not, but some places still have the vibe of “ghost towns” — places that life once was and that have been quietly forgotten.

A Wasteland Revisited

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Recently, I returned to one of Changzhou’s wastelands, but this time, it was more by accident. I was trying to ride my bike out west for the afternoon. I was on my way to Zouqu in Wujin’s western arm. However, I always in the habit of trying new shortcuts on a whim, and sometimes those shortcuts pan out. Other times, I end up in a strange place.

On this occasion, I ended up by the Chairman Mao statue near the Metro supermarket. This place is odd because you have one of China’s founding fathers juxtaposed with barren land and shattered red bricks. As it turns out, the wasteland near that statue looks more extensive and post apocalyptic than at first glance. There is a road that bypasses the statue and goes into only what I can assume “once was” a neighborhood. I had seen those road the last time I was there, but I didn’t ride down it because twilight was quickly fading into night.

When I returned, the sun shone overhead and I now knew I could safely cut through the area. It was hard not to think of a weird science fiction film. An armless, naked female mannequin stood on a red pedestal. She leaned against a dirty white wall with corroded stains.  Further up the road, it looked like a field of rubble and debris — as if a bomb had been dropped and the place was being cleaned up afterwards. The strangest thing, perhaps, was the people. You can still see people living here, selling things, and playing with their children.

Again, this isn’t the first time I have seen a scene like this in Changzhou. It probably will not be the last, either. It’s likely an ongoing thing in contemporary China. Destroy the old; build the new. In a few years, this wasteland will probably not be here. It will likely be replaced by a new high-rise housing development, a park, or shopping center.IMG_20160512_212604