From Artist Enclave to Living Urban Heritage

Exploring the Unconventional Path of a 1920s Mixed-use Urban Block in Shanghai


  • Fabienne Wallenwein Heidelberg University



Tianzifang, urban conservation, living heritage, revitalisation, Shanghai nostalgia


At the end of the 1990s, the Asian financial crisis severely unbalanced real estate development mechanisms in Shanghai’s former Luwan district that strongly relied on foreign direct investment. This momentary interruption created a unique opportunity for a long time unconsidered mixed-use urban block at the margins of the former French Concession, nowadays known as Tianzifang, to experiment with regeneration approaches that deviated from conventional “old city renewal” (jiucheng gaizao 舊城改造). Partly responding to Shanghai’s aspirations to become a “global city”, the focus was set on culture and its creative potential that enabled a multifunctional framing of the block as creative industry park, tourist destination, and ultimately a protected scenic block in Shanghai’s conservation system. The paper investigates which aspects of cultural heritage have (or have not) been mobilised at which particular stage of Tianzifang’s place-making process, thereby shedding light on specific mechanisms in dealing with material culture and memory in a Chinese urban context.  What broader implications did this uncommon approach have for the formation of heritage conceptualisations such as industrial and intangible heritage? Proceeding from a constructivist approach that allows for a comprehensive analysis of socially and politically negotiated layers of meaning, the study  examines how spatial environments are bound to notions of history and identity. Relevant aspects during these processes of authentication and revalorisation that the paper finds are artist-led spatial interventions, the practice of naming, an emphasis on the use value of industrial heritage, and an expansion of the notion of Shanghai nostalgia to include local-style shikumen lilong 石庫門里弄 housing.



Download data is not yet available.


Arkaraprasertkul, Non. 2016. “Gentrification from within: urban social change as anthropological process.” Asian Anthropology 15 (1): 1–20.

Berliner, David. 2012. “Multiple nostalgias: the fabric of heritage in Luang Prabang (Lao PDR).” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18 (4): 769–786.

Bracken, Gregory. 2013. The Shanghai Alleyway House: A vanishing urban vernacular. London and New York: Routledge.

Chen Yifei 陳逸飛; Shanghai Museum 上海博物館, Shanghai; China National Museum of Fine Arts 中國美術館, Beijing; Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd. 1996. Chen Yifei hui gu zhan 陳逸飛回顧展. The Homecoming of Chen Yifei, Retrospective Exhibition. Catalogue No. 486. London: Marlborough Fine Art.

Chen, Yifei. Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd. 1997. Chen Yifei, First London Exhibition. London: Marlborough Fine Art.

Chew, Matthew. 2007. “Contemporary Re-Emergence of the Qipao: Political Nationalism, Cultural Production and Popular Consumption of a Traditional Chinese Dress.” The China Quarterly 189: 144–161.

DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sports). 2001. Creative Industries Mapping Documents 2001. Accessible under:

Harrison, Rodney. 2010. “What is heritage”. Harrison, Rodney (ed.) Understanding the Politics of Heritage. Manchester: Manchester University Press in association with the Open University: 5–42.

Harrist, Robert E. 2008. The Landscape of Words: Stone Inscriptions from Early and Medieval China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Hawks, Shelley D. 2017. The Art of Resistance: Painting by Candlelight in Mao’s China. Seattle, London: University of Washington Press.

Huang Ye 黃曄, Qi Guangping 戚廣平. 2015. “Tianzifang lishi jiequ baohu yu zai liyong shijian zhong shang ju hunhe maodun de caichanquan wenti” 田子坊歷史街區保護與再利用實踐中商居混合矛盾的財產權問題 (Property Rights Problems Arising from a Conflict of Mixed Commercial and Residential Functions in the Conservation and Reuse of Tianzifang Historic District). Journal of Human Settlements in West China 30 (1): 66–72.

Jacobs, Jane. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Legge, James; Laozi; Zhuangzi. 1962. The sacred books of China: the texts of Taoism. New York: Dover Publications.

Liang, Samuel Y. 2008. “Amnesiac Monument, Nostalgic Fashion.” Wasafiri 23 (3): 47–55.

Lin, George C.S.; Xu, Zhumin. 2019. “Remaking China’s urban space of the spectacle: Mega-events, temporary growth, and uneven spatial transformation in Shanghai.” Geoforum 102: 126–36.

Liu Xiang 劉向 [Han dynasty]. 1978. Zhan guo ce 戰國策 (Strategies of the Warring States). Vol. 2. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe.

Liuli China Museum. n.d. “Liuli — yi zhong zui jiejin ai de caizhi” 琉璃 —— 一種最接近愛的材質 (Coloured Glaze — a material coming closest to love). Last accessed on August 14, 2022, under the URL:

Lu, Hanchao. 1999. Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lu, Hanchao. 2002. “Nostalgia for the Future: The Resurgence of an Alienated Culture in China.” Pacific Affairs 75 (2): 169–86.

Maags, Christina; Svensson, Marina (eds). 2018. Chinese Heritage in the Making: Experiences, Negotiations and Contestations. Vol. 3. Asian Heritages. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Marinelli, Maurizio. 2018. “From street hawkers to public markets: modernity and sanitization made in Hong Kong.” Cabannes, Yves; Douglass, Michael and Padawangi, Rita (eds.) Cities in Asia by and for the People. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 229–257.

O’Connor, Justin; Gu, Xin. 2014. “Creative industry clusters in Shanghai: a success story?” Interna-tional Journal of Cultural Policy 20 (1): 1–20.

Richardson, Craig. 2018. “Artists’ ‘embedded reinterpretation’ in museums and sites of heritage.” Journal of Visual Art Practice 17 (1): 22–40.

Ren, Xuefei. 2008. “Forward to the Past: Historical Preservation in Globalizing Shanghai.” City and Community 7 (1): 23–43.

Ren, Xuefei. 2014. “The Political Economy of Urban Ruins: Redeveloping Shanghai.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38 (3): 1081–91.

Riegl, Alois. 1903. Der moderne Denkmalkultus. Sein Wesen und seine Entstehung. Wien, Leipzig: Braumüller.

Shanghai Local Gazetteers Bureau 上海市地方誌辦公室 (ed). 2004. “Taikang Lu yishu jie” 泰康路藝術街 (Taikang Art Street). Shanghai mingjie zhi 上海名街志 (Records of famous streets in Shanghai). Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe. Last accessed on July 23, 2018, under the URL:

Shanghai Luwan District People’s Government 上海市盧灣區人民政府, Tongji University National Famous Historical and Cultural Cities Research Center 同濟大學國家歷史文化名城研究中心, Shanghai Chuangji Vision Heritage Creation Center 上海創集視覺遺產創作中心. 2007. Luwan Qu Tianzifang gongneng tuozhan gainian zong cehua 盧灣區田子坊功能拓展概念總策劃 (General Concept Plan on the functional expansion of Tianzifang in Luwan District). Unpublished document.

“Shanghai Urban Planning Gazetteer” Compilation Committee《上海城市規劃志》編纂委員會 (ed). 2003. “Zhongxincheng lishi wenhua fengmao baohu qu” 中心城歷史文化風貌保護區 (Historic and cultural scenic areas in the city centre). Shanghai chengshi guihua zhi 上海城市規劃志 (Shanghai Urban Planning Gazetteer). Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe. Last accessed on January 13, 2023, under the URL:

“Shanghai zhongxin ‘Shanghai Shaonü’” 上海中心《上海少女》 (‘Young Girl of Shanghai’ in the centre of Shanghai), CHEN YIFEI Art Studio. n.d. Last accessed on August 8, 2022, under the URL:

Shen, Jie; Wu, Fulong. 2011. “Restless Urban Landscapes in China: A Case Study of Three Projects in Shanghai.” Journal of Urban Affairs 34 (3): 255–77.

Shkuda, Aaron. 2015. “The Artist as Developer and Advocate: Real Estate and Public Policy in SoHo, New York.” Journal of Urban History 41 (6): 999–1016.

Smith, Laurajane. 2006. Uses of Heritage. London: Routledge.

Smith, Laurajane. 2011. All Heritage Is Intangible: Critical Heritage Studies and Museums. Reinwardt Memorial Lectures. Amsterdam: Reinwardt Academy.

Smith, Laurajane; Campbell, Gary. 2017. “ʻNostalgia for the future’: memory, nostalgia and the poli¬tics of class.” International Journal of Heritage Studies: IJHS 23 (7): 612–27.

Verdini, Giulio. 2015. “Is the incipient Chinese civil society playing a role in regenerating historic urban areas? Evidence from Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai.” Habitat International 50: 366–72.

Wai, Albert Wing Tai. 2006. “Place promotion and iconography in Shanghai’s Xintiandi.” Habitat International 30 (2): 245–60.

Wallenwein, Fabienne. 2020. Tackling Urban Monotony: Cultural Heritage Conservation in China’s Historically and Culturally Famous Cities. Heidelberg, Berlin: CrossAsia-eBooks (Heidelberg Asian Studies Publishing). DOI:

Wang, Eugene Yuejin. 2000. “The Winking Owl. Visual Effect and Its Art-Historical Thick Descrip-tion.” Critical Inquiry 26: 435–73.

Wang Liqi 王利器 (ed). 1997. Shu shijia 書世家 (Genealogies). Shiji zhuyi 史記注譯 (Annotations on the Records of the Grand Historian). Vol. 2. Xi’an: Sanqin chubanshe.

Watson, Sophie. 2009. “The Magic of the Marketplace: Sociality in a Neglected Public Space.” Urban Studies 46 (8): 1577–91.

Wei, Yehua Dennis; Leung, Chi Kin; Luo, Jun. 2006. “Globalizing Shanghai: foreign investment and urban restructuring.” Habitat International 30 (2): 231–44.

Whyte, William H. 1956. The Organization Man. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Whyte, William H. 1980. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. New York: Project for Public Spaces.

Whyte, William H. 1981. “How to make midtown livable.” New York (1968) 14: 24–30.

Wu, Weiping. 2004. “Cultural strategies in Shanghai: regenerating cosmopolitanism in an era of global-ization.” Progress in Planning 61 (3): 159–80.

Yan, Haiming. 2018. World Heritage Craze in China: Universal Discourse, National Culture, and Local Memory. New York, Oxford: Berghahn.

Yu Hai 於海. 2009. “Tianzifang shiyan: Chaoyue quanqiu – difang er yuan duili de chengshi gengxin moshi” 田子坊實驗:超越全球——地方二元對立的城市更新模式 (The Tianzifang experi¬ment – A city renewal model going beyond the global-local duality). Zhongguo mingcheng 中國名城 (7): 26–31.

Yu, Hai; Chen, Xiangming; Zhong, Xiaohua. 2016. “Commercial Development from Below: The Resilience of Local Shops in Shanghai”. Zukin, Sharon; Kasinitz, Philip; Chen, Xiangming (eds). Global Cities, Local Streets. New York, London: Routledge, 59–89.

Yu Hai 於海, Zhong Xiaohua 鐘曉華, Chen Xiangming 陳向明. 2013. “Jiucheng gengxin zhong jiyu shequ mailuo de jiti chuangye — yi Shanghai Tianzifang shangjie wei li” 舊城更新中基於社區脈絡的集體創業——以上海田子坊商街為例 (Communal Entrepreneurship in Old Neighborhood Renewal — Case Study of Shanghai Tianzifang Shopping District). Nanjing shehui kexue 南京社會科學 (8): 60–68.

Yu Hai 於海, Zou Huahua 鄒華華. 2015. “Sanchong shehui mingming yiyi xia de chengshi neicheng fuxing — yi Shanghai Tianzifang de chanye kongjian pinpai dansheng wei li” 三重社會命名意義下的城市內城復興 —— 以上海田子坊的產業空間品牌誕生為例 (Inner City Revival under the triple social significance of naming — by example of Shanghai Tianzifang’s emergence as brand for industrial space). Urban Management 上海城市管理 (3): 61–66.

Yu Shengfang 俞繩方. 2006. Suzhou gucheng baohu ji qi lishi wenhua jiazhi 蘇州古城保護及其歷史文化價值 (Conservation of Suzhou’s old town and its historical and cultural value). Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe.

Yung, Esther H.K.; Chan, Edwin H.W.; Xu, Ying. 2014. “Sustainable Development and the Reha-bilitation of a Historic Urban District — Social Sustainability in the Case of Tianzifang in Shanghai.” Sustainable Development 22: 95–112.

Zhang Jianjun 張建君. April 15, 2009. “Lao Zheng he ta de Tianzifang” 老鄭和他的田子坊 (Lao Zheng and his Tianzifang). (Weblog entry). Last accessed on December 7, 2016, under the URL:

Zhang, Rouran. 2020. Chinese Heritage Sites and Their Audiences: The Power of the Past. Routledge Research on Museums and Heritage in Asia. London, New York: Routledge.

Zhong Xiaohua 鐘曉華. 2016. Tianzifang shi ruhe keneng de — xingdongzhe de kongjian shijian shijiao 田子坊是如何可能的 —— 行動者的空間實踐視角 (How Tianzifang was possible — a perspective of actors’ spatial practice). Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe.

Zhu, Yujie. 2018. Heritage and Romantic Consumption in China. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Zhu, Yujie; Maags, Christina. 2020. Heritage Politics in China: The Power of the Past. Routledge Research on Museums and Heritage in Asia. London, New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.




How to Cite

Wallenwein, F. (2023). From Artist Enclave to Living Urban Heritage: Exploring the Unconventional Path of a 1920s Mixed-use Urban Block in Shanghai. The Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies, 4, 45–73.



Culture and Memory