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April 26, 2012

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Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

Help vowed for historic shipping club

SHANGHAI'S cultural relics authority yesterday promised to protect the former site of the city's earliest club for shipping bosses in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) which has deteriorated into shabby homes for construction workers.

The club, known as the Commercial Shipping Club, was built in 1715 and was once the biggest and most luxurious club in the city. It included a two-story stage, a building for audiences and guests and a 200-square-meter assembly hall in another building for sand-shipping bosses and merchants at the former Shanghai harbor.

The buildings stand alone in a wasteland on Huiguan Street in Huangpu District as surrounding residential buildings were removed in 2010. The corniced tile roof and many dragon and phoenix wooden sculptures remain to remind visitors of the former glory of the city's shipping industry.

But the stage has been renovated into simple residential houses of brick and concrete while hundreds of electric wires go in and out through the delicate wooden carvings. Cats and mice run across the stage that was used for Peking Opera performances. The former lobby, where rich merchants talked business, is now a warehouse for abandoned furniture.

Broken walls and old clothes and furniture lie scattered across the complex, while chickens are raised by workers living among the rubbish. Six workers of a local demolition team who were in charge of the removal work of other nearby old residential buildings live in the buildings.

"The leader of our demolition team asked us to live inside until a restoration on the buildings finished, to protect them from any further damage," said Wu Yixiu, one of the workers from east China's Anhui Province.

More than 10 local families who lived in the buildings before the 2010 World Expo have been moved out, but the buildings suffered great damage as officials demolished many illegal structures built inside the buildings by the former residents, Wu said.

"We hope the government can restore the buildings soon, as the roof leaks when it rains and the windows can hardly resist cold wind in winter," she said.

The buildings have been given protection because of their historic status and the local authority will launch a restoration soon, said Li Kongsan, an official with the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Commission.

Li said Shanghai once had a total of 250 such clubs for industry alliances, but only 30 were left now. The shipping club is the oldest and most valuable among them.

Shipping merchants established the club and erected the buildings mainly to coordinate disputes on prices and routes, said Xu Heping a historian.

"It is an important legacy of the city's early shipping industry," he said.

The club originally covered 13,000 square meters and was used by local shipping merchants until the 1950s, when the first batch of residents moved in, Xu said. The buildings were also used as a workshop of a children's clothing factory in the 1960s, he said.


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