[Photo Gallery:] Tianjin’s 南市 hutongs

These photos are from Tianjin’s “south city/market” neighbourhoods (南市), two months before they’re demolished. This is a lot of what’s left of Tianjin’s hú tòngs (胡同) – the old-style sprawling networks of communal courtyards and alleyways. They, along with the oldest apartment blocks, are being flattened before the Olympics. Much of it is already abandoned and reduced to rubble, but there are still many families living and operating businesses in the midst of it all. We’ve spent several afternoons wandering around in the claustrophobia-inducing maze of alleyways, talking with the people still living there and taking pictures.

The residents were fantastic. Two separate older folks even offered from their own initiative to help me photograph stuff. One invited me in to photograph what was left of her courtyard compound, which she with her husband and son had shared with twelve other families (the compound had spaces for sixteen). In a condemned apartment building, an old man saw me, asked what I was doing, and then tottered out with his cane gave me a little guided tour!

Some of what you’ll see in the photos is already gone; there are even some Friday-Sunday back-to-back photos showing the difference one weekend made. Some guys tearing stuff down said the people have until May 1st to vacate.

Two important words to know: you’ll see “拆” painted inside a circle on the buildings in many of the photos. It’s a verb for “break up; split open; destroy” and is part of the word 清拆 (demolition of buildings for a new project; literally “clean/pure destroy”). “铲平” is the word the residents used to describe what would happen to the area in about two months: “to flatten; to raze to the ground.” The last 27 photos were taken by friends.

You can read more about our experiences with 南市 and its residents here:

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2008 March 23, 28, 30 & April 5-6

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