[Photo gallery:] A warlord’s ancestral temple complex & an abandoned church building

One Sunday afternoon we bike with some foreigner friends to the Li family ancestral temple complex. This place was a great find. As one of the first photos explains, a warlord from Tianjin bought the buildings off a prince in Beijing and reassembled it in Tianjin in 1913. It was intended to imitate the Forbidden City, and it’s apparently the largest traditional complex in Tianjin. Now it’s practically abandoned. Some people sell used books in the entrance way to one half of the complex, which was empty. A small furniture market clogs the entrance to the less preserved but more popular half, which seems to have been unofficially converted into something of a public park – it’s full of jumbled junk, furniture, bricks, a few occupied small brick homes, and a bunch of old men playing cards, chess, or otherwise relaxing under the trees or on the steps of the giant, faded, peeling gateways. It’s an interesting oasis in the middle of the polluted urban near-chaos.

After the family courtyard complex we headed to a crumbling church building that we’d first found last summer. It’s literally falling apart; trees are growing on it, against it, and even through it in one part. The yards are strewn with bricks, junk, and clothes lines; people live in the buildings all around it, which look like they may have been classrooms or offices at one point. Simple brick structures have been built onto the front of the church. The people living there were really friendly, and told us that the church hadn’t been used in over 30 years. I climbed a rusted fire escape on what maybe a condemned building across the road to try and get a shot of the whole thing. One interesting thing here that we also noticed on another crumbling church building: the crosses have been removed, bricked in, or otherwise covered from view.

Turns out that the Zǐ Zhú Lín church was built in 1872 with compensation money extracted from the Chinese government by the French as reparations for the infamous Tianjin ‘Incident’/’Massacre’ (1870). Foreign and local Catholics used it as a refuge during the Boxer rebellion (1900). It’s been disused since 1958.

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2008 March 9

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