As my time in Asia winds down after 4 years, I’ve been eager to visit as many places as I can. Who knows when I’ll get the chance to be back. Last week I decided to finally visit China and to see what all the fuss is about.
I had been avoiding China for a few reasons since coming to this part of the world in 2013. Firstly, my wife is Taiwanese and it didn’t take me long living in Taiwan to understand the fraught nature of Taiwan’s relationship with China.
China has continually claimed Taiwan as part of its own territory since the establishment of the PRC in 1949, denying Taiwan it’s independence. China continues to block Taiwan’s recognition on the international stage and there is a lot of fear in Taiwan that a growing China that is also becoming more assertive and confident, militarily and economically, is bad news for Taiwan.
Taiwan is a flourishing democracy, as well as a beautiful island full of interesting and open places and people. It makes me very sad to think about what could happen in the future. It is a world away from the PRC.
The second reason was that, photographically speaking, China has been the go-to place for the past 20 or so years. And understandably so. But what can one bring to the table that hasn’t already been said?
I decided to visit Shanghai - it is only 2 hours by plane from Osaka - and I had been introduced to it by the works of Greg Girard in Phantom Shanghai and Nail Houses by Peter Bialobrzeski.
This is the beauty of photobooks - their ability to bring the viewer on a journey without going anywhere. Their visions of Shanghai fascinated and intrigued me. Walking around day after day I felt like I was walking in their images.
I was amazed at how developed Shanghai is. Rather than there being one downtown area full of modern skyscrapers, these skyscrapers are spread all over the city. The architecture is distinctly European in places, owing to Shanghai’s rich history as an international city before the Japanese invaded in the late 1930s.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Shanghai, and China as a whole, is the urban regeneration that is currently going on. This was the focus of Phantom Shanghai and Nail Houses, which looked at the government's destruction of entire neighbourhoods in the city to clear the way for more commercial ventures.
Right next to Yu Gardens, one of the main tourist attractions of the city, I stumbled upon some of these neighbourhoods. There are red signs draped across the streets signalling their imminent destruction. The people here live in a strange state of limbo. It is not they who will reside in the modern towers that will replace these neighbourhoods. They will, most probably, be moved out to the outskirts of the city, to make room for the more affluent.
In this aspect it reminded me a lot of the work I shot in Paris in 2012 for my M.A. which explored similar urban gentrifications efforts in Paris when Haussmann took control of city planning.
That’s all for now. I thought I’d leave you with some of my favourite images so far. I am still in the editing process, so more to come later. Follow me on Instagram @eannadefreine to see more in the near future!