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Urban renewal revives Gunan Street Historical and Cultural Block

Updated: Apr 23, 2024 By Li Yingxue chinadaily.com.cn Print
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Shushan Gunan Street historical and cultural block is nestled at the foot of Shushan Mountain, beside the tranquil Lihe River. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Nestled at the foot of Shushan Mountain, beside the tranquil Lihe River, Gunan Street in Yixing, Jiangsu province, whispers tales of a bygone era. Once the vibrant heart of zisha, or purple clay pottery production, this historic street pulsated with the creativity of artisans and the commerce of traders.

Today, after undergoing extensive protection and renovations, it has become a gathering place for a new generation of craftsmen, preserving the unique artistry of zisha pottery.

In April 2010, the Jiangsu provincial government officially recognized this area as the Shushan Gunan Street historical and cultural block. The district's layout, with the river encircling the mountain and the street running parallel to it, has preserved the essence of zisha pottery production, sales, and transportation since the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

Chu Chengliang, vice-president of the Yixing folk cultural relics and artifacts association, explains that the preservation and restoration of this neighborhood were spearheaded by the government. They set the precedent by selecting five key areas, inspiring local residents to prioritize preservation and undertake necessary updates to their own homes, Chu explained.

"Local government regularly gather feedback and advice from the locals about how to maintain and improve the district," Chu added. "Then they review these suggestions at the end of the year to see what they've accomplished. This has really gotten people involved in sprucing up our neighborhood."

Today, the area is not just a place to study the history and culture of zisha pottery, it has become a lively community where artisans and zisha experts thrive. Many old houses along the street are now leased by craftsmen for pottery making and living, attracting lots of young talent.


Shushan Gunan street historical and cultural block has become a gathering place for a new generation of Zisha craftsmen. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

"The government kept the street's original vibe intact, even restoring some historical features," Chu explained.

He mentioned that by hosting events like weekend markets, they have brought in young people. The revamped shops on Gunan Street are not just pottery stores, however; they also offer dining options, making the street more diverse. Many locals have also moved back, turning their homes into places like small craft workshops, art shops, and tea houses.

Led by Wang Jianguo, a professor in the School of Architecture, the design team from Southeast University has designed many public spaces in the area, in collaboration with the local government, making life easier for locals. They have also helped plan the restoration of several houses and provided design services for the community.

"We've taken a gradual approach to renovation," explained Shen Yang, another Southeast University architecture professor and a member of Wang's team.

"We've even designed model rooms to help residents with their own protection and renovations, showing precise dimensions for doors, windows, pillars, and beams.

"While the area may not have many traditional large courtyards, it's a lively neighborhood. The transformation of the district is an ongoing process without a definite endpoint," he noted.

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