In early 2010 I made a trip to Sichuan province and took a quick side trip to Chong Qing. The trip was really more to explore Chong Qing's food scene; it was after photographing a noodle dish that I stumbled into the riverside neighbohood of Yu Zhong.
Red banners strung across lanes and across shopfronts and homes and the Chinese character for "demolish" painted on buildings -- sights I became familiar with as a resident of Shanghai during the late nineties, an intense period of reconstruction there -- announced that the neighborhood was slated for demolition. Wandering its alleys I found buildings dating back to the late Qing dynasty -- the port of Chongqing's first post office, for instance -- and incredibly, amidst the destruction that had already begun, signs of life.
I spent the next day and half photographing Yu Zhong -- its historic buildings and its remaining residents. The neighborhood was rundown and, no doubt, many Yu Zhong dwellers welcomed their impending relocation to new high-rise apartments on the outskirts of the city.
Yet others expressed doubts and fears. Many, with only days remaining until their relocation, still had no idea where they would be sent. Some were angry that the compensation they would receive from the Chongqing government was inadequate to move both themselves, their families, and their household goods to their new homes. Others were unhappy about the hour and a half, or two-hour commute that would be required for them to get back into the city to jobs near where they'd lived. One elderly woman, a doctor of herbal medicine who'd been treating patients from her Yu Zhong shop for more than several decades, expressed quiet resignation. She wouldn't reopen her business from her new home (yet undetermined), she said. "I'm too old to start over."
During my last afternoon in the neighborhood I met two Chongqing university students wandering around taking photographs. Taking pictures of old buildings, especially in a neighborhood as rundown as Yu Zhong, is not something you see a lot of young people in China doing. Why were they there, I asked. "We don't know it now, but I think in twenty or fifty years we feel regret for this," one told me.
Yu Zhong's redevelopment was just one part of ex-Chongqing chief Bo Xilai's grand makeover of the city. When I took these photographs no one could have predicted the events that have since unfolded there. But all of the residents of Yu Zhong knew they were nothing more than bit players in their city's, and China's, massive redevelopment.
I view this collection of photos as Part One of a complicated story. I have wanted to make a trip back to Chongqing to track down a few of the residents I met in Yu Zhong. Unfortunately, to date neither the timing (nor the funding) has not worked out.
Please click on "captions" for detailed explanations of the photographs.