Saving Tianjin's architectural past
One day in 2007 I was filming in Tianjin's old German concession area, in the middle of a street full of Alpine brick villas being systematically stripped and destroyed by leisurely demolition teams.
"What," said my guide, a local official, "do you think we should do to attract foreign businesspeople to come and settle here so that we can fulfil our ambition of becoming the next Shanghai?"
"Er, how about not destroying all these western mansions; because upmarket businesspeople might want to renovate and live in them."
He looked at me as if mad, of course. The whole historic centre was destined for destruction in favour of an overpass and some newbuild hi-rise.
To get a sense of what's been lost, and how attitudes are now changing, Tianjinophiles (I've reported from there umpteen times) should have a look at the latest issue of China Heritage Quarterly, form the Australian National University.
Most of my reports from this city have featured the changing landscape, the destruction, the wierdness of medieval hutongs side by side with skyscrapers, the luminous Jugendstil windows of a warlord's mansion. It seems they are finally getting it, but a lot's already been lost.