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Shanghai’s Marais: Tian Zi Fang

December 15, 2009

In Paris there is a neighborhood known as le Marias.  It is a chic yet bohemian area still containing the narrow pedestrian streets of the “old Paris” before Haussmannisation.  Here you can find an endless supply of cafes, clothing boutiques, and antique shops conforming to various price ranges.  It is simply one of the most intriguing places in Paris, where you never have to see the same thing twice (at least not if you don’t want to), and I have found China’s version right here in Shanghai. 

Tai Kang Alley, also called Tian Zi Fang, is a constant work-in-progress.  The many narrow cobbled alleyways that make up the area form a labyrinth filled with an ever-increasing and evolving collection of upscale boutiques, restaurants, and galleries dealing in specialty goods.  

Renovation of the area’s once entirely residential streets began in 2007.  However, more interesting than the renovators’ attempts to recreate a sort of bohemian Parisien cafe culture are the distinctly Chinese aspects of Tian Zi Fang.  Most notably, the buildings’ juxtaposition of the old Shanghai shikumen architecture on the upper levels with the very modern spaces below is quite fascinating.  In fact, many elderly Shanghainese still reside in these upper level apartments.  You can turn down a back alley, away from the bustling shoppers looking to buy their expensive pashminas, silk paintings, and double lattes, and quickly find yourself in someone’s “backyard.”  Several times in search of particularly elusive boutiques I found myself face-to-face with Shanghainese aunties hanging the family laundry out to dry. 

With shop prices much too steep for this kindergarten teacher, I opted to enjoy the area by simply walking around and capturing this truly unique place through my camera lens. 

Tian zi fang shops


Artist's brushes

Residents' laundry and birds

Laundry drying at sunset

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Cheryl permalink
    December 16, 2009 3:13 pm

    Hey there! I found your blog through linked in (I think?) and your email through CIEE. I’ll be teaching at the Shanghai Jazz English Training Institute next February, and I’ve definitely enjoyed looking at your blog. If you have any advice on what to bring, about the school, area, or apartment there, etc. I would be more than happy to hear it!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      December 25, 2009 8:38 pm

      Hi Cheryl! I’m glad that you have found the blog useful. I will contact you via email to offer my advice. I look forward to meeting you in February!

  2. pariskarin permalink
    December 18, 2009 7:18 am

    Beautiful photos! I never made it there back in the day and age I was in China (20 years ago this coming new year!!), but looking at the photos, I can say the more things change, the more they stay the same in that part of the world. You made me “China-sick” (like “homesick” but for China, instead. 🙂 Maybe I ought to go to the Marais today, eh? LOL. Payback. *grin*).

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink
      December 25, 2009 8:41 pm

      Oh, how I miss the Marais! I’m definitely “France-sick” right now, but Tianzifang is an excellent stand-in until I make it back to the “City of Lights.”


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