When I first went to the Block 167 I felt very uncomfortable, totally alien to the place, a Laowai incapable of speaking Chinese, considered just a curious tourist in a place impossible for him to grasp entirely.

After that I kept going regularly every week for almost 4 months and realized little by little that a way of interaction and empathy can be achieved trough simple gestures, that I started to feel allowed to take pictures of houses and people, and when I began to shoot with a video-camera, more and more people wanted to tell their stories and their desires for the place.


The concealed story of a community in the Lilong of Xingping Lane that has been now relocated. 

The video has been recorded during the last days before the total demolition, when few houses were still standing and many family where still living in. The scenario shows up a desolated land in the city center of Shanghai where recyclers walk around in the rubble to collect valuable materials to resell somewhere. We interviewed four different group of people, the first is with two women, one which has recently found herself widow and isolated in her hundred years old house about to be demolished, upset by the unreasonable manners showed up by who was negotiating with her and the second one explaining how the compensation refund, which is computed by square meters, has to be unfairly split and shared between her family and the other two living in the same building. While speaking with the two women a third character comes into scene as a representative of the demolishing company and take apart our interviewer to whisper her that those people are complaining too much. Second interview is with a woman within a group of people standing and discussing in front of the wall of a still standing building where it has been hanged a paper communication with guidelines for the relocation. She argued about the unclear responsibility of the representative whereas the paper is signed both by the local government and the court it is hard to chose who is responsible to go and refer to.

Third interview is toward a group of highly upset and outraged people who are informed about illegal movement made by the government in the negotiation process with the dwellers trough intended misunderstandings about the final land-usage of the area. Promises were made to rehabilitated the constructions but final choice has been to sell the land to a real-estate company which turned the use into commercial in order to make good profit out of the location values of it, while government refund has been just one tenth of the future value per square meters of the high-rise buildings that will come afterward. Last interviewed is an old man which speaks about the bitterness of leaving the house where him and his wife have been living for decades. He asked us to take a picture of him in front of the house as a memory. We after delivered the picture to his uncertain address.


In the 1930s and 40s, the possibility to enter Shanghai without visa, meant a rare opportunity for European Jews seeking to escape the horrors of Nazi Germany.

With the victory of the Japanese Shanghai nevertheless fell into the hands of an ally of the Third Reich. In November 1942, a ghetto, officially entitled “Designated Area for Stateless Refugees” was established in today’s Hongkou district for over 20,000 Jews in Shanghai. Despite continuous claims of its German ally, the Japanese didn’t introduce further anti-Semitic actions. After the liberation of Shanghai in 1945 the majority of Jews left the city.
Pointing towards the idea of a readability of cities, deciphering the urban is an endeavour that has to be situated in the field between large history and micro-histories. Taking the vast amount of individual stories, what is called history is always both structuring and reductive. The French philosopher and linguist Roland Barthes therefore claimed in his 1967 reflections on “Semiology and the Urban” that ideally everyone (natives and strangers a like) should try to “decipher the city we are in, starting if necessary with a personal rapport” (published in Op. Cit. 10, 1967).

The documentary “I know the story” follows the 88 year old Mr. Ku on a walk through the former Jewish ghetto in Shanghai’s Hongkou district. The retired English teacher had spent his entire life in the area around the Ohel Moshe Synagogue. In the life of Mr. Ku, the Japanese occupation seemed to weigh heavier than any other historic period. With trembling hands Mr. Ku shows us his three-story family house in Choushan Road that had been burnt down by the Japanese.
In the turbulent history of Shanghai, the brief period of Jewish immigration plays only a minor role. Since the First Opium War (1839-1842) Shanghai experienced many drastic historical events and massive socio-economic and political transformations, all of which left their traces in the texts of neighbourhoods like Mr. Ku’s.


An informal settlement placed on the rooftop of a hundred years old abandoned Tofu factory in the Hongkou district of Shanghai.

The reason we came across it was mainly because of the aesthetic attraction of the old building which later has revealed to be made by an English architect at the beginning of 20th century. Discovering a 30 years old village on its rooftop has been the surprising part. We found out that a middle-age man of one of the 25 families living in this compound was a former English teacher and we asked him for an interview. Out of his narration we discovered that all the families living there had at least one member employed in the Tofu factory, which closed around 1985, and before that, they all decided to create a community and to settle down on the rooftop of their working space because of economical necessities since most of them had moved there to work from outside Shanghai. The small houses were built in a relatively short time by the dwellers themselves with the help of illegal workers from rural areas. Soon after the construction of those the factory had to close, but they kept on living there until nowadays because of convenience reasons: no rent to pay, strategical position in the city, relevant coverage from the official City.

During the recording of the documentary it was easy to establish an affective connection with mr. Zheng, our guide; his welcoming way to host us and the pride he showed in leading us around the community were clear evidences of the fulfilment of their way of living, and when he invited us to have dinner with them my memories suddenly linked this behaviour to that of villagers of some remote small-towns I visited in China. Once again it comes out the parallelism between informal architecture and vernacular architecture, between urban villages and traditional ones, and I believe that this grass-roots event is more than a group of people claiming for a house which of course is the main and solid reason, but also they managed to create the homely environment made out of an emotive network of relationships between individuals belonging to the same community within the alienating and emotionally poor context of the over-scaled city.


Not so far from Lu Xun park there’s a old neighbourhood of shikumens built by the japanese at the end of the 30’s.

We interviewed one of the family living there and out of their opinions living in an old Shikumen is not a matter of attachment with history or architectural qualities. The 65 years old father said he inherited the house from his parents when it was already split in three parts after the Cultural Revolution and right now the 35 sqm are not enough to host a comfortable living for a retired couple and their 30 years old daughter. Shikumens are a small resistance of the neighbourhood concept in Shanghai but most of the dwellers believe that new typology of building can offer a better life and to question in which measure are memory and identity lying within the old fabric of these architectures reveal a social issues of collective amnesia.