I recently read Qiu Xailong’s “Years of red dust”. This collection of short stories first published in France in 2008 describes daily life in one Lilong of Shanghai named “Red dust”, from 1949 to the mid-2000’s.
By looking at residents’ personal story, we can better understand China’s recent history and the impacts of some events (the Korean war or the Cultural revolution) on people’s daily life. Life in this lilong is not easy and people lack intimacy and space; they have to endure other residents’ curiosity, but this can also be a place where they can find some friendship.
The last story of this book takes place in 2005. We can wonder if we can still find the “Red dust” lilong in today’s Shanghai. Maybe this place has been developed into a high rise building or a commercial center? But, actually this does not really matter. Because, people have not disappeared. Of course, we may not encounter “Old hunchback Fang” anymore and “ the iron rice bowl” has been broken down. But relations between residents may not have changed that much, inhabitants are still driven by ambition, love, and other feelings.
To me, the main message of this book is that cities are not made of concrete, cement and so on.., but they are made of inhabitants. This is also what I have learned with the UrbaChina programme. Cities do not exist without people, and so urban policies should focus on inhabitants and their well-being,… and policies should be made by inhabitants.
An interview of Qiu Xiaolong is available here.