Public Service Mosaics in Shanghai

Ruihua Lane (瑞华坊) is one of the many old alleys in Shanghai’s Luwan District (卢湾区), but it’s distinguished by its wonderful display of visual public service announcements made up entirely of large mosaic tiles.

Though slightly fading, the posters, in good Party-like slogan fashion, reminded the lane’s former residents of behaviors that went along with a civilized society: protecting the environment (绿化美化,保护环境), maintaining neighborly and familial harmony (邻里团结,家庭和睦) (with the classic two grandparents-two parents-one child family structure), keeping law and order (遵纪守法,遵纪秩序), helping others (in the footsteps of the exemplary revolutionary hero Lei Feng, 学习雷锋,助人为乐)  and promoting the belief in science to combat superstitions (普及科学破除迷). The cartoons were simply drawn, in a style made to resemble that of a young child, but effective.

When asked, an older resident walking his dog said the mosaics were put up sometime in early 2000s. But why here on Ruihua Lane, and not anywhere else?

After searching for similar art in neighboring lanes, I found other mosaic-tiled public service messages, but they only contained more detailed text (spelling out safety warnings), and no pictures.

Ruihua Lane was believed to be a good neighborhood due to its proximity of wealthier occupants before 1949. It was also close to the site of the first National People’s Congress (NPC) (全国人民代表大会) meeting on July 23, 1921 which marked the birth of the Chinese Communist Party. Ironically, most would now know the area as Xintiandi (新天地), an upscale shopping and dining destination. Politicians attending the NPC meeting had apparently resided in Ruihua Lane during that time, including Leng Yuqiu, who had served in the Republic of China’s army and met there with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De.

Sadly, in a another year or so, Ruihua Lane will be no more. Almost a third of the residents in that lane have moved out and the entrances to their shikumen homes have been bricked up, ostensibly to prevent squatters from infiltrating, but mostly as a message about its pending demise. This is also the case with many neighboring lanes in the area.

While the mosaics were not heavily aged, they were an evolved version of civic propaganda, using long-standing Party concepts revised for more modern times. Older such images were made in a more orthodox Marxist mold, stressing peasants and workers.

They also made a colorful addition to the lane’s character. The only irony is that, despite being designed as enduring reminders of always good behavior, they will suffer the fate of a limited shelf life.

This post is a revised version of the original, and was cross-posted from Shanghai Streetstories.com

This entry was written by Sue Anne Tay , posted on Tuesday March 15 2011at 10:03 pm , filed under Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Public Service Mosaics in Shanghai”

  • I’ve come across similar mosaics in a few different parts of Guangzhou, but they seem to be much older, based on their style of illustration and messages that are less public-service, more propaganda.