Caoyang Village is well known in Shanghai as one of the first and most successful worker's settlements constructed in China. Initiated in the 1950's, the sprawling settlement now encompasses nine villages and a large park located close to Shanghai's urban center. On a cool, rainy afternoon, I went to take a stroll around Caoyang village with two interested colleagues, whom despite being local Shanghai residents have never ventured to visit the property. Not knowing what to expect, we found the area to be lively and well-maintained. Despite the age of the buildings, a recent external washing by the local government has given the buildings clean and cheery facades.
Caoyang Village One, the first part of the settlement to be constructed, is still in use much like how it was some fifty years ago. Each block is divided into several segments, served by one staircase. Each segment has living units divided over three floors, with a communal kitchen and bathroom area serving three dwelling units on each floor. Two of the private residences on a floor are reduced to only a single room, except for a larger unit on the end that is divided into two rooms. Because of the small amount of private space allocated, some residents have constructed additions on top of the third floor. A large focus is given to the public spaces of Caoyang Village One, as it is where the residents cook their meals. This allows for increased social interaction and more efficient use of space for the workers that occupy the building.
As we clamber up the public stairwell of one of these buildings, a resident appears behind us, carrying groceries. May we go upstairs? We inquire. He nods in agreement. On the third floor, he heads into the public kitchen, unpacks his groceries and relishes the comfort of his home as he unbuttons his shirt and lights up a cigarette. In the large open kitchen, we find evidence that it has served as a well-worn space for activities and uses other than cooking. Things such as bicycles, stacks of books, cabinets, and potted plants populate the room.
We make small talk with the resident. He has been living in Caoyang Village for twenty years now. We inquire about his view of the communal way of life as dictated by the spatial configuration. He replies with strong preference of his current living situation, "I would not like to live in the new high rises that they build in Shanghai today. No one ever meets their neighbors. Here, everyone is like a family and is genuinely affectionate for each other. If my neighbors do not see me for a couple of days, they will knock on my door and make sure I am okay."
For more on Caoyang Village One’s design, see the earlier post on the complex here.