Later in the day we spent some time walking through the market place surrounding the Yu garden and the temple of the City God (Chenghuang Miao). On our first stroll through this area three years ago, The Family and I had found it a little overblown, what with all the gold and silver shops. Now that we had the time to take a closer look, the marketplace began to grow on me. A couple of months earlier I’d traveled through several of the major temple towns of India and was struck by the marketplaces built around temples. The parallel to India was striking: the market here could be the modern version of a historic market that has always existed around the temple of the City God, I thought.
I later found that Frances Wood and Neil Taylor, in the Blue Guide to China, agree with this assessment. This would be the remnants of the prosperous trading town that Shanghai had grown into by the early 18th century, by the end of the Ming and the beginning of the Qing eras. When the Treaty of Nanjing forced China to concede port and trade facilities to the opium trade of the western powers, those settlements were built outside of this old town. The silverworkers and other artists who have their stalls here may have been here many times in history. We walked through the market and sank into the wonderful craftsmanship on display. Some distinguish China from other cultures: calligraphy, paper cutting, seals, and fiendish wire puzzles. Others are common across the world, though they come with a Chinese flavour here: silverwork and jade, wood and glass work, ocarinas. I wonder how many cultures came in contact with each other over history in order to transport these crafts across the world.