Nanluogu Xiang is located in one of the richest neighborhoods in the city — once in terms of its sprawling old hutongs (or alleyways), its culture, and now in terms of the revenue generated from tourism driven bars and shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs made by fashion or arts students. The old neighborhood has cultural stopovers such as the former home and now museum of Mao Dun, the writer whose name is lent to one of the most luminous literary awards in the country. Modern writers, like Chun Sue, also live in the neighborhood.
According to Auntie Fu, rent prices in Nanluogu Xiang rose by 40% last year. She said: “When the south side of the street gets its planned subway stop, there will be even more people about.” She points to the pressure on commercial renters: both Xiaoxin’s Café and Zha Zha Café (two popular stops on the street) have their second shops on Wudaoying Hutong nearby. When asked, Auntie Fu admitted that everyone is aware of the possibility that they might be forced out of Nanluogu Xiang.
The street is in danger of selling just tack, which does not help retain its boutique status. It may end up like Sloping Tobacco Street in nearby Houhai, a completely commercialized area that has no authenticity but instead shops selling the same things over and over again.
Auntie Fu talked about the ethnic Xinjiang people who appeared, taking advantage of the busy street selling jewelery, with or without stalls: “Police cars will come one by one to stop them, giving customers bad feelings and pressure.” Once the police are involved setting up regulations and codes for a gentrified area, the formerly freely developing cluster of bars and the street on which they run become highly regimented. It’s a sign of how things become – developing commercially, but strictly regulated at the same time.