Street of Eternal Happiness
Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road
Review by Brenda Repland
Foreign correspondent Rob Schmitz and his family are living in Shanghai on a street named Street of Eternal Happiness. He gets to know his neighbors, delving into their varied histories which serve as a microcosm of China’s history itself.
The street is totally Chinese (except for the Schmitz family) but has been occupied at various times by the French (early 20th century) and the Japanese (WWII). Shanghai is China’s largest and most vibrant city which has attracted both Chinese and foreign residents seeking the opportunities it could provide.
After years of Communist (read: anti-capitalist) rule, Shanghai is now embracing Deng Xiao Ping’s motto that “to be rich is glorious.” Entrepreneurs abound. CK sells accordions while expanding his sandwich shop. Zhao – originally from the countryside, has set up a flower shop in a rented “closet” on the street and works to better the lives of her two boys. Auntie Fu, a determined capitalist, falls prey to one get-rich-quick scheme after another.
The scars of Mao’s rule, especially the Cultural Revolution, are evident in the older generation. In dire times, they were willing to work at any menial job, usually in government factories. But the younger generation, experiencing new wealth, is reluctant to work at anything that does not convey status.
The city is in the midst of a renaissance but advancement will have its own price. Locals learn that the government’s land grab of their low-rise homes – to be replaced by high-rise condos) leaves them with nowhere to turn. Laws protecting residents are often simply ignored by the government. Bemoaning the cost of modernization, one professor opines that “China is on a path without a soul.”
This is a fascinating book that gives us a look at the human side of a rapidly developing China.