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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Downtown jail may be on move

By Liang Yiwen (Shanghai Daily)

15:02, February 09, 2012

Two women walk past the entrance to Tilanqiao Prison yesterday. Shanghai legislators want the prison, the only one in a major Chinese city still located in a downtown area, relocated. (Shanghai Daily Photo)

TILANQIAO Prison, Shanghai's only downtown jail, could be moved to make way for the development of the North Bund shipping service area.

Legislators have submitted a proposal to the city government to relocate the century-old prison because it is obstructing overall development of the burgeoning business zone. Some entrepreneurs interested in developing the area had abandoned their plans because the prison was there, the lawmakers said.

The prison, with its high walls and strict security measures, was at odds with nearby residential buildings and cultural sites, lawmakers said.

The Tilanqiao area in the city's northeast Hongkou District was a haven for Jewish refugees during World War II. It was listed as a city-level historical protected landscape zone in 2008.

During World War II, some 30,000 Jewish refugees fled to Shanghai from their homelands. About 18,000 of them settled in the Tilanqiao area alongside the Huangpu River.

The prison stands among many buildings of historic interest, including the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, and many tourists visiting the area are surprised to find a prison there.

Among them was Li Weiqiang, a tourist from northeast China who was visiting the synagogue yesterday. He said: "How can there be a prison in the downtown business hub?"

Shanghai is the only major city in China to retain a prison in its downtown area.

Tilanqiao Prison covers an area of some 33,285 square meters. Construction of the prison began in 1901 and was completed in 1903.

It was originally built as part of the foreign-controlled Shanghai International Settlement for people convicted by the settlement's consular courts.

Throughout the first 40 years or so of its life, it was the largest prison in the world. It became known as the "Alcatraz of the Orient" and featured in many Chinese movies.

The prison buildings were included in a list of protected structures by the city government in 1994.

If the prison is relocated, how to protect and develop the buildings would be a challenge for the local government.

"It's okay to change the function of the prison for economic development," said a resident surnamed Ni. "But the buildings must be protected," Ni added.

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