THE famous Pengpu Night Market in north Shanghai’s Zhabei District, shut down last November, was relocated and opened again in Baoshan District in late September in a regulated two-floor plaza where each vendor has a fixed shop.
The move has again prompted many people to think about how to regulate a market without causing a loss of its unique street charm.
A city that never sleeps, Shanghai is famous for its nightlife. This includes not only the sparkling bars and clubs but also the ghetto seats and incredible crowds on the street after midnight. Almost every district has some kind of night market, and most were not set up in any organized way by organizations.
“Night markets are part of ordinary people’s life. There is a need,” says Gu Xiaoming, a retired professor from Fudan University. “They are where the local lifestyle is kept, and maybe authorities can find a way to register and regulate the vendors so that we can still have the night vendors while making sure they clean the place.”
Sanitation is a big problem. These night marts are usually close to dense residential areas or key commercial areas. They often start with just a dozen or so vendors who smell a business opportunity. As the business grows, many more vendors are attracted and sometimes it will grow into an entire market with hundreds of vendors, such as the Pengpu mart.
Some markets consist of only street snacks, while others are famous for shopping — from clothing to stationery — usually much cheaper than in the shops and even cheaper than buying online. Of course, the quality cannot be guaranteed.
“Night markets are the most amazing thing in this city,” says Nick Lindberg from South Carolina in the United States who’s been in the city for about five years. “You can get anything at any time of the day, as long as you go to the right place. I was completely impressed the first time I visited (Xiangyang Road). The night markets are usually quite dirty and chaotic, but it doesn’t matter. That’s part of its charm!”
The Pengpu Night Market, which used to hold nearly 400 vendors, sold a mix of products, including clothes, shoes, CDs, accessories and, of course, street food. It was considered one of the most popular of its kind in the city. At its peak, vendors occupied and blocked entire streets, and public buses had to change their routes at night. Those who live nearby had long complained about noise and trash.
Authorities had tried many times and in many ways to regulate the market that was formed by individual vendors with no management. Last November, it was shut down permanently.
It is very difficult to regulate night markets, and urban management officials found the most effective means was to put obstacle bars on the streets.
The new Pengpu market is in a commercial plaza in Baoshan District, where each vendor needs to pay rent and meet sanitary and security standards regulated by the market’s management. The plaza’s management says about 80 percent of the vendors came from the old Pengpu market. Traffic at the new market, however, is far less than at the old one, and some visitors complain about it being “too neat.”
“It doesn’t feel like a night market anymore,” says Zhu Li, a veteran visitor to the old market who came to explore the new one. “I’m quite disappointed. The vendors are the same, the taste might be the same, too. It’s a bit more expensive and I can understand that, but somehow it’s not as fun. I liked it better when it was very chaotic, but I also understand it would really bother those who live in the area. I wouldn’t have wanted such a market in my neighborhood.”
Many other vendors from the old Pengpu market moved to the night market on Changshou Road, a new and growing downtown hot spot. It is also a mixed market with both food and other products, and is especially famous for selling cheap women’s clothes.
In August, a few pictures of young women getting topless and changing on the street were circulated around, showing how chaotic the mart was. More than half of the vendors come out after 11pm, depending on when the urban management officials take patrol. The area, on the boarder of Jing’an and Putuo districts, is becoming increasingly attractive to vendors because they can easily hide in the other district when officials come.
“It is most crowded around 1am and 2am, much later than other night markets, since there are lots of entertainment venues here,” says Ah Qiu, who sells dresses at an average price of 40 yuan (US$6.50). “People will always need cheap vendors like us, especially in a city like Shanghai, where everything is getting more expensive.”
The street is filled with KTVs, nightclubs, Internet cafes and massage places, which usually close at 1am or 2am. Those establishments’ employees and guests are the major customers of the mart.
“I used to set up at the Hongkou Football Stadium, but the officials had been cracking down very seriously, so I moved here last year,” says Ah Qiu, who used to sell stationery and accessories. “My hometown friend has a spot here, and she told me it’s best to sell women’s clothes, because most of the customers are women.”
Other popular night markets in Shanghai
• Zhaozhou Road
The street, not too far from the high-end Xintiandi, easily reminds one of how the city looked years ago. Filled with small eateries, the street is often considered a late-night breakfast street, as many shops sell breakfast material such as cifangao (fried rice dough), sweet or salty doujiang (soybean soup), youtiao (fried dough), wonton, or noodles.
The unnamed shop on the street corner is especially popular among cab drivers, who like the taste of salty soybean soup with dried shrimp, for which they are nostalgic as it is hard to find such dishes in the city anymore.
The nearby Dongtai Road is where everything from socks to hairpins can be found.
• Shouning Road
The street first became famous as a crayfish street, and has now grown into one of the best-known night snack streets in the city. Customers can get crayfish and barbecue at the same place, while accessories, clothes, stationery, and other goods are sold by vendors at the beginning of the street.