Much of old China has been torn down to make way for the new, so creating maps and descriptions as accurate as possible for 1860 became a major effort in Yankee Mandarin. Towns of a certain size were all enclosed by a high wall of rammed earth faced with stone or brick, typically thirty feet high and twenty feet wide, three to thirty miles in circumference, with a wide moat at the foot of the wall from which the dirt for the wall was taken. Studying present day maps, even Google Earth, one can see in place of the walls that once encircled the smaller old towns there often are busy thoroughfares now, typically called Circle-town Road 環城路, and intersections and nearby villages named for the gates in the old wall, such as East Gate 東門 or South Gate 南門. This turned out to be the case for a number of towns that figure in the story. Many of the old gates have been left standing and today loom over automobiles instead of carts and sedan chairs. In Shanghai, Renmin Lu 人民路 and Zhonghua Lu 中華路 are where the massive wall encircling Shanghai in 1860 originally stood, with its guarded gates, drum towers, and old brick facings. That wall made a nearly perfect circle around the native city – Fletcher called it the omphalos of Shanghai, the middle of all things, the navel of the settlements.
The old gazetteers for district towns also had (highly stylized) maps showing the “appointments” of a typical Chinese town, including yamens for several levels of administration, and the principal temples: the city god, fire god, god of war, water-sprite, and so on. As the yamen of the highest-level mandarin in Shanghai in 1860, called a “taotai,” was a key location, I went looking to see what if anything was left. It was supposed to be inside the SE corner of the wall, near the Greater East Gate. Where the wall was in Shanghai there is now a circular thoroughfare, and the name East Gate still identifies the location of the old gate. So, we started walking in the direction of the old yamen, asking folks along the way, and before long came to Taotai Road 巡道街, and a left-turn onto the small street that faced the location of the old yamen. Across the way, was a huge market, which locals concurred was probably where the old Temple of the Fire God stood, judging from is size, and the similarity of its name to “fire god.”
Indirectly related to the topic are “lost places” in the Yangtze River. Today’s maps show “Bush Island” just east of the entrance to the “Whangpoo” river, which flows north from Shanghai into the Yangtze. British charts from the 1850s, however, show Bush Island west of the entrance, upriver maybe a mile or so. In the past 150 years, the river has moved the island downstream a couple of miles! (More detail in photos can be seen at 200% zoom level.)