The curious architecture of this shikumen made us ask a lot of questions. A neighbor explained that it used to be a district hospital. He pointed out that each door still has a little square window with a latch.
Medicinal topic resonates with the name of this lane – Wangyima Nong – that is one of the oldest streets in Shanghai, known since the middle of the 13th century.
According to one source, a certain Wang (王) was a veterinary doctor (yi 医) specializing in treating horses (ma 马); he lived here in the Song era and evidently was famous for his skill. Horses were used primarily for official dispatches, so it is no surprise that Wang's practice would be so close to the seat of government (magistrate's yamen) and the city temple. (There is another horse-related street nearby – Stable Lane, or Mayuan Nong 马园弄.)
There are many beautiful shikumen houses on Wangyima Nong:
This house used to be called 勤庐 (Abode of Diligence). The elephant (symbol of an illustrous official career) is furnished with other traditional elements: a square vase on its back is a homonym for peace. It contains an evergreen plant (long life). Three halberds in the vase on the right invoke rapid promotion; the vase on the left also contains something significant that I can't quite decipher yet. A protruding hexagonal object under the elephant – was it a place for a lantern? The four-character phrase is 聿修厥德 from Confucius: "Cultivate yourself to amass virtue."
The door apron on the right has an image of a vase (stands for peace) and a crab (stands for harmony).