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Horseracing, Matchmaking, and COVID-Health Code

Evolution of Urban Public Space in Central Shanghai (1862-present) 

Ma — The Horse, Mother, Code, and Question Mark  

The People’s Park dominates the heart of Nanjing Road in Shanghai, constituting one of the world’s busiest commercial streets. Built on the former location of the British-established Shanghai Race Club (SRC), the imprint of the rounded racetrack is still visible on maps (Figure 1). British-style horseracing has a notable history in Shanghai, and its popularisation has facilitated the flourishing of the prestigious central area in Shanghai and its surroundings, which allowed its successive prosperity as a business district. It also accelerated the city’s urbanisation and the formation of a modern public space. However, the development of SRC largely remains unrevealed to the public since this architecture has been targeted as the hotbed for imperialism in pre-modern China. In 1952, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) transferred SRC into the People’s Park and Square, marking the emancipation and the beginning of a nostalgic and unexpected new chapter of the site, which has become the base of the most famous matchmaking corner in China since 2005, and has been digitalised and assigned with a unique QR code in 2022, blended with historical memories and challenges of the times.  


Starting in 2005, People’s Park has become the meeting place for the resurgent matchmaking event known as the Shanghai Matchmaking Corner (SMC), where parents, mostly middle-aged mothers, gather regularly on weekends to find a marriage partner for their unmarried children.[1] Matchmaking, as a classical method of marital arrangement in ancient China, has become a tradition that continues to be practised since its origin.   

In this section, I scrutinise the causality of the matchmaking corners, a gender-sensitive space, employing Sara Ahmed’s theory of ‘orientation’, interprets the role exchange between mothers and daughters through Luce Irigaray’s conception of women as the ‘sexed object’ and the intertwined relations of this public urban space with the Chinese society. Through problematising the human-animal proximity in architectural history, I demonstrate that the Chinese lives in intensive competition, like the racehorses. Boys and girls in China have been educated by their guardians in their youth that study is the most important thing and the only thing they should concentrate on before adulthood. As they grow up, parents want these young men and women to find someone who matches perfectly in all aspects, from biological features to familial and educational backgrounds, as soon as possible. Nevertheless, this process is never that easy, in which women are in a passive and more brutal circumstance than men or should be standardised like a racing game when humans are decomposed into data and treated as racehorses. 

From 1 April to 1 June 2022, Shanghai went through the first provincial lockdown after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, adopting the Health Code System (HCS) and a series of other restrictive rules for public health surveillance. The HCS runs on two of the most widely used Chinese social media apps, WeChat and Alipay. All dwellers must obtain a personalised QR code through the app to certify their health status by regularly taking the lateral flow test.  Resulted in three colours: red, yellow and green, the green one is the most desired, which indicates the negativity of Covid and signals the freedom of movement, whereas a yellow code means self-isolation from 7 to 14 days, and a red one is a mandatory 14-day quarantine in an allocated space.[2] Moreover, having a yellow or red code equals not being infected; the HCS works as an alarming system that selects from the test’s result and the user’s travel history. If one has been to an area that has diagnosed cases or been in contact with someone who has been indeed or potentially infected, the result of the code will be affected.  

The HCS was an immediate creation of the epidemic’s burst two years ago. Shanghai issued a new code with the most up-to-date policy in April 2022 of the Site’s Code, requiring citizens to scan it as they enter a public space.[3] The personal code functions as a passport that one needs to show for inspection, however, the site’s code commands people to declare their health to the place. This innovation of the HCS serves the ultimate purpose of controlling public health while the level of supervision draws a closer connection between a site and a person. Thinking anthropomorphically, the Site’s Code is its personal health code that records the visitor’s information, determines the architecture’s health status. The People’s Park has its Site’s Code, in which counts numerous, including every major facility, for example, the Tea Room. Therefore, urban architecture and infrastructure have been transformed and attached to the value of cyberspaces where the barriers between humans and nonhumans have been reduced and all creatures and objects carry their digital doppelgangers. 

The architectural reform of this site differs as time changes, and the three critical subjects each link to an epic event. The three subjects are homonymous in simplified Chinese and written with many identical strokes. They are paired bilingually (with the pronunciations) as the horse 马 (mǎ), the mother 妈 (mā), and the code 码 (mǎ). The shape of 马 repeats three times, and indeed, it is also the focus of the dissertation that initiates the argument of the relation between humans and nonhumans, and concludes, as the conclusion of this project is titled 吗 The Question Mark: Past and Future.  

This study is anchored on the souled animal; the equine is a diverse species with distinct indicative meanings in Chinese culture. Different components constitute various meanings as the horse 马 being invariable, for instance, having the female 女 (nǚ), the character the mother 妈 is engaged with femininity. However, composed with the side of the stone 石 (shí), it has an extended meaning of stubbornness as the stone is mainly impenetrable, which might have foretold the companionship of the Health Code with the Chinese will not soon disappear. Having the component of the mouth 口 (kǒu) also means access and openness, adding the horse as the other half, the question mark 吗 (ma) ends the discussion with further questions about the continuity of the evolution of this urban public space as the city and city dwellers grow while technology and ecology are iterating, and in what direction it may go or must go. 

Figure 1. The area of Shanghai Race Club, circled on the Shanghai city map.    Source: Scr

Figure 1. The area of Shanghai Race Club, circled on the Shanghai city map.  

Screenshot from Google Maps, May 2022. 

[1] Yang Yijun, ‘A marriage made in the city park’, China Daily USA, 30 May 2011, 

[2] Fan Liang, ‘COVID-19 and Health Code: How Digital Platforms Tackle the Pandemic in China’, Social Media + Society 6, no. 3 (July-September 2020): 1–4, 

[3] Meiqing Jiang,‘“Scan and Go”, Starting From 5 April, Shanghai Implemented the “Site’s Code” and Other Epidemic Prevention Methods’ [4月5日起 “扫码通行”, 上海推行“场所码”等防疫措施], Eastday [东方网], 1 April, 2022,   


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