The Short March

Greg Girard for TIME

Locals sell produce outside the gates of one of Songjiang's new developments.

On a cold, gray afternoon a year ago, I stood on the deck of our newly purchased, half-constructed house about an hour outside Shanghai, wondering what, exactly, I had gotten myself into. My wife, a Shanghai native, and I had moved back to China from New York City in the spring of 2004, and 21⁄2 years later we had decided to take the plunge. We bought a three-story, five-bedroom townhouse way out in the suburbs, in a town called New Songjiang, a place that was then — and remains now — very much a work in...

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