Mirror wars' that reflect badly on residents' community spirit

A stroll along a peaceful downtown alley reveals two old-fashioned residential buildings with an eye-dazzling display of dozens of mirrors hanging from their walls, throwing beams of winter sunlight against each other.

But don't mistake this scene for some quaint old Chinese art form, for despite tranquil appearances, these are actually the "weapons" in a "mirror war" that has raged for more than two years among residents in a Shanghai complex on Panyu Road.

Privacy issues and Chinese superstition form the backdrop to a dispute that began in 2008 when a 30-year-old man decided to install reflective glass windows on his seventh-floor balcony in No. 30 Building.

But that meant residents in the opposite block, No. 24 Building, could see theirs and their neighbors rooms reflected back whenever they opened their curtains.

One No. 24 Building resident, surnamed Liu, claimed that the reflective glass intruded upon his daughter's privacy.

For if Liu or his neighbors looked out of their windows they could see right into the girl's bedroom in the mirrored glass opposite.

"My daughter is a high school student now, I don't want other people watching her daily life," said Liu.

But after months of complaints to the complex's neighborhood committee produced no response, Liu decided to retaliate in kind.

He bought four 1-meter-high mirrors and installed them on the outer wall outside the window of his daughter's room, reflecting back to the opposite building.

Liu said he wanted residents opposite to experience "life in a mirror" too.

This triggered the "mirror war" as other households living in No.30 Building were now affected by the dispute, and fought back.

Chinese superstition is invoked as the battle has escalated. According to traditional beliefs, hanging a mirror can ward off misfortune, as it reflects bad luck and demons back to where they came from.

But if a person hangs a mirror opposite a house, it is signifying that household is ill-favored, and is reflecting its misfortunes and demons back at it.

Influenced by this superstition, many households began regarding people in the opposite block as "demons" and hung charms -  including tiny mirrors, scissors and even broomsticks - which are believed to ward off evil spirits.

Now as the blocks have become festooned in mirrors, scissors and broomsticks, neighborhood committee officials are seeking a solution, but no one is prepared to back down.

According to an official, the man who first fitted the reflective glass has said he will never remove it as he has not broken any laws. He blamed Liu for damaging public property by installing mirrors on the outer wall of his block.

In turn, Liu told Shanghai Daily that he would remove the mirrors only if the reflective glass opposite no longer encroached on his privacy.

Other residents said they would do the same if someone made the first move.

In the meantime, the "mirror war" is becoming another Shanghai attraction, with many people coming to see it.