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Republican Beijing

Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories

Madeleine Yue Dong
With a Foreword by Thomas Bender
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 403
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  • Book Info
    Republican Beijing
    Book Description:

    Old Beijing has become a subject of growing fascination in contemporary China since the 1980s. While physical remnants from the past are being bulldozed every day to make space for glass-walled skyscrapers and towering apartment buildings, nostalgia for the old city is booming. Madeleine Yue Dong offers the first comprehensive history of Republican Beijing, examining how the capital acquired its identity as a consummately "traditional" Chinese city. For residents of Beijing, the heart of the city lay in the labor-intensive activities of "recycling," a primary mode of material and cultural production and circulation that came to characterize Republican Beijing. An omnipresent process of recycling and re-use unified Beijing's fragmented and stratified markets into one circulation system. These material practices evoked an air of nostalgia that permeated daily life. Paradoxically, the "old Beijing" toward which this nostalgia was directed was not the imperial capital of the past, but the living Republican city. Such nostalgia toward the present, the author argues, was not an empty sentiment, but an essential characteristic of Chinese modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92763-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Thomas Bender

    The modern city is not only a locale of social difference; it is marked by a “complex overlap of temporalities.” A generation ago, Fernand Braudel insisted on “the plurality of social time,” speaking of the “many-stranded and contradictory notions of time in the lives of men, which make up not only the substance of the past but the very fabric of social life in the present.” Perhaps because he offered such a powerful example of the importance ofla longue duréein his great book,The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II(1949; English edition,...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    “Old Beijing” (lao Beijing) has been a subject of growing fascination in contemporary China’s capital since the 1980s. While physical remnants from the past are being bulldozed every day, making space for glasswalled skyscrapers or high-rise apartment buildings (talou), nostalgia for the old city is booming. Unable to rebuild the city walls that were long ago torn down, and unable to preserve the close relationships among neighbors that were characteristic of communities in the old city, those who yearn for “old Beijing” may find some comfort in the dozens of local snack foods and entertainment performances of that era that...

  7. PART ONE The City of Planners

    • CHAPTER 1 From Imperial Capital to Republican City
      (pp. 21-53)

      In 1925, Sun Fuxi, a writer, returned to Beijing by train after having been away for five years: “Having passed the Fengtai station, the train hurried up impatiently, speeding like a snake chasing light. I held my breath and could not help feeling drawn to Beijing’s indescribable power. . . . In an ocean of green I saw from afar the brick city walls, buildings with yellow tiles, and red walls emerging on top of the waves of leaves. I could tell that this was Zhengyang Gate; this was the Forbidden City and all.”¹ Sun’s impression of the city was...

    • CHAPTER 2 Power: The City and Its People
      (pp. 54-77)

      The Republican government’s effort to transform the imperial capital was not simply a matter of liberating a dormant, pent-up desire for mobility harbored by Beijing residents. Instead, the new axiom of mobility’s benefits needed to be promoted and at times even imposed upon residents whose shops, neighborhoods, or livelihood lay in the path of the trolley tracks and steamrollers. Behind the city government’s demolition of physical barriers to mobility, both within the city itself and between the city and the world beyond, was a new vision and form of urban planning that tackled Beijing in its entirety, interjecting state involvement...

    • CHAPTER 3 Tradition: The City and the Nation
      (pp. 78-102)

      The year 1928 marked a watershed in Beijing’s history; its impact was compared by some to the shock of the Boxer movement in 1900.¹ The city was seriously challenged by the central administration’s move to Nanjing after the establishment of the national government. Having monopolized the position of capital city uninterruptedly for centuries, Beijing had grown used to all the privileges derived from its dynasticcapital status. Since the city’s well-being indicated the legitimacy of imperial rule and national power, the government and residents of Beijing had long taken the freedom to appropriate national wealth for local use, so much so...

  8. PART TWO The City of Experience

    • CHAPTER 4 Production: Beijing in a New Economic System
      (pp. 105-141)

      In his 1919 social survey of Beijing, Sidney Gamble observed, “Other cities in China point with pride to the modern factories which they have established, but Peking has little industry that is efficient and on a modern basis. . . . The principal examples of modern industry are the telephone company, the electric light company, water company, match factory, glass factory and government uniform factory.”¹ Beijing’s modern industry grew little during the whole Republican period. A 1930 survey of workers’ unions listed an electric company, match factory, and water company, with the only recent addition being the printing industry, which...

    • CHAPTER 5 Consumption: Spatial and Temporal Hierarchies
      (pp. 142-171)

      The variety and number of businesses increased in Beijing during the Republican period, leading to a proliferation of commercial establishments in both old and new styles. There were forty professional organizations and 4,541 shops in the whole city in the years between 1909 and 1911.¹ By 1935, a Japanese survey listed ninety-two professions and 12,000 shops.² Commercial districts, rather than political institutions, became the central factor determining the city’s spatial organization. The pace of consumption accelerated. All goods, not just vegetables and sewing thread, were expected to be available, not on a seasonal or weekly basis, but with daily regularity....

    • CHAPTER 6 Recycling: The Tianqiao District
      (pp. 172-208)

      During the 1920s and 1930s, “guang Tianqiao” (wandering around Tianqiao) was one of the most exciting activities for many of Beijing’s residents. Some travel guides published in those years listed Tianqiao under the category of “tourist attractions” along with ancient pagodas, imperial palaces, and newly opened parks. One of the guidebooks even pronounced that “it will be one’s greatest regret if one comes to Beijing from afar but does not have a glance at Tianqiao.”¹ But Tianqiao was distinguishable from the imperial relics that attracted tourists, for it was seen as the best example of “modern society.”² In the words...

  9. PART THREE The Lettered City

    • CHAPTER 7 Sociology: Examining Urban Ills
      (pp. 211-245)

      From a distance, Tianqiao would appear to illustrate some of the serious problems facing Republican Beijing: poverty, prostitution, and crime. In fact, this was the picture of Beijing drawn by Chinese and Western sociologists who studied the city in the 1920s and 1930s and sought to diagnose Beijing’s ills and recommend treatment. The voluminous scholarship left by them depicted the lives of people who were ignored in other records. But they did not simply expose the dark side of Beijing life; more importantly, in analyzing the causes of the city’s social problems, they introduced their own ideas of the public...

    • CHAPTER 8 History: Recording Old Beijing
      (pp. 246-265)

      The two and half decades covered by this book were in many ways a defining period when the way in which Beijing was written about underwent essential transformations. During the Republican period, the numerous publications on Beijing were distinctly new in format and content. The amount of energy expended on these publications testifies both to the importance the city held for the authors and to an intensification of the urge to document and narrate the city’s experiences. The tremendous volume and evident sense of urgency of these writings provide an array of layered and rich materials for cultural analysis. This...

    • CHAPTER 9 Literature: Writing New Beijing
      (pp. 266-296)

      Beijing was a city that inspired strong emotions. In addition to the volumes of writings on the city produced by the older generation of scholars, hundreds of essays about the city were written by the “new intellectuals.” At first glance, the new intellectuals’ writings, especially those written after the mid-1930s during the Japanese aggression and invasion, appear just as nostalgic as those of the old-style Beijing scholars. But a closer look reveals that their sentiment was not directed toward the same things or for the same reasons. Although they also strongly identified with Beijing, they did not share the almost...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 297-308)

    Republican Beijing, despite its imperial structures, was definitively a modern city, especially if modernity is understood, as discussed earlier in the introduction, to be a condition of existence structured by largescale capitalist industrial production in an integrated world characterized by bureaucratic nation-states and a people’s consciousness of and actions to define their position in this integrated world. Beijing underwent fundamental transformations in the early twentieth century in its political system, social structure, economic life, spatial organization, and cultural image. Many aspects of the city that would be considered old by the end of the twentieth century were in fact new...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 309-344)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 345-364)
  13. Index
    (pp. 365-380)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-381)