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Shanghai Homes

Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life

Jie Li
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Shanghai Homes
    Book Description:

    In the dazzling global metropolis of Shanghai, what has it meant to call this city home? In this account -- part microhistory, part memoir -- Jie Li salvages intimate recollections by successive generations of inhabitants of two vibrant, culturally mixed Shanghai alleyways from the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras. Exploring three dimensions of private life -- territories, artifacts, and gossip -- Li re-creates the sounds, smells, look, and feel of home over a tumultuous century.

    First built by British and Japanese companies in 1915 and 1927, the two homes at the center of this narrative were located in an industrial part of the former "International Settlement." Before their recent demolition, they were nestled in Shanghai's labyrinthine alleyways, which housed more than half of the city's population from the Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution. Through interviews with her own family members as well as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers, Li weaves a complex social tapestry reflecting the lived experiences of ordinary people struggling to absorb and adapt to major historical change. These voices include workers, intellectuals, Communists, Nationalists, foreigners, compradors, wives, concubines, and children who all fought for a foothold and haven in this city, witnessing spectacles so full of farce and pathos they could only be whispered as secret histories.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53817-6
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-24)

    Yeye,¹ my paternal grandfather, always tied a long string of keys to his waist that jangled as he walked. One might think he were the concierge of a grand palace, but the keys merely fitted the many rusty locks on doors, cabinets, and drawers in his decrepit old house. One summer day in 2000, when I was a rising college senior, Yeye unlocked the drawer next to his bed and took out a yellowed, brittle document with transparent tape patching over torn edges. After being unfolded several times, the palm-size booklet expanded into the size of a tabloid newspaper (fig....

    (pp. 25-88)

    In the human sea of shanghai, a home is above all a foothold in the city, a sliver of territory one might claim for oneself and one’s family. Over the past century, the ownership of such territories did not remain static but rather underwent many historical vicissitudes. Mapping out the spaces of two houses and their associated alleyways, this chapter accounts for the changes in their inhabitants, boundaries, and usage from the Republican era through the Maoist and reform eras. Originally commissioned and owned by foreign investors, these homes had hybrid architectural styles that testify to Shanghai’s unique history of...

  8. 2 HAVEN
    (pp. 89-140)

    Chapter 1 treated shanghai homes ashousing, physical territories marked by tangible boundaries—a roof over one’s head, a floor beneath one’s feet, and walls on all sides to shut out the wind. It also discussed home as landed property to which different individuals and families laid claims in the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras. Yet it is not just bricks and concrete that make a place “home,” nor any certificates of ownership or other entitlements to housing as scarce resource or valued commodity. This chapter, by contrast, considers Shanghai homes to be psychological havens grounded in material artifacts, familial...

  9. 3 GOSSIP
    (pp. 141-190)

    The wrinkles around my grandmother’s mouth grow outward from her lips like a chrysanthemum. This is because she pouts so much. She pouts when she eats something delicious and when she eats something unsavory. She pouts when prices rise and when prices drop. She pouts when she hears about somebody’s death and when she hears about somebody’s riches. Waipo’s pout can express both pity and envy; it is a signal of life’s delectability and bitterness. Waipo often took me to visit neighbors and relatives in their alleyway homes, climbing dark rickety staircases and eating half-rotten apples. I don’t remember the...

    (pp. 191-210)

    On a hot august afternoon in 2006, my maternal grandparents and I returned to visit Alliance Lane in the midst of demolition. The stone portal entrance still stood intact, but what lay beyond looked as if a major earthquake or air raid had struck, laying to ruins some houses and leaving their neighbors unscathed.¹ A handful of residents continued about their daily routines—emptying night stools, hanging laundry, or simply cooling themselves in the shadowy side of their alleyway branches. As we approached No. 111, my childhood home, we saw that the roof and the entire front part of the...

  11. CODA
    (pp. 211-214)

    In their old house, in boxes and plastic bags and cloth bundles, Yeye and Nainai kept yellowed newspapers, rusty tools, a bicycle wheel, and fragments of wood bored through by worms. Under the bed, they kept Ovaltine cans and kerosene cans, medicine bottles and rat poison bottles. They kept straw-mat repair kits and sock-fixing threads and milkdelivering carts. They kept leftover cloth from the tailor for clothes that had already been donated to flood relief. They kept dust-covered documents and confessions of impure thought to the authorities. They kept foresights that turned into afterthoughts. They kept overdue hopes that soured...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 215-236)
    (pp. 237-248)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 249-262)