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Remaking the Chinese City

Remaking the Chinese City: Modernity and National Identity, 1900-1950

Edited by Joseph W. Esherick
Copyright Date: 1999
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    Remaking the Chinese City
    Book Description:

    In China today skyscrapers tower over ancient temples, freeways deliver lines of cars and tour buses to imperial palaces, cinema houses compete with old theaters featuring Peking Opera. The disparity evidenced in the contemporary Chinese cityscape can be traced to the early decades of the twentieth century, when government elites sought to transform cities into a new world that would be at once modern and distinctly Chinese. Remaking the Chinese City aims to capture the full diversity of recent Chinese urbanism by examining the modernist transformations of China's cities in the first half of the twentieth century. Collecting in one place some of the most interesting and exciting new work on Chinese urban history, this volume presents thirteen essays discussing ten Chinese cities: the commercial and industrial center of Shanghai; the old capital, Beijing; the southern coastal city of Canton; the interior's Chengdu; the tourist city of Hangzhou; the utopian "New Capital" built in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation; the treaty port of Tianjin; the Nationalists' capital in Nanjing; and temporary wartime capitals of Wuhan and Chongqing. Unlike past treatments of early twentieth-century China, which characterize the period as one of failure and decay, the contributors to this volume describe an exciting world in constant and fundamental change. During this time, the Chinese city was remade to accommodate parks and police, paved roads and public spaces. Rickshaws, trolleys, and buses allowed the growth of new downtowns. Department stores, theaters, newspapers, and modern advertising nourished a new urban identity. Sanitary regulations and traffic laws were enforced, and modern media and transport permitted unprecedented freedoms. Yet despite their fondness for things Western and modern, early urban planners envisioned cities that would lead the Chinese nation and preserve Chinese tradition. The very desire for modernity led to the construction of a visible and accessible national past and the imagining of a distinctive national future. In their investigation of the national capitals of the period, the essays show how cities were reshaped to represent and serve the nation. To promote tourism, traditions were invented and recycled for the pleasure and edification of new middle-class and foreign consumers of culture. Abundantly illustrated with maps and photographs, Remaking the Chinese City presents the best and most current scholarship on modern Chinese cities. Its thoroughness and detailed scholarship will appeal to the specialist, while its clarity and scope will engage the general reader.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6412-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Modernity and Nation in the Chinese City
    (pp. 1-16)
    Joseph W. Esherick

    In all developing countries (and many developed ones) there is an intricate dialectical relationship between modernity and national identity. On the one hand, nationalism is very much a product of the modern age, the result of economic and political forces that have made the nation-state the social unit within which a people acquires wealth, power, and international recognition.¹ Modernity and nationalism are inseparably linked. On the other hand, there is always a certain tension between what Clifford Geertz called the “search for identity,” which looks back to history and the past, and the forward-looking “demand for progress.”² This tension is...

  6. Part I: The Modernist City

    • Chapter 2 Canton Remapped
      (pp. 19-29)
      Michael Tsin

      The ordering of space has always been intrinsic to the business of government. Spatial regulation serves to manipulate the visual representation of power, define the site of its application, and enable its circulation.¹ Thus Julius Caesar was said to have wanted change in the form of government to begin with changes in the circus.² More recently, cartography has been an instrument in the hands of European colonial administrators in their quest to remake the world since the sixteenth century.³ In China, the classicZhou liprovided detailed instructions on how to construct a capital city. Arthur Wright suggested long ago...

    • Chapter 3 Hygienic Modernity in Tianjin
      (pp. 30-46)
      Ruth Rogaski

      For Tianjin’s contemporary municipal authorities, the concept of modernity is best captured by two closely related words:wenming, meaning “civilized,” andweisheng, usually translated as “clean.” In its frequent juxtaposition withwenming, however, the meaning ofweishenggoes far beyond clean. It is a word that invokes images of the laboratory and the microscope, the smell of disinfectant, the white-coated authority of the scientist-administrator.Weishengsuggests a harmony of interests between public space and private behavior, presided over by an enlightened and effective government. Aweishengcity is free of odors, dust, and harmful bacteria; its streets are ordered and...

    • Chapter 4 Urban Identity and Urban Networks in Cosmopolitan Cities: Banks and Bankers in Tianjin, 1900–1937
      (pp. 47-64)
      Brett Sheehan

      By the 1930s, modern banks and the bankers who ran them had become recognizable icons of modern, cosmopolitan Chinese cities.¹ Leftist writers such as Mao Dun and the playwright Cao Yu gave bankers a prominent role in their criticisms of urban China. The role of bankers as a specifically urban elite type was nowhere clearer than in Cao Yu’s popular play,Sunrise(1936). In it, Cao Yu paints a tableau of urban elites and the poor they mercilessly oppress. This sordid and cruel city life is set against the wholesomeness of Fang Dasheng, a liberal activist who comes from the...

    • Chapter 5 Railway City and National Capital: Two Faces of the Modern in Changchun
      (pp. 65-89)
      David D. Buck

      Changchun began as a small Qing administrative and commercial town on the Manchurian frontier and became transformed through two Japanese projects to construct modern cities. After a short-lived Russian endeavor, the Japanese South Manchurian Railway (SMR) produced the first modern city at Changchun. Then, following the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932, Changchun became the site of a high modernist national capital city, Xinjing (JapaneseShinkyō, or New Capital). After 1937, Japan’s wars delayed Xinjing’s construction, preventing the completion of many key projects. Still, the Japanese at Xinjing managed to construct the main elements of a futuristic...

    • Chapter 6 Yang Sen in Chengdu: Urban Planning in the Interior
      (pp. 90-104)
      Kristin Stapleton

      When Yang Sen rode through Chengdu’s East Gate in February 1924, the residents were no doubt grateful that Sichuan’s contentious militarists had transferred control of the provincial capital without a repetition of the horrendous street fighting of April and July 1917, when retreating Yunnan and Guizhou troops had terrorized the city, setting much of it ablaze.¹ In the first days of his occupation of the city, Yang Sen showed his commitment to public order by taking inspection tours through the streets and ordering his subordinates to display severed human heads—identified as those of looters—at all major intersections.² The...

  7. Part II: Tradition and Modernity

    • Chapter 7 Tourism and Spatial Change in Hangzhou, 1911–1927
      (pp. 107-120)
      Liping Wang

      For most visitors today, Hangzhou evokes sentimental feelings of a romantic past, where elegant temples, fine pagodas, and carved bridges frame the delicate landscape of rolling hills and are mirrored in the placid water of West Lake. Benefiting from this abundance of classic beauty, Hangzhou enjoys a status that many other cities are trying to establish for themselves—an ideal place for tourism. Like so many other popular tourist destinations in the world, Hangzhou’s attraction rests upon a combination of the seeming purity of its natural beauty and its presumed timelessness. It seems natural to speak about Hangzhou in terms...

    • Chapter 8 Defining Beiping: Urban Reconstruction and National Identity, 1928–1936
      (pp. 121-138)
      Madeleine Yue Dong

      The year 1928 marked a watershed in Beijing’s history; some even compared its impact on the city to the shock of the Boxer Uprising 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 without interruption for centuries, Beijing had grown used to all the privilege that dynastic-capital status brought it. With the city’s well-being symbolizing the legitimacy of imperial rule and national power, the government and residents of Beijing had long taken for granted appropriating national wealth for local use, so...

    • Chapter 9 Building a Dream: Constructing a National Capital in Nanjing, 1927–1937
      (pp. 139-158)
      Charles D. Musgrove

      Sixteen years before the Guomindang stripped Beijing of its capital status, Sun Yat-sen, the party’s founder, had advocated the construction of a “model capital” at Nanjing.¹ In 1912, Sun Yat-sen argued that new Nanjing would become an exemplar for the modern China to come, combining modern technology and materials with the best of Chinese architecture and aesthetics. In its modernity, the capital would be clean and efficient, offering the latest in technological conveniences. It would represent “the nation in its forthcoming glorious rejuvenation.”²

      Meanwhile, the new capital of China would hearken back to the “time of her greatest past glory,”...

  8. Part III: City and Nation

    • Chapter 10 Wuhan’s Search for Identity in the Republican Period
      (pp. 161-173)
      Stephen R. MacKinnon

      The republican history of the tri-city complex of Wuhan illustrates well the tension between the themes of modernity and national identity that frame this volume. Although the tri-city was largely unplanned as a whole, it included an economic center in the bustling port of Hankou, which pursued economic and cultural modernity through commerce and became a railroad terminus early in the century. Across the Yangzi River, Wuchang, while clinging to the urban morphology of the traditional administrative capital, led in the search for national identity. Thrice—in 1911–1912, 1927, and 1938—Wuchang succeeded in thrusting Wuhan to the center...

    • Chapter 11 The City as Nation: Creating a Wartime Capital in Chongqing
      (pp. 174-191)
      Lee McIsaac

      The national government’s announcement in the fall of 1937 that Chongqing would serve as one of its alternate capitals during the War of Resistance against Japan drew that city almost overnight from the margins of China’s national politics and culture toward its center. Throughout most of the republican era, Sichuan had remained largely independent of central government control. After coming to power in 1927, the Guomindang government used a variety of measures to increase its own power and influence there, but these were mostly ignored by the local militarists who controlled the province through a garrison system. It was not...

    • Chapter 12 Locating Old Shanghai: Having Fits about Where It Fits
      (pp. 192-210)
      Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

      It is no simple matter for a Shanghai specialist to respond to the collection of historical snapshots of different Chinese cities provided in the preceding chapters. One reason it is so difficult, ironically, is that the snapshots in question fit together so well. When taken as a whole, they give the reader a compelling vision of a coherent urban landscape—a vision that puts in effective relief many of the basic features of Chinese cities (as places) and Chinese city life (as a genre of experience) during the republican era. The problem this creates for someone who works on Shanghai...

    • Chapter 13 New Chinese Cities
      (pp. 211-224)
      David Strand

      In the early twentieth century, Chinese variously described the modern city, epitomized by Paris, Chicago, and Tokyo, as “contemporary,” “foreign,” “developed,” “urbanized,” “civilized,” “modern” (literally, new-style), “hygienic” (as discussed by Ruth Rogaski in chapter 3), or simply “new.” A 1924 article about the lower Yangzi River city of Nanjing, describing the city four years before the planners profiled by Charles Musgrove arrived (see chapter 9), depicted a place caught in “a time of transition between old and new”:

      In historical and geographical terms, Nanjing was the cultural, political and military center of southeast China. Everyone knows that. . . ....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 225-244)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 245-250)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-272)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 273-274)
  13. Index
    (pp. 275-278)