THE CITY AND THE MODERN
In his interpretive reading of the Shanghai publishing culture in the opening chapter of this volume, Leo Lee tackles the problematic of Chinese modernity. He examines the production and consumption of print culture in Shanghai from the late Qing through the 1930s, and identifies a mode of urban modernity at the popular level that linked the project of intellectual enlightenment to the rise of a new style of urban life.
It was in Shanghai, Lee argues, that Chinese modernity was born. This modernity was the product of a print culture launched in the first decades of the century by a handful of Westernized publishing houses. The new publishers sought to call into being a new Chinese nation at the same time as they defined a new reading public. Propelled by the wheels of commerce, this print-mediated modernity was subsequently transformed into a popular culture of images and styles that, according to Lee, "do not necessarily enter into the depth of thought but nevertheless conjure up a collective imaginary" in the visual culture and surface glamour of urban life. Shanghai modernity thus connected an elitist project of enlightenment
Shanghai modernity, by Lee's descriptive analysis, was operative on at least two different levels. It encompassed, as the publishing enterprises of the Commercial Press suggest, a conscious effort by an emerging class of professional writers, editors, publishers, and translators—cultural mediators and interpreters in a broad sense—to map out a new system of intellectual categorization and construct a new genealogy of knowledge. This project of enlightenment was the product of complex dynamics of cultural encounters between China and the modern West. It was instrumental, within the Chinese context, both in the opening up of the spatial horizon that let in the outside world and in the celebration of a Western-engineered material culture of machines, gramophones, moving pictures, neon lights, steamboats, trains, automated vehicles, and telegraphs—the energy, dynamism, light, and power of sheng, guang, dian, hua that concretely altered everyday experiences with time and space.
A second dimension of Shanghai modernity concerns, in Lee's analysis, the collective surfaces and the semiotics of daily life—the daily practices that became a desired way of life for a growing number of urbanites in the 1930s. Modernity, in this sense, was epitomized by the commercially produced images of modern women that adorned, for example, the cover pages of pictorial magazines such as Liangyou. The open circulation and public display of these images, often based on photographs of real individuals, featured realism as well as glamour. These women, shown to combine classic charm with a Westernized touch and depicted in a variety of styles of clothing, further introduced into daily life a dress-consciousness that was indexed, Lee observes, to a functional division of domestic versus public spaces. The commodification of the female images not only was part of a larger commodification of daily practices that extended to a consciousness of interior decoration and furniture but was the most tangible expression of modernity as consumerism.
Modernity at this collective, popular level, as Lee shows, did not necessarily have much to do with ideas, knowledge, reflection, or understanding. As the product of the commercial packaging of a whole way of life (whether concerning the rise of the nuclear family, the discovery of childhood, the attention to personal hygiene, the near obsession with individual well-being, or the renegotiation of gender boundaries between men and women), these mechanically reproducible images were not only the medium of advertising but also themselves products of a commercialized print culture for visual entertainment.
Commerce and commercialization do not in themselves, one might argue, produce conditions of modernity; otherwise we might be obliged to discover modernity in the urban culture of, say, Kaifeng and Hangzhou during the Song dynasty. Nor is modernity simply a function of enlightenment, whether in the form of a recategorization
In his discussion of Shanghai modernity, Lee emphatically rejects the conventional bifurcation that opposes "tradition" and "modernity." Instead, he sees "tradition within modernity" and points to the poster calendars of the 1930s as tangible artifacts of this modernity. Two sets of time markers—Chinese and Western, lunar and solar, traditional and modern—invariably came together on Shanghai poster calendars of this period. The coexistence of the dual marking systems suggests how a modern scheme of temporal organization has been inscribed on the traditional and vice versa. Even as the Shanghai urbanites timed their comings and goings to the ticking of the mechanical clock, they also punctuated their seasonal temporal rhythm with the observation of religious festivals and communal holidays. Time was simultaneously "emptied," with the value of each unit of time seen as being equal to the others in a commodified scheme of exchange, and "charged," with no two moments endowed with the same significance derived from custom and faith. Chinese modernity, in Lee's conclusion, was far from a simple break with the Chinese past.
To sum up, several points stand out in Lee's characterization of Chinese modernity. First of all, it was embedded in an urban-based print culture responsive to the logic of the marketplace. Furthermore, it was by no means exclusive of a continued involvement with the Chinese past, either in content or in form. It was tangible in its celebration of a new form of material culture—the utility rather than the rationality of science and technology. It was about a new scheme of demarcation of space, private as well as public, and a new coding system of time, socially as well as culturally. Finally, it was the product of a commodified culture of consumption that had profoundly changed the semiotics of everyday practices at the popular level.
The full revisionist implication of Lee's approach is thrown into sharp relief once it is set against the established historiography on the May Fourth Movement, even though Lee himself does not engage in this comparison. The May Fourth Movement, in this established view, has often been presented as a moment of cultural iconoclasm and intellectual enlightenment. It has often served, in historical writings produced in English as well as in Chinese, as the point of initiation in a
By naming Shanghai instead of Beijing as the birthplace of a new culture and by focusing on styles and images instead of ideas and ideologies, Lee has outlined an alternative to the conventional view of Chinese modernity. Implicit in his approach is the argument that modernity was about business rather than politics, the quest for a good life rather than a just society, the transformative capacity of private enterprises rather than collective action. Modernity came into being not by the committed break with the past effected by a handful of the awakened mobilizing themselves for revolutionary politics, but as the sum total of the daily practices by ordinary people going about their business as publishers and readers, advertisers and consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs, and so forth. Modernity was about the material transformation of everyday life for the hundreds of thousands, rather than the organizational mobilization of an elitist few for a well-articulated cause.
Lee's implicit critique of an interpretive tradition that privileged the political over the economic, the ideological over the imagined, as the agents of Chinese modernity is further developed in chapter 2 by Sherman Cochran, who offers a close examination of the marketing and advertising practices of the new drug business of Huang Chujiu (1872–1931), the founder of Shanghai's Great China-France Drug Store and a leader of the city's New Medicine Trade Association.
Huang was a resourceful entrepreneur and a self-made man who built one of Shanghai's largest new medicine businesses from scratch. His two leading products, Ailuo Brain Tonic and Human Elixir, were both indigenous formulas that pretended to be imports. The drugs offered unproven medicinal benefits. Huang promoted them nonetheless as inspired, cutting-edge Western cures for age-old Chinese ailments and built a major enterprise out of their sale on the basis of marketing prowess. He put together a distribution system featuring scores of franchised outlets in central and south China, and promoted sales with vigorous advertising campaigns, both in print and on the radio. His advertising team churned out tens of thousands of calendar posters featuring close-ups of modernized city women who nonetheless maintained traditional poses of modesty and compliance. These poster images of "beauties" (meiren) followed the set formulas masterminded by a handful of artisan painters (e.g., Zheng Mantuo and Hang Zhiying) and were routinely executed with minor variations by a hired team of studio painters. The machine-reproduced copies of these drawings were then liberally distributed throughout middle Yangzi townships and cities. With the relentless push of their merchandising operations, Cochran shows, private entrepreneurs such as Huang Chujiu contributed significantly to the transformation of the visual culture at a popular level that reached well beyond Shanghai's urban boundaries.
Cochran's essay raises important questions about the outer reach of Shanghai's commercialized culture of modernity. What, for instance, was its capacity either to transform or form the foundation of a whole way of life beyond the city? What about the urban-rural dichotomy and the socioeconomic gap between the coastal cities and the inland villages, so well developed in left-wing Chinese social criticisms of the 1930s that they were accepted as incontestable points in subsequent Chinese historiography? Cochran's essay strongly implies that these issues deserve a careful reexamination.
While Cochran analyzes the transformative dynamics of Shanghai and challenges the rigidity of the rural-urban dichotomy, in chapter 3 David Strand reconsiders the major attributes of modern Chinese cities and explores the making of an urban China. What, Strand asks, was the meaning of the "urban" in places beyond Shanghai? Was there an urban network in Republican China that facilitated the flow among cities? Strand draws attention to Lanzhou, the northwestern center of camel-caravan trade and the spot marking the geographical center of China. By the 1930s, Lanzhou was linked to Shanghai by cross-continental railroads that cut across several regions and connected other major stops, including Nanjing, Guangzhou, Beijing, and Wuhan. The railroad lines, along with telegraph wires, printed media, and paper currency, helped to engender a heightened sense of connection among cities and between urban China and the rest of the country. With these means of communication in place, separate cities supplied a common perspective derived from interactive and circulating publics, movements, markets, and models of reform.
But even as Lanzhou's prosperity showed its ties to distant markets and its dependency on the regional as well as the national economy, there was, Strand argues, no national urban network that patterned itself after a hierarchy. What the material connections and mobility among the cities had promoted was, first of all, a mental picture rather than a physical reality of city life as one of continuous and simultaneous activity. The "conscious," "systematic" use of urban China referred, therefore, less to a realized vision and more to a cultural or polemical artifact of processes that were no doubt diffuse and uneven. There was, on the one hand, metropolitan Shanghai, busily keeping pace with other urban centers around the world. There were, on the other hand, cities that revealed a "counterfeit localism" as they projected the appearance of keeping up with the coastal urban complex. Too many factors, ranging from a reality of unevenness imposed by political upheaval, staggered treatyport openings, and the vagaries of global economic change to the progressive modernization of transport, intervened to permit the configuration of a hierarchically patterned urban system within the national boundary.
Strand, then, departs from the Skinnerian model of an urban hierarchy of late imperial Chinese cities. He problematizes the conventional bifurcation of the local versus the global and the rural versus the urban, and redefines the cities as nodal points of an ongoing relationship of exchange—of reciprocal patterns of interaction involving merchandise, population, images, and ideas.
Modernity in Strand's conception is not, however, only about a cosmopolitan way of life or a technology-powered form of material culture that distanced the country from the city. It is also about the organizational power of the state and the technology of control. The private entrepreneurs and the urban consumers described by Lee and Cochran shared time and space with a municipal administration of bureaucrats and technocrats, engineers and planners, who take center stage in Strand's discussion. Strand's essay thus not only raises new questions about the role of the modernizing city in modern Chinese politics—the classic issue that had concerned Weber in a different context—but also draws attention to questions of power, technology, and the darker side of modernity.
In his earlier work Strand has shown that the late imperial Chinese city "supplied a tradition of self-management of urban society and a sense of balance between state and society that encouraged costeffective approaches to urban problems." After the turn of the century, amid the gathering social crises, modernity "provided an impulse to mobilize and deploy resources beyond the limits imposed or assumed by the old urban order and in ways that were both creative and destructive." All three sectors of municipal politics—the city administration, the trade and professional associations, and the urban labor force—were profoundly affected by this new condition. The workers discovered a new form of power through populist movements, while the urban professionals gained new means to facilitate the formation of social networks. Among the municipal administrators, meanwhile, there emerged in the 1920s and 1930s a statist ideology that looked toward bureaucratic initiatives and technological means to regulate public life and to reform urban society. This new ideology was accompanied by the creation of new institutions that enabled such changes to take place from above.
The central theme of Republican civic politics, in Strand's view, was thus not the democratization of municipal polity but the rise of municipal administrative absolutism. The rise of the modern city could not have failed to assert an overall liberalizing effect on Chinese political system. However, the liberalization went only so far, as municipal administrators resisted central government authority and strove to operate with a higher degree of municipal autonomy. The rise of the city thus led to a decentralization of political power. But while urban political participation and state building both picked up momentum in the first half of the century, Strand believes the development of electoral institutions and representative assemblies lagged behind after the early republic. In fact, the peak of institutional commitment to elections and assemblies in Shanghai may have come in 1909 under Qing reformers. The Republican trend in municipal governance, in contrast to that of the late Qing, was toward a less accountable, more authoritarian administration. If there were any particular trajectories in modern Chinese political life to be spoken of, they surely did not follow a pattern of linear progression, nor did they ever take the form of democratic liberalization of civic politics.
Strand's essay defines the nature of Republican polity from the perspective of municipal governance. In chapter 4, which continues the discussion of technology
In a direct challenge to one of the most basic assumptions in the revolutionary paradigm, Kirby argues that in the longer perspective of a larger history, the twentieth century is better understood as a century of global industrialization rather than permanent revolution, of international technology rather than international communism, of the "Tekhintern" rather than the Comintern. In the case of China, the early Republican years witnessed the birth of a transformative Chinese state that would be the leading agent of industrialization. In policies as well as in political vision, technology and industrialization were at the heart of the nation-building strategy of the Nationalist government during the critical decade of relative peace, 1928–1937. The young Chinese Republic, following an ambitious blueprint of "national reconstruction" laid down by its revolutionary leader Sun Yatsen, sought to erect a state-of-the-art modern national capital, electrify the country, dam the Three Gorges, tie the country together in networks of railroads, motor roads, and even air routes, and build overnight China's heavy industries. It emphasized the nurturing of a pool of technocratic talent. Driven by a self-imposed expectation to guide and manage the nation's industrial transformation "scientifically," it also organized its governmental agencies, allocated its economic resources, set its educational agendas, and forged its collaborative relationships with advanced industrial nations accordingly, all on the basis of the nation-building tasks thus defined.
Despite the right-wing social effects of many of its policies, the Nationalist government, according to Kirby, was thus the first modernizing Chinese state to plot out the integrated economic and industrial development of a reunified China, and was the institutional and even ideological forerunner of its socialist successor, which later featured the world's largest Soviet-style economic bureaucracy. The Nationalists, to be sure, observed a form of "mixed economy" in public and private ownership of industrial projects. They also used the state industrial planning agencies more for bureaucratic regulating, technological advising, resource allocation, and dealmaking than for downright state ownership. Nonetheless, they shared with their Communist foes and successors comparable practices in large areas of economic and industrial policy, ranging from planning, standardizing, engineering, zoning, funding, and allocating to technology transfer and control over joint enterprises. Both regimes placed a high priority on China's industrial military self-sufficiency and displayed a firm determination to achieve this goal as soon as possible.
The prime movers of this Republican vision of industrial modernity were neither ideologues nor activists but engineers and bureaucrats of elite background and advanced Western technological training. These men's political standing and work conditions, Kirby shows, were far more dramatically affected by the century's
Several key points inform Kirby's overall argument, which lays the foundation of a new interpretive framework. First, it locates the sources of China's long-term transformative capacity in visions of industrial modernity rather than in strategies of socialist revolution. It sees continuous state formation and nation building, rather than continuous revolution, as the more significant trends in twentieth-century Chinese political history. It draws attention to policies and institutions rather than politics and movements, and highlights the role of total warfare rather than total revolution as the agency of enduring social change. Above all, it challenges a simpleminded opposition between the Nationalists and the Communists, thereby sketching the outlines of an alternative historical narrative that breaks the constraints of the revolutionary chronology.
Kirby and Strand both draw attention to a modernizing elite that did little to liberalize China's political system. By the intellectual tenets of the 1930s, science and politics were not expected to mix. Indeed, it was almost imperative for the Western-educated technical bureaucrats of the National Resources Commission to detach themselves from political concerns in order to safeguard the "purity" of the agency's technical expertise and scientific rationality.
But the politics of these newly emergent urban entrepreneurs and professionals was clearly a factor of critical importance in Republican politics. Richard Madsen in chapter 5 and Helen Siu in chapter 6 each take up this same question from a different set of perspectives.
Madsen's essay, which devotes considerable attention to French Jesuit missionary activities in north China, considers the educational formation of a key sector of Tianjin's industrial and commercial elite—those individuals of affluent family background who acquired their technical training in engineering and business in the Catholic Gong Shang College (L'Institut des Hautes Etudes Industrielles et Commerciales de Tientsin).
The French Catholic founders of Gong Shang College, according to Madsen, had two goals in mind for the school: to train French-speaking Chinese managers
It came as no surprise, then, that the Jesuits of Gong Shang College were quick to collaborate with the Japanese once the War of Resistance broke out. Most of the students went along with it, and Gong Shang alumni came to occupy key positions in Tianjin's financial, industrial, and commercial enterprises in the 1940s. The implications are clear: professional training under the auspices of the French Jesuits had prepared middle-class Chinese youth well for positions in the ranks of the city's businesses and industries. Their exposure to a Western curriculum, however, did little to either prepare them for active engagement in public affairs or challenge old-fashioned regard for hierarchy and community. Indeed, Jesuit respect for church hierarchy buttressed rather than vitiated established Confucian habits vis-à-vis paternalistic authority, communal bonds, and social subordination.
The merchants of the Pearl River delta were no more engaged in Republican politics than Tianjin professional elites, says Siu, although for a different reason. Siu examines historical records concerning merchant groups in the delta in the Ming and Qing and concludes that leading merchants in those years "were able to create vigorous dialogues with the state by engaging in a language of orthodoxy. The dialogues took place in the local arenas of lineage, temple, guild, and academy." Siu takes issue with the stereotypical characterization of the merchants as apolitical, and she presents them as critical linchpins in communications between the country and the city, between the center, the region, and the locale. As adherents of orthodox cultural practices and as participants in rituals as well as festivals in late imperial China, the merchants mediated between the urban-centered political culture of the imperial bureaucracy and the village-based popular practices of the locale. They were cosmopolitan in cultural outlook and political visions within the Chinese context.
Things changed, however, after 1900. On the margins of the delta and from the fringes of the rural society there emerged a class of local bosses who did not mind realizing their goals through the use of brute force and sheer violence. This took
Mercantile cultural cosmopolitanism of maritime China, in Siu's analysis, rose in tandem with the decline of the sovereign power of the old continental empire. The Republican merchants in the Pearl River delta, unlike their Ming and Qing predecessors, were no longer facilitators of communications up and down the imperial hierarchy via orthodox cultural practices. They became, instead, vectors of new cultural norms as well as agents of differential rates of social change. They were drawn to the Nationalist government and local society, Siu observes, in vastly different but equally intense ways. The challenge that they faced in the twentieth century was thus in part a challenge to construct a new language of the nation-state that accommodated merchant interests, and to create alternative territorial bonds that attached local regions to the Republican state. Neither set of tasks, however, was satisfactorily accomplished. Republican merchants thus found themselves ungrounded in the Chinese political universe despite their cultural cosmopolitanism.
The essays discussed above focus our attention on the activities of a broad spectrum of the urban educated across the country. These included the publishers and advertisers (Lee), the private entrepreneurs and consumers (Cochran), the municipal planners and administrators (Strand), the engineers and bureaucrats (Kirby), the managerial and industrial experts (Madsen), and the mercantile elites (Siu). These individuals built railroads and industries, developed commercial networks, transformed styles and mentality, planned cities, and dreamt up a modernized Chinese nation.
Their daily activities, whether at work or at home, transformed the physical landscape, the material foundation, the institutional framework, and the technological arrangement of modern Chinese lives. Yet with the exception perhaps of the municipal administrators mentioned in Strand's essay, few of these elites appeared to have developed strong commitments; nor did they appear to have taken it upon themselves to articulate a new set of social or cultural values.
This is certainly not to suggest that urban-educated Chinese in the Republican years were simply apolitical or morally unconcerned. It does, however, raise questions about culture and politics in the context of Chinese modernity. Specifically, Madsen's essay notes that the acquisition of modern technical knowledge bore little relevance in challenging the authoritarian and hierarchical nature of Chinese social relationships. Similarly, Strand's essay suggests that blueprints of industrial modernity facilitated rather than discouraged the rise of a municipal form of administrative absolutism. Kirby's essay hardly encourages the hope that highly