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Chapter One Introduction The Moral Excellence of Loving the Group
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Native-Place Divisions in Shanghai: The Surface of City Life

In late-nineteenth-century Shanghai more than half the population was made up of immigrants from other areas of China, and distinctions along lines of regional identity were reflected everywhere in city life. Language separated immigrant groups, as did varying ethnic traditions, differences in the organization of daily life and preferences in the choice of marriage partners. There were also regional divisions in urban geography, religious expression, the organization of trade, education and welfare, and even the organization of social control and social unrest.

Regional groups were not just distinct but unequal. Native-place identities helped structure socioeconomic and to some extent gender hierarchies in the city. These hierarchies corresponded to the economic power of different sojourning groups. At the peak of regional and occupational hierarchies were people from Zhejiang, Guangdong and southern Jiangsu province. The stature of a given sojourner community depended on the power of its elites, because workers (in terms of sheer numbers) dominated nearly all sojourning communities. Immediately after the opening of Shanghai as a treaty port, Guangdong merchants rose quickly through involvement in foreign trade. By the 1860s, despite Guangdong and Jiangsu competition, Zhejiang sojourners dominated


the critical banking, shipping, and silk sectors. Considerably lower in the Shanghai native-place hierarchy were people from Shandong, Hubei, and northern Jiangsu (Subei), regional communities with weak elites and whose non-elite members were often unskilled laborers in Shanghai. As Emily Honig points out, the appellation Subei ren "was a metaphor for low class." Even today Subei people are avoided as marriage partners by Shanghainese.[20]

Language was the first marker of native-place differences, separating new immigrants from other residents in the city. Even after generations of common residence in the city, distinct and frequently mutually unintelligible dialects made communication among different immigrant groups uncomfortable at best and often impossible. According to a description published in 1917,

Shanghai is a mixed-up place of people from many regions, the languages are numerous and jumbled and cannot be carefully enumerated. We can generally divide them into categories: 1) Guangdong speech—foreigners came north from Guangdong to Shanghai, therefore Guangdong people are powerful. 2) Ningbo speech—Ningbo borders the sea and opened relatively early; Ningbo people also came to Shanghai first. 3) Jiangsu people's speech—the hosts. 4) Northern speech—wealthy merchants, traders and actors from Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Shaanxi.... 5) Shanghai local speech ... [but] aside from the areas south and west of the city wall where there are pure locals, speech has continually changed and so-called Shanghai vernacular is usually a mixture of Ningbo and Suzhou speech; not the same as before the opening of the treaty port.[21]

As late as 1932, the Shanghai writer and astute social observer Mao Dun commented on the lack of a functioning common language among working people in Shanghai. After conducting an investigation among Shanghai workers to see how people from different places communicated with each other, he concluded that after eighty years of immigration into the city, Shanghai had no common language. He found instead


a minimum of three emerging types of "common speech." The first type used Shanghai local dialect as a basis, with an admixture of elements of Guangdong, Northern Jiangsu (Jiangbei) and Shandong dialects. The second used Jiangbei dialect as a basis, with liberal additions of Shanghai and Shandong phrases. The third was a kind of Shanghai-accented northern speech, with similar admixtures from other dialects. The "common language" used in any given location depended on which native-place group predominated. For people who spoke other native dialects, he observed, this meant that any communication in the "common language" would be necessarily crude and limited in vocabulary.[22]

People from different parts of China tended to live in different neighborhoods, or "small cultural enclosures," in the description of a recent study of Shanghai popular culture.[23] Ningbo people in Shanghai lived in the northern part of the Chinese city and in the French Concession. Guangdong people lived in the southern part and southern suburbs of the Chinese city, and in several distinct neighborhoods in the International Settlement. Jiangxi people were concentrated in Zhabei, to the north and west of the International Settlement. Poor immigrants from northern Jiangsu settled first in shack districts along the banks of the Huangpu and in growing tenement areas, especially in Zhabei, that were referred to as "Jiangbei villages."[24]

These residential divisions were complex and often overlapping, reflecting different areas of settlement for workers, as opposed to wealthy sojourners or resulting from different immigrant waves. Although the


intricacies of residential divisions and subdivisions make them difficult to trace on a map, they were present in the minds and daily experiences of Shanghai residents. Newspapers commonly referred to areas such as Hongkou as Cantonese, or, similarly, to "the Fukien part of the suburbs." Specific roads were identified by the native place of their inhabitants. According to Zhan Xiaoci, son of the Quan-Zhang Huiguan director, Zhan Ronghui, sojourners from the Minnan dialect area of southern Fujian lived around Yong'an Road and East Jinling Road. In the words of Hu Xianghan, whose description of Shanghai neighborhoods was published in 1930, North Sichuan, Wuchang, Chongming and Tiantong roads were "just like Guangdong"; Yanghang Road, outside the small east gate of the Chinese city, was "just like Fujian." Prior to the renaming of many streets in the Communist era, a number of Shanghai street names were named for native-place associations which built them or were located on them, or for their Guangdong, Fujian or Ningbo sojourner inhabitants.[25]

Because of residential overlap and the needs of trade, people from different native areas might do business together at the same teahouse. Nonetheless, the regional types—to the extent of body shapes and sartorial differences—were easy to distinguish, even for the foreign observer: "An experienced eye readily detects in the crowd that peoples the teashop, the visitors from the different cities which have dealings with Shanghai and the man who is at home. We see Soochow men, Shantung men in their warm hoods, both contrasting with the spruce Cantonese or the man from Hangkow or Kiukiang."[26]

Shanghai architecture, like Shanghai street names and neighborhoods, reflected the influence of different native-place groups and the presence of native-place associations. As Shanghai housing strained to accommodate the growing population, there was widespread construction of simple adjacent houses along Shanghai alleyways (lilong ). Among the several types of lilong housing were the "Guangdong-style


residences" (Guangshi fangwu ), relatively simple two-story buildings which grouped three to four residences together in an entryway. Such homes were concentrated in the Hongkou area (an area known for its Guangdong population), where they housed workers, peddlers, and other low-income people.[27]

The continuous construction and renewal of buildings housing native-place and trade associations provided visible reminders both of the permanence of regional organization within the city and the unequal power of specific regional groups. In post-Opium War Shanghai and in many other cities, the headquarters of wealthy associations were the most imposing buildings in the city, encrusted with gold-painted carvings, often with wood or special construction materials brought from the native place. British visitors to Shanghai in the 1850s found the larger huiguan more impressive than Chinese government offices. In contrast, weaker sojourner groups often lacked the funding to establish even rudimentary buildings. Subei sojourners, for example, had no association hall in the nineteenth century and therefore lacked a crucial symbol and organizational trait for developing identity and community.[28]

Although the care employed in the construction of huiguan distinguished them from the unenthusiastically built government offices, they resembled these offices in both architectural form and function. Self-conscious expressions of the wealth and power of their communities, the grandeur of these buildings and their formal resemblance to the county and circuit yamen expressed also their function as governing centers for their sojourning populations. The architecture of the city attested to what Van der Sprenkel described as two loci of government in Chinese cities, the official (stemming from the yamen ), and the unofficial (stemming from associations like huiguan ).[29]

Huiguan buildings incorporated the great walls, gates, multiple courtyards, halls, side offices and gardens of the official yamen style, and


Figure 1.
Yamen architecture. Source: Tongzhi Shanghai xianzhi (Tongzhi-
reign Shanghai county gazetteer) Shanghai, 1871.

also features of temples, notably altars for their local gods and stages for theatrical productions (see Figures 1 and 2). In this composite architectural form they embodied both secular and spiritual authority for their communities.

The spatial and architectural effects of regional communities did not function only to divide the city. Although residential patterns and architecture marked native-place differences in the city, the fact of immigration and the presence of small Guangdong, Ningbo, Fujian and Jiangxi areas in the city in a sense made Shanghai into a miniature of all of China. Even as immigrant groups maintained their own customs in the city, their common presence concretized the diversity of China in one locality, making the larger polity more conceivable. Huiguan buildings, mostly grouped together around the old city and the eastern commercial areas, suggested not simply difference but also—in their common form—a certain Chinese universality. Although the ornaments and furnishings of different huiguan reflected the tastes and materials of their native places, there is a certain irony in the fact that (for all their regional specificity in function and culture) in architectural form all huiguan were


structurally similar. In this sense, once again, huiguan present the curious paradox of containing both provincial and universal aspects.

Native-place identity was frequently worked out on the streets, on the docks and in factories, where tensions emerged among economically competing groups. People from different regional backgrounds were often involved in fights. Native-place ties also organized or subdivided Shanghai gangs. Guangdong gangsters backed up Guangdong merchants on the street. The Subei gangsters Jin Jiuling and Gu Zhuxuan recruited followers through the native-place association they directed.[30]


Figure 2.
Huiguan architecture. Source: Huitu Shanghai zazhi
(Shanghai pictorial miscellany) Shanghai, 1905.

Major social conflicts could also reflect native-place community and organization. There were, for instance, two major "Ningbo Cemetery Riots" when, in 1874 and 1898, the French attempted to build a road through a Ningbo burial ground. In the Revolution of 1911 as well as in the great nationalist social movements of the twentieth century, the May Fourth Movement and the May Thirtieth Movement, native-place associations were responsible for the mobilization of their fellow-provincials.

Similarly, native-place divisions were critical to social control. Both Chinese and foreign authorities held native-place associations responsible for the actions of their fellow-provincials. Chinese and foreign courts also routinely referred cases back to fellow-provincial associations. The severity of punishments meted out in Chinese courts could also vary


according to the native place of the offender. A foreign observer noted in 1868, for instance, that "the heavy bamboo is only used on very bad Characters or Cantonese."[31]

Distinctive native-place cultures were reproduced through a variety of social institutions and practices. Education was frequently organized by native-place groups, a practice which reinforced and perpetuated differences in dialect and custom. Guangdong children went to Guang-dong schools; Ningbo children went to Ningbo schools; Fujianese attended school at the Quan-Zhang Huiguan (Quanzhou and Zhangzhou prefectures).

Native-place identity was vigorously defined through cuisine, an enormously significant area of cultural articulation in China. Chinese guides to Shanghai written in the late Qing and Republican period abound in descriptions of regional cuisines and characterizations of the types of people who ate each sort of food. Restaurant location and the relative importance in Shanghai of a regional cuisine depended on the prominence of sojourners from that area. The principles underlying the distribution of Shanghai restaurants are explained by Wang Dingjiu, editor of a 1937 guide entitled The Key to Shanghai (Shanghai menjing ), in a, section entitled, "Key to Eating":

Shanghai commercial power has always been divided between two major groups, Ningbo and Guangdong.... Although the power of Guangdong people is not as widespread as that of Ningbo people, their strength is still considerable. The three famous department stores, Yong'an, Xianshi and Xinxin, all are headquarters of Guangdong merchants. Thus the Guang-dong restaurant trade, in recent years, has become extremely well developed....

Because Anhui people are most numerous among the clerks in the Shanghai pawnshop trade, on the streets where there are pawnshops there will always be one or two Anhui restaurants to serve the appetites of their tongxiang . Thus [the existence of Anhui restaurants] is in direct proportion to the existence of pawnshops....

There are many Ningbo people sojourning in Shanghai and they are extremely powerful ... [but] the taste of Ningbo food is not congenial to most people. Therefore, aside from Ningbo and Shaoxing customers, people from other areas don't welcome it.[32]


Rather than cultivate cosmopolitanism, most Shanghai residents preferred when possible to eat their own native-place cuisine. By the 1930s Shanghai guidebooks encouraged the development of somewhat more experimental tastes, and observers reported that Guangdong food (and occasionally Sichuan food) had become fashionable. This was achieved, apparently, only with strenuous promotion on the part of entrepreneurial chefs who wooed local palates. According to one account, although Guangdong restaurants were physically attractive, most Shanghai residents found them too expensive and, moreover, could not understand the ornate food names on their menus, with their references to "phoenix claws," "tigers," "dragons" and "sea dogs." Beginning in the 1920s the Guangdong Xinya restaurant on Nanjing Road added to its menu sauteed shrimp, a popular Jiangsu dish, thereby luring Jiangsu people inside. Although guidebooks admitted that Cantonese food tasted good and could be enjoyed even by non-Cantonese, this was not the case for other regional cuisines. Anhui restaurants, for example, languished economically because they were unable to attract a large clientele. Not only was Ningbo cuisine feared by nonnatives, but those who walked unaware into the restaurant of another regional group risked poor treatment: "If you try Ningbo food make sure you go with a Ningbo person. The price will be less expensive and the quality better. If you go as an outsider they will cheat you."[33]

Native-place tastes and affectations were equally pronounced in the "flower world" and "willow lane." The lore of Shanghai prostitution suggests regional recruitment and organization, with different euphemisms, prices and practices associated with prostitutes from different regions. Wang Dingjiu introduces Shanghai brothels in much the same manner as his account of Shanghai restaurants:

Shanghai is a great marketplace ... and it is also a marketplace of sex. The many brothels are convenient for travelers and stimulate the market. Thus prostitution and commerce are intimately related.... Since there are so many sojourning Ningbo merchants in Shanghai, Ningbo "temple disciples" [euphemism for prostitutes] have a special position in the prostitute world.... When non-Ningbo people hear the speech of Ningbo girls they get gooseflesh and shiver. But they suit Ningbo appetites. Thus the customers of Ningbo prostitutes are mainly their own tongxiang .[34]


Prostitutes were ranked imaginatively in a native-place hierarchy. According to a guide to Shanghai, Suzhou women dominated the most expensive grade of prostitutes, called chang-san . Suzhou women were also considered most beautiful. The next rank of Suzhou prostitutes were called yao-er . Ningbo prostitutes, whose quality and ranking were between the two levels of Suzhou brothels, were called er-san . Prostitutes from Guangdong were divided into two categories, a high-class "Guangdong prostitute" (yueji ) and the lower class "salt-water sisters" (xianshuimei ). These latter were unique in that they catered exclusively to foreigners. Each regional group brought its own local brothel tradition. Ningbo prostitutes wore different clothes and served different delicacies than did Guangdong prostitutes. Although higher-priced prostitutes of different groups all sang pieces from Beijing opera, they specialized in the songs and opera of their native place.[35]

The example of prostitution points to the importance of native-place identities as a classificatory scheme in the minds of Chinese urban residents. As Christian Henriot has demonstrated, in contrast to the insistence of Shanghai writers on the existence of a strict regional hierarchy, the regional organization of prostitution was an ideal which was only partially maintained in practice. Economic conditions and recruitment channels were such that the largest number of prostitutes came from places near Shanghai. The numbers of Cantonese and Ningbo prostitutes were small compared with the size of their communities. Because of widespread recognition of the beauty of Suzhou women (and perhaps because exoticism was an asset in the realm of sexual desire) Shanghai elites showed more cosmopolitan tastes in this area, patronizing the higher-class Suzhou prostitutes, whether or not the clients themselves were from Suzhou. Such cosmopolitanism could nonetheless reinforce native-place distinctions, real and fictional.


Non-Suzhou women cultivated Suzhou accents in order to command higher prices.[36]

Theater, like cuisine and like "the flower world," reflected different regional styles and aesthetics. The existence of different regional operas in the city—Anhui, Suzhou, Guangdong, Shaoxing, and Beijing styles, to name a few—and the location of many opera performances in huiguan suggest not a common theatrical experience but a divided one. Open-air performances did not exclude nonnatives and were surely enjoyed by many urban residents who were simply attracted to the excitement. But insofar as native-place communities sponsored performances of their regional operas, these performances reflected the "face" of specific native-place groups in the city.

Urban religious practices also marked group boundaries, dividing the Chinese urban residents of Shanghai into separate communities. Different native-place groups identified with different deities, different locations for religious observances and somewhat different festival calendars. Even when different communities shared gods, they commonly had different temples. For example, sojourners from coastal, seafaring areas, especially along China's southeast coast, worshipped the goddess Tianhou. People from the adjacent southeastern provinces of Guang-dong and Fujian could come together for an occasional large-scale procession for Tianhou, but normal Tianhou worship was regionally subdivided: "Each Shanghai huiguan has built a Tianhou altar for worship and burning incense. Her birthday is on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. [For several days at this time] each huiguan has opera performances.... But the Jiangxi Huiguan only has a celebration [in the eighth lunar month], since Jiangxi is a linen-producing region. In the spring the merchants are in the production area buying goods. They wait until the market is slack, and use this time for [their devotion to] the god."[37]

In addition to worship of particular, regionally identified gods and regionally identified calendars, Chinese urban religious practice in


Shanghai involved the differential practice of common festivals and a common calendar. All Chinese in Shanghai observed the common holiclays of the Chinese lunar calendar—among these the Chinese New Year, Qingming (the day of sweeping graves), and Duanwu (summer solstice). But how the holidays were celebrated—what individuals did, ate, or said on such occasions—varied according to local customs. For example, native-place tastes resulted in different styles of zongzi (leaf-wrapped steamed rice delicacies eaten at the time of the Duanwu holiday). Zhejiang-style zongzi are small and contain meat or red beans in addition to rice. Guangdong zongzi (considered faulty by Zhejiang and Jiangsu natives) are larger and contain a wider variety of stuffings mixed together—salted duck egg, yellow beans, sausage or chicken. Even to-Clay these local differences are a matter of regional pride and a means of emphasizing regional identity.

Qingming, the day on which families ritually swept their ancestral graves, could only have served to reinforce geographic differences. Native Shanghainese and people from areas close to Shanghai traveled to their family burial grounds in the outskirts of the city or in nearby villages. Sojourners from distant areas were drawn instead to their native-place cemeteries and coffin repositories in Shanghai.

The practices of everyday life in Shanghai suggest a number of observations about the possible ideas of identity and community available to Shanghai residents. It is important to consider and distinguish three obvious levels of territorial identity: native-place, urban (Shanghai), and national (Chinese) identity.[38] Most obviously, dialects, religious observances, culinary differences, and the presence of huiguan , native-place schools and other institutions in the city provided the sources and practices which defined native-place identity in the city. This potential basis for individual self-definition and collective community was experienced in the context of other, larger, bases for community and self-definition.

In addition to marking native-place identity, the quotidian habits of Shanghai residents provided sources for feelings of common Chinese identity. This becomes very clear in the context of holiday customs. Although differential New Year or Qingming practices heightened aware-


ness of distinctive regional identifies, the common lunar calendar entailed the simultaneous celebration by all Chinese residents, sojourners and nonsojourners alike, elites and non-elites, of important festivals at intervals in the year. The obvious observance of common holidays by Chinese residents—contrasted with the equally obvious nonobservance of these holidays by the foreign residents in the city—highlighted a shared Chinese identity. Although it might be argued that the ideological connections between sojourner communities and China were elite constructions not shared by non-elite sojourners, daily religious practices provided an obvious source for non-elite constructions of common Chinese identity.

The question of a specifically Shanghai identity is more difficult.[39] As suggested earlier, the act of sojourning and the location of sojourners in Shanghai were crucial in providing sources for Chinese identity, both because sojourners moved beyond their localities and confronted a "China in miniature" in Shanghai's diverse Chinese population and because in Shanghai sojourners confronted foreign concessions and foreigners in a semicolonial framework. Residence in Shanghai brought Chinese into daily contact with foreigners and with the indignities of foreign privilege and foreign jurisdiction over Chinese soil. Because of these features of the city, and although the urban location was crucial, the subdivision of Chinese residents into native-place groups and the semicolonial context (which created a greater and more absolute division between Chinese and foreigners) worked together to minimize the development or expression of a common cosmopolitan, specifically urban, Shanghai identity among sojourners.

Aside from common residence in the city, it is difficult to pinpoint specifically urban practices which might provide a basis for the formation of Shanghai identity, prior to the development of a Shanghai municipal government in 1927. Although customary religious observances at times took place on a citywide scale, these celebrations did not convey a specifically urban meaning. The locations of specific festivals in hui-


guan , in native-place cemeteries, or in temples associated with specific regional groups divided Shanghai space into local territories for ritual purposes. The varied regional opera performances in the city reflected the lack of a common urban cultural style.[40] Although the foreign municipal councils of the concession areas busily constructed municipal edifices—monuments, grand avenues and government buildings—there were no competing Chinese municipal spaces—city halls or public squares—to spatially represent Shanghai identity.[41] Sojourner associations did not take part in the Shanghai city-god procession. Processions expressing specifically municipal consciousness originated in Shanghai with the foreign-concession governments and their habits of public military drilling and fire-brigade parades. These foreign demonstrations of prowess in municipal government were fled to the nationalistic sentiments of the foreign powers; each used its municipal accomplishments in Shanghai to demonstrate the superior institutions of its nation.

The presence of such displays of national power, manifested through municipal institutions, had a crucial catalyzing effect on Shanghai's Chinese residents. Their response was self-defensive participation in these foreign parades and institutions, as a matter of Chinese identity and national pride (see Figure 3). Such participation, and such expressions of Chinese identity in the last decades of the Qing, occurred in the context of organization by native-place and (occasionally) trade group. Although such moments reinforce the coexistence of native-place and Chinese identity, they do not provide evidence for common Shanghai identity.


The organization of the habits of everyday life similarly facilitates reflection on sources for the development of identity on the basis of economic class. Well into the Republican era, regional divisions engendered social divisions which developed together with and helped constitute class divisions. Neighborhoods often expressed regional and occupational identity more clearly than class identity. Although, as noted earlier, mention of certain native-place identities suggested class positions (Ningbo was high; Subei was low), most native-place groups encompassed a class hierarchy within their communities. Restaurants similarly were differentiated by regional cuisines rather than by the economic capacity of their clientele. Within one building many restaurants offered food at a variety of prices—inexpensive dumplings or noodles in a common room on the ground floor; medium-priced food on the second floor, and elegant banquets in private rooms on the top floor.[42] This gustatory model of all classes together (but arranged hierarchically) under one sojourning native-place roof serves as a metaphor for the nested social layers of the broader urban regional communities.

The foregoing discussion of sources for group identities contextualizes the working out of native-place identity in the city. Native-place identity was articulated in relation to (and often in combination with) other available sources of identity, territorial and economic. The boundaries of perceived or operational community at any given moment would depend on the situational context. There was nothing in native-place identity which necessarily precluded the development of other forms of community. The ways in which native-place identity intersected with people's experiences of their national or economic positions would, however, help to shape both the development of nationalism and class formation.

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