Shanghai: China's Gateway to Modernity.
Examining a century and a half of the history of a large and global city is a daunting task, but few are as immersed in Shanghai as Marie-Claire Bergere. Having written on Shanghai's bustle for almost half a century--and having first visited it in 1957--Bergere is a central figure in the city's historiography. Originally published in French in 2002, this study appeared in Chinese in 2005 and we are fortunate to have it available in English.
Bergere's main concern is the interplay of Chinese and foreign in the unceasing effort to create a modern city. Although a large Chinese city before the arrival of foreign intruders, Shanghai needed both to become what it is today. The study is organized cbronologically, divided into four periods: treaty port, imperialist metropolis, wartime, and People's Republic. These four sections also proceed chronologically, often in narrative structure. Analysis is embedded within the narrative, however, and some chapters are entirely thematic.
The first section explores Shanghai from the arrival of the first consuls to the revolution of 1911, considering not only the establishment of the treaty port, but also the establishment of the treaty port system. Shanghai was the most successful treaty port, largely due to a "Sino-foreign symbiosis" that made the city the model for other ports. Indeed, Bergere takes to task those historians who castigate foreigners for invading China and paralyzing Chinese development. "Such interpretations, widely disseminated since the nineteenth century, result more from the history of current ideologies, political movements, and diplomatic maneuvers than from the history of economic development" (p. 76).
Economic growth enabled social change and the creation of a Shanghai identity, a "kaleidoscope" society because of its mosaic and shifting nature (p. 84). Bergere describes this society in a wide-ranging chapter that includes both Chinese and foreign, wealthy and worker. She also considers the political change implicit within this society that eventually lead to the seizure of municipal power on November 3, 1911, as well as in the acceptance of rule by Yuan Shikai in 1913.
The second section, from the founding of the Republic to the outbreak of war with Japan, reprises some of Bergere's earlier work on the interwar Shanghai bourgeoisie. Yet, she also extends her analysis to include political change, protest, and policy, surveying events in Shanghai as part of broader change, including how the New Life Movement played out locally. She also looks at the rise of organized crime and the emergence of "the Shanghai style" of modernity as apparent in the built environment, literature, and film.
The third section address the extended war era, from the outbreak of second Sino-Japanese War through 1952. Here Bergere details how Shanghainese coped with occupation, isolation, and chaos. She also opens a window on Shanghai's conquest by the People's Liberation Army, from Chiang Kai-shek's raid on the Bund's Bank of China gold reserves through the establishment of a new order, including Communist crackdowns on intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and Christians.
As with the preceding section, part four consists of only two chapters, but these two read as if they were night and day. Under Mao, Shanghai became proletarian, the object of close surveillance given its storied past. Yet, it also became Mao's launching pad for the Cultural Revolution and eventually the base for the Gang of Four. This did not, however, result in Shanghai regaining any of its prewar status. In fact, the era left many Chinese suspicious of the city, and in the reform era discussed next Shanghai initially lagged. This situation of course changed, and in the 1990s Shanghai's national role became clear. Shanghai's renewal occurred in large part due to the endeavors of its residents, but also because of violence in Tian'anmen in 1989 and sympathetic demonstrations in Hong Kong. The party had good reason to give Shanghai its turn, and the focus on the city resulted in major construction projects and the emergence of a spirit at times evocative of the pre-war era.
In the epilogue, Bergere muses about Shanghai's future. Although she recognizes the continuing power of the bureaucracy in China, she is ultimately hopeful, citing China's joining the World Trade Organization as potentially emancipatory as well as Shanghai's history. Bergere suggests that Shanghai represents a "third tradition," one "midway between the mandarinal traditions of Beijing and the compradorial ones of Canton." "Created by a century and a half of vicissitudes," Shanghai's is a "tradition of a regulated westernization adapted to the means and aims of the society that it transforms even as that society transforms it" (p. 439).
Although other authors have written about aspects of Shanghai's history detailed here, none have brought so much together in a single volume. This said, Bergere's hand is, at times, inconsistent. The first half of the study is generally stronger. Despite a detailed discussion of pre-war Shanghai society, for example, there is less on the Shanghai of the PRC. Moreover, at rimes Bergere cannot help but vacillate between national and local history, enmeshing Shanghai's story in larger events. This occasionally renders her focus rather general. However, the book is large, and including maps and illustrations it is accessible to any post-secondary reader. The narrative structure renders it useful as a textbook, and the analyses provide useful starting points for student essays. Given the growing number of courses that focus on Shanghai's history this volume should appear in many university libraries.
Saint Mary's University
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2011|
|Previous Article:||Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan's Imperialism, 1895-1945.|
|Next Article:||Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina.|