Shanghai Splendor: Economic Sentiments and the Making of Modern China, 1843-1949

Shanghai Splendor: Economic Sentiments and the Making of Modern China, 1843-1949

Shanghai Splendor: Economic Sentiments and the Making of Modern China, 1843-1949

Shanghai Splendor: Economic Sentiments and the Making of Modern China, 1843-1949

Synopsis

Rich with details of everyday life, this multifaceted social and cultural history of China's leading metropolis in the twentieth century offers a kaleidoscopic view of Shanghai as the major site of Chinese modernization. Engaging the entire span of Shanghai's modern history from the Opium War to the eve of the Communist takeover in 1949, Wen-hsin Yeh traces the evolution of a dazzling urban culture that became alternately isolated from and intertwined with China's tumultuous history. Looking in particular at Shanghai's leading banks, publishing enterprises, and department stores, she sketches the rise of a new maritime and capitalist economic culture among the city's middle class. Making extensive use of urban tales and visual representations, the book captures urbanite voices as it uncovers the sociocultural dynamics that shaped the people and their politics.

Excerpt

In the century after the Opium War (1839–42), against the backdrop of deeply seated anti-mercantile ambivalence, a middle class emerged and gained social legitimacy in Shanghai. It embraced the pursuit of industrial wealth on the grounds that it would bring material benefits to the nation. It succeeded in framing the discourse of wealth in terms of science while forging an alliance with the modernizing Chinese state. The new wealth was presented, in the first half of the twentieth century, as patriotic, scientific, and democratic. Even though much of the new money was held in the foreign concessions and by networks of mercantile elite with bureaucratic ties, it was argued that private capitalist enterprises contributed to the wealth of the Chinese nation.

This new doctrine of commercial wealth inspired a generation of aspiring youths to prepare themselves in particular skills and to pursue careers in the new economy. The rewards would include a “good life” that brought modern material comforts to the individual and the family. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Shanghai’s image industry and corporate culture worked in tandem to construct the idea of a nuclear family as the locus of emotional bonds and unit of consumption. As for the nation, it was a tacit understanding that what would enrich the nation would also benefit the family, and vice versa.

In the 1930s recession intervened, and the newly fashioned middleclass cultural construct, with its norms of self and work, family and nation, was subjected to severe strain. Virtue and skill at work guaranteed . . .

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