Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The Triumph of the Uncanny: Italians and Italian Architecture in Tianjin

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

The Triumph of the Uncanny: Italians and Italian Architecture in Tianjin

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Braving the bitter cold, I travelled more than seven hundred miles back to the old home I had leftover twenty years before. It was late winter; as we drew near my hometown the sky became gloomy and a cold wind blew into the cabin of the boat ... I could not help feeling depressed.

Ah! Surely this was not the hometown I had been remembering for the past twenty years?

The hometown I remembered was not like this at all. My hometown was much better. But if you asked me to recall its peculiar charm or describe its beauties, I had no clear impression, no words to describe it. And now it seemed this was all there was to it.

Lu Xun, My Hometown, 19211


In the year 1900 Italian troops participated in the repression of the Boxer Uprising, during which impoverished local farmers from the northern Chinese province of Shandong, outraged by the Qing Court (1644-1911) and its supine attitude to the Western imperial powers, rose up in armed rebellion.2 In retaliation for their attacks on foreigners in the northern provinces and Beijing in particular-where the foreign legations quarter was under a 55-day siege (which lasted from 20 June to 15 August 1900)-a massive foreign army, known as the Eight-Nation Military Alliance (Baguo lianjun), invaded China. The fighters of the Righteous Harmony Society (Yihetuan), as the Boxers were known in Chinese (although the court originally stigmatised them as Boxing Bandits, or quanfei), were finally defeated on 14 August 1900 as twenty thousand foreign troops entered the imperial capital Beijing. With the signing of the Final Protocol for the Settlement of the Disturbances of 1900 that brought the conflict to an end on 7 September 1901, Italy received 5.91 per cent of the Boxer Indemnity paid by China to the foreign powers, extraterritorial privileges and the concession of a small area of 447,647 square metres on the northern bank of the Haihe River in the nearby city of Tianjin.3

It was here that the Italians developed what became known as the Italian Concession, originally translated in Chinese as the ... (Yi zujie), using the character yi (M/SL, justice, righteousness') to indicate the first syllable of 'I-ta-ly. The Italian Concession was subsequently rechristened the ... (also read: Yi zujie), with yi SL being replaced by the homophonous character yi M, literally meaning idea or intention. Today, in the context of the multiple layers of semantic puns and phonetic serendipity which characterise the Chinese language, another character, H, also pronounced yi, dominates the debate on Tianjins uncanny identity and the biopolitics of urban modernity. The character H indicates alterity or strangeness, and it alludes to something that is uncanny, or out of the ordinary. In the context of Tianjin, H refers to a foreign and alien land (yiyu ...), and ultimately means non-Chinese. H ultimately reflects the citys bifurcated identity: both Chinese and foreign.4 Between 1860 and 1945 Tianjin was the site of as manys nine foreign-controlled concessions that functioned side by side. British, French and American concessions were established in Tianjin in 1860.5 In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Tianjin became a base for the Westernisation movement, and spearheaded the countrys military modernisation and the transformation of its societal infrastructure. This process included the construction of railway, telecommunication, education and legal systems, and the formation of a mining industry. During this time, Tianjin became a major international trading city with shipping connections to all parts of Asia. Between 1895 and 1902 other concessions were ceded to Japan, Germany and Imperial Russia. Even countries that did not yet hold concessions elsewhere in China, such as Austria-Hungary, Italy and Belgium, succeeded in establishing self-contained concessions with their own schools, barracks and hospitals. The concessions covered an area of 15. …

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