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

By Wen-Hsin Yeh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Clock and the Compound

A major landmark on the Shanghai waterfront was the giant clock above the Maritime Customs House. Made in England and an exact copy of Westminster’s Big Ben, it sat at a height of ten stories atop the customs building, its four faces visible to all who approached the Bund. The largest clock in Asia at the time, it chimed the quarters and hours just like its London counterpart. More than the jazz concerts in the riverside park, the fog horns on the water, or the clamor rising from the streets, it was the chimes sounding from the Customs House that set the tone for Shanghai in the first half of the twentieth century.1

The clock was prominent in Shanghai, where, more than anywhere else in China, large timepieces could be seen atop buildings at schools, banks, factories, hospitals, department stores, train stations, and so forth. And with the clock came timetables and schedules. On Nanjing Road clock makers and watch dealers occupied a prized place in the midst of jewelers, tailors, opticians, hatters, and fabric dealers. To belong to the modern crowd of mechanized and powered mobility, it was necessary to accept punctuality as a virtue. To take part in the modern sector of the economy, time had to be experienced as standardized measurements that synchronized and structured the rhythm of life.

The clock was less audible, to be sure, where Shanghai’s urban boundaries dissolved into rural hinterland, and in the places where tramways, buses, trains, steamships, and telegrams did not reach. This does not mean that without the clock communities would not have formed certain com-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Material Turn 9
  • Chapter 2 - The State in Commerce 30
  • Chapter 3 - Visual Politics and Shanghai Glamour 51
  • Chapter 4 - The Clock and the Compound 79
  • Chapter 5 - Enlightened Paternalism 101
  • Chapter 6 - Petty Urbanites and Tales of Woe 129
  • Chapter 7 - From Patriarchs to Capitalists 152
  • Epilogue - The Return of the Banker 205
  • Notes 219
  • Bibliography 259
  • Glossary 285
  • Index 293
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