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

By Wen-Hsin Yeh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Petty Urbanites
and Tales of Woe

In the 1930s, a new group of writers began contributing to the pages of Shanghai’s journals and magazines. Consisting of shop clerks, office workers, trade apprentices, business trainees, elementary school teachers, and so forth, these were individuals whose formal education had ended before university, but who were working in jobs that required literacy. They found their public forum in the left-leaning journals, to which they contributed autobiographical accounts of personal circumstances. By and large, these authors recounted tales of hardship. They suggested preoccupations with the economic problems of the era and evoked an atmosphere of insecurity and fear.

There was hardly anything new about shop clerks and trade apprentices complaining about their anxieties (see chapter 5). The “ku,” or bitterness, in their lives was clichéd and proverbial. It was part of the normative expectation that success in business, whether in the sense of material accumulation or upward mobility, be predicated upon a capacity to “eat bitterness (chiku).”

But the descriptions of suffering in the 1930s broke new ground, both in their portrayal of the nature of their problems and in the medium of telling. Unlike the stories told in an earlier time, these accounts had little to do with violence or physical abuse. They were not about the kicking or beating of rickshaw pullers or bonded maids, nor about the undernourishment or mistreatment of teenage employees. The stories were told in the first-person voice with the narrative subject placed within his

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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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