Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010

By Carol Benedict | Go to book overview

8
The Urban Cigarette and the Pastoral Pipe:
Literary Representations of Smoking in Republican China

The socially and spatially differentiated smoking habits outlined in the preceding chapter were part of a growing urban-rural divide in China that by the 1930s “was palpable and real.”1 In the early twentieth century, industrialization in the treaty ports brought about intensified urbanization along the coast.2 As urban standards of living improved relative to those in the countryside, the notion that it was better to live in a city than in a small town, already percolating in the late Qing period, emerged full-blown. Millions of rural immigrants moved to the city, drawn by factory jobs and the expectation of a better life. The sharp contrast between the decorum and dress of long-established “city folk” (shimin) and that of recent arrivals intensified metropolitan disdain for “country bumpkins” (tubaozi) and their traditional ways.3 Habits and customs now largely associated with the countryside, such as foot-binding, popular religion, and arranged marriages, were increasingly viewed by urban sophisticates as evidence of agrarian China’s supposed immobility vis-à-vis both the industrialized West and the modern Chinese city. Pipe smoking, once a cultural practice widely shared along an urban-rural continuum, was similarly regarded by many city dwellers as an old-fashioned “remnant” of traditional rural Chinese society, having no place in the modern world.

Disparities in standards of living between industrial cities and the countryside provided the material basis on which smoking habits diverged along geographical lines in the first half of the twentieth century. As argued in the preceding chapter, in the 1930s a socially inclusive mass market for machine-rolled cigarettes was in place only in Shanghai and a handful of other coastal treaty ports. In nonindustrial cities and small towns in the interior, machine-rolled cigarettes tended to be smoked

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