China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer: Laura A. McDaniel, Vanderbilt University
Chair: Lee McIsaac, University of Vermont
Discussant: Bryna Goodman, University of Oregon
Recent scholarship on Chinese cities has emphasized the centrality of local origins in shaping the identities of city residents (Goodman, Honig, Hershatter). Without seeking to minimize the importance of these identities, this panel explores the construction of identities that were distinctly urban in Shanghai, Nantong and Chongqing. Although urban identities were sometimes associated with a particular city such as Shanghai, they also existed as a type of cosmopolitanism that was not explicitly identified with any one city, but rather with cultural markers and social practices that were understood as "urban." Thus, urbanness represents not simply a bundle of cultural markers associated with a geographic space arbitrarily defined as a city, or with the population that inhabits this space; rather, it refers to the ways in which people under different circumstances combine characteristics and processes to call themselves "urban."
As a group these papers seek answers to the following questions: What were the relationships of power that contributed to the emergence of a rural-urban dichotomy in the twentieth century, and how did these relationships of power lend cultural authority to the geographic spaces defined as cities? How was the superiority of an urban identity culturally constructed by various social groups at specific historical junctures in different places? How did the creation and adoption of urban identities serve as a front for larger cultural strategies? Through consideration of these questions and the issues they raise this panel seeks to deepen understanding of the intertwined processes of identity formation, social mobility, and urbanization in late imperial and Republican China.
Elisabeth Koll, University of Oxford/Case Western Reserve University
In recent years, several studies of factories in cities such as Shanghai or Tianjin have examined the working and living conditions of workforces in the urban context during the Republican period. However, large-scale industrial enterprises were established already in the late nineteenth century which for the first time introduced factory work to the countryside. Since factory workers in the countryside operated under a very different set of conditions, I will examine how factory work was organized in this particular environment and how workers from the village perceived factory work and the socio-economic changes it brought to their daily life.
This paper focuses on the emergence of industrial workers, work discipline and professional training at the turn of the last century and the social division that went with it, drawing upon the Da Sheng No. 1 Cotton Mill which was founded in 1895. Social division is found not only within the factories, but is also a major factor in the urbanization process taking place in Nantong city in the 1920s. While Nantong city saw the emergence of a middle class, factory workers from the villages were not included in the modernization process of Nantong. In contrast to urban industrial workers, workers at the Da Sheng Mills always saw their social position in relation to their rural background and never really identified with their industrial work place as an urban experience.
Laura A. McDaniel, Vanderbilt University
This paper explores the links between the social mobility of pingtan storytellers in Shanghai from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, and the development during this period of a uniquely urban Shanghai identity. Until the mid-nineteenth century, storytellers formed one of the lowest status-groups in Chinese society. They were poor, itinerant, uneducated, and had little access to traditional Chinese networks of support and control or to accepted avenues of social mobility. They were common fixtures in urban marketplaces, but their itinerancy prohibited them from identifying themselves as "urbanites." And yet by the 1930s and 1940s, commercial growth in the urban center of Shanghai had enabled some storytellers in this city to experience stunning leaps in social status, living and performing exclusively in the city and thinking of themselves as city people as a result of this mobility. By making conscious use of the cultural symbols of legitimacy associated with Shanghais foreign influence, its modernity, its wealth, and its strong gangster presence, Shanghais elite storytellers identified themselves as superior "Shanghai ren" while condemning their less resourceful colleagues, those who performed only on the itinerant circuit outside of Shanghai, as "country bumpkins." The social climb of Shanghai-area storytellers was inextricably linked with their own invention of the rural "other" against which they and other Shanghai people ultimately defined themselves as "urban." Their actions and calculations resulted in the creation of a new privileging of urban space, in which sharper distinctions were drawn between city dwellers and countryfolk, between the urban center and its hinterland.
M. Lee McIsaac, University of Vermont
This paper examines conceptions of the city among refugees from central and eastern China who went to Chongqing during the War of Resistance Against Japan, and explores the ways in which they attempted to define and appropriate an urban identity in order to establish for themselves a dominant position in Chongqing society. Despite its commercial importance, dense population, and long history as an administrative center, Chongqing did not look or feel like a city to refugees who arrived there in the early years of the war. Instead, wartime newspapers, journal articles, and guidebooks described most of the space within the newly established municipality of Chongqing as an extension of the rural hinterland within which it was situated. In contrast to this "backward" and "traditional" place, wartime refugees promoted a definition of urbanness that was characterized by social behaviors, entertainment preferences, styles of dress and hair, occupational groups, and modes of transportation that were associated with an idealized vision of "metropolises" such as Shanghai and Hong Kong. By asserting their right to define urbanness, these refugees not only participated in the construction of new social hierarchies in Chongqing, but also helped to project a generalized urban identity in China.