Mapping Modernity in Shanghai: Space, Gender, and Visual Culture in the Sojourners' City, 1853-98 (Hardback) book cover

Mapping Modernity in Shanghai

Space, Gender, and Visual Culture in the Sojourners' City, 1853-98

By Samuel Y. Liang

© 2010 – Routledge

230 pages

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This book argues that modernity first arrived in late nineteenth-century Shanghai via a new spatial configuration. This city’s colonial capitalist development ruptured the traditional configuration of self-contained households, towns, and natural landscapes in a continuous spread, producing a new set of fragmented as well as fluid spaces. In this process, Chinese sojourners actively appropriated new concepts and technology rather than passively responding to Western influences. Liang maps the spatial and material existence of these transient people and reconstructs a cultural geography that spreads from the interior to the neighbourhood and public spaces.

In this book the author:

  • discusses the courtesan house as a  surrogate home and analyzes its business, gender, and material configurations;
  • examines a new type of residential neighbourhood and shows how its innovative spatial arrangements transformed the traditional social order and hierarchy;
  • surveys a range of public spaces and highlights the mythic perceptions of industrial marvels, the adaptations of colonial spatial types, the emergence of an urban public, and the spatial fluidity between elites and masses.

Through reading contemporaneous literary and visual sources, the book charts a hybrid modern development that stands in contrast to the positivist conception of modern progress. As such it will be a provocative read for scholars of Chinese cultural and architectural history.


"The great strength of this book is its focus on the spatial rather than the temporal; Shanghai’s urban spaces are brought vividly to life. The book contributes greatly to our understanding of what modernity really meant to the Chinese residents of Shanghai." - Jonathan Howlett; The China Quarterly, December 2011

"Studies of modern Shanghai have disproportionately focused on the city in the early twentieth century, particularly in the Republican era. Liang’s work is a welcome remedy to this obvious imbalance in the field. For its glimpse of life in late nineteenth-century Shanghai and for its rethinking of issues related to city, gender, and modernity, it will be a useful handbook for historians and students of cultural studies… Liang’s book can be seen first of all as a work of urban and architectural history on a period when virtually all of what were to become old Shanghai’s land-mark buildings […] had not yet been built… Liang joins the ranks of recent scholars, such as Dorothy Ko and Susan Mann, in rejecting the image of a simple and total victimization of Chinese women." - Hanchao Lu, Georgia Institute of Technology; The Journal of Asian Studies

"The book’s strengths lie in its vivid reconstructions of the treaty port’s urban milieu from an array of Chinese-language travel accounts, guidebooks, newspapers, lithographs, and literature from the era. In detailed descriptions of these works, Liang reveals the extent to which residents both adapted to and helped to construct, in lit- eral and figural ways, a cityscape of disconcerting volatility. In engaging with these materials, the author productively shifts the field away from the stylistic analysis that has dominated the study of Shanghai’s skyline and privileged its Western-style façades." - Cole Roskam, University of Hong Kong; Journal of Society of Architectural Historians, March 2014

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Fluid Tradition, Splintered Modernity 2. The Convergence of Writing and Commerce 3. Ephemeral Households, Marvelous Things 4. The Meeting of Courtyard and Street 5. Ultimate Ingenuity, Amorphous Crowds 6. The Mingling of Magnates and Masses Conclusion

About the Author

Samuel Y. Liang is Assistant Professor of the Humanities at Utah Valley University, USA

About the Series

Asia's Transformations

The books in this series explore the political, social, economic and cultural consequences of Asia's twenty-first century transformations. The series emphasizes the tumultuous interplay of local, national, regional and global forces as Asia bids to become the hub of the world economy. While focusing on the contemporary, it also looks back to analyze the antecedents of Asia's contested rise. Asia's Transformations aims to address the needs of students and teachers.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ARCHITECTURE / History / General
HISTORY / Asia / General
HISTORY / Asia / China
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General