Shanghai has been hailed as one of the first and major cosmopolitan cities (“Paris of the Orient”), along with such infamous labels as a “paradise for adventurers” or “Brothel house of Asia”. A recent book actually explores the place and significance of Shanghai as a “global city”, a place known to the whole [Western) world, if not in 1850, with little doubt as early as the turn of the century, if not, as Jeffrey Wasserstrom argues, in the mid-1870s. Whether Jules Vernes is a relevant indicator of Shanghai’s globalization is open to debate, but if a name made it on the international stage, even through a brief passing mention in a novel, it was definitely Shanghai. As the city took shape – the city built by and for Westerners – it set in motion a train of imaginaries never to end. Whether there was a “real” Shanghai, left to the historians to unveil, behind the constellations of images associated to the city is a moot point. The fate and the history of Shanghai are inseparable from the wealth of conflicting representations the city has generated over time.
When Prof. Haneda proposed to organize a workshop in April last year around issues of world history, I thought why not? When I started to think about a topic, I then thought: why did I say yes? I define myself broadly as a social historian whose work focuses on Chinese urban society, with Shanghai as my main field of observation. Shanghai in the late Qing and Republican period was often hailed as a cosmopolitan city, a composite of many ethnic and national groups, a small concentration of the world in itself. What could then make Shanghai an object of historical inquiry from the perspective of world or global history? This initial question triggered old memories about my first foray into Shanghai history. As I was starting to explore my research topic for the Ph.D. – the Shanghai Municipal Government – my Stanford advisor, Lyman van Slyke, suggested I read a major poli-sci classic in studies of power, Who governs? This actually set me on a path to explore further and discover a counter-study by another major political scientist, Who really rules? The title of my presentation owes much to this line of reasoning by way of analogy.
Shanghai means more to me than a sequence of various research topics spread over three decades. My interest also lies in the global historical trajectory of the city, which for the historian means exploring and questioning its historical experience as well as reading and questioning the ways in which its history has been written. If there is no doubt about who owns Shanghai nowadays, competing claims were made, some in unabashed terms, in the late Qing and republican period. The original owners – the Chinese – were challenged, at times dismissed or even bullied by the newcomers, the renters of the land – the Shanghailanders – in defining who owned the city, who even created the city known as Shanghai. Historians have faced and confronted these claims to ownership and rights in their own renditions of Shanghai’s past. It is at these two levels that I plan to address the problem of “connecting modern Shanghai history”.
Before I turn to my central topic, a few words of definition may be necessary. I briefly referred to world history, then to global history in my opening paragraph. They both represent considerable fields of scholarship that numerous scholars have written about. Many historians, especially in France, have remained oblivious to an approach that seemed to fit better certain fields like economic history or imperial history. World history likes wide spaces and longue durée. Major milestones have generated a lively debate among historians, mostly in the English-speaking world. Its basic rationale is to transgress and break through the stifling boundaries of national histories. By and large, global history appears to be a late rejoinder to world history under the multidimensional impact – including historical research – of globalization. While proponents of each field may reasonably quibble about differences, the trend toward blending is unmistakable.
Connected history, a notion introduced by Sanjay Subrahmanyam, represents one of the latest and most perceptive additions to such attempts to grasp historical trends and turns of events not just across boundaries, but through a more dynamic view that places the emphasis on shifts and nodes across space and time. While issues of scale (jeux d’échelle) are not an exclusive preserve of connected history, this is perhaps where it finds a most fertile ground. For scholars like myself, whose focus has been on a specific locale, a city, though one that appears prima facie as a node, this perspective offers far more potential in examining local history within an interlocking web of continuous and sustained flows.
This paper is a very preliminary attempt to delineate the contours of a connected history of modern Shanghai and I look forward to comments and critiques from the participants to the workshop. Of course, I do not start from a virgin ground. Scholars have offered their own vision of Shanghai’s role in history within various historiographical contexts. Three names come to mind that I shall briefly review before offering my own reflection. Rhoads Murphey’s classic Shanghai: Key to Modern China represents a landmark in placing the city within an encompassing framework. Rhoads Murphey argued on the specific role of Shanghai as "key" to modern China, thereby articulating different levels of interaction between the city, the region, China, and the modern West. He eventually rejected his own interpretation – the key did not fit the lock – to counter-argue that the impact was limited beyond Shanghai proper and finally even dismissed the whole Western enterprise in China as peripheral if not marginal.
The second most influential conceptualization came from Marie-Claire Bergère with her seminal concept of Shanghai as the “other China”. She argued that Shanghai represented the "other China", the blue, progressive, outwardly oriented modern China to be. Shanghai epitomized the most advanced post of a Chinese modernity finally liberated from the reins of authoritarian Confucian state power. It was not so much Western presence and influence than the capacity of the Chinese to integrate and adapt in an environment free of constraints and open to the world that was conducive to the birth of that « other China ». While things Western played a role in the transformative process – modernization – the key element was the internal dynamics of Chinese society in the particular context of Shanghai’s foreign settlements.
The final contribution to fitting Shanghai’s role in a larger context comes from Jeffery Wasserstrom with a recent book that posits at once the debate within the current debates about “world cities” in a globalizing world. The author offers a "history in fragments" of Shanghai as a global city, from the moment of its "opening" (1850: birth of the North China Herald) to 2010 (one decade after Shanghai's re-globalization). Wasserstrom argues that Shanghai entered a phase of rapid development in an ever tightly connected world. Whatever the long history of the city, this historical moment changed the course of Shanghai history and launched the city on its tracks to becoming one of the world's global cities on par with Paris, New York or Tokyo.
Bearing in mind these three globalizing visions of the trajectory of the city, how shall/should we write Shanghai history from the perspective of connected history? I propose to look first at the past and current state of disconnected historiographies. If one argues that the past belongs to those who write it into history, then the claims to Shanghai ownership in the past find their parallel in the threads of historiography historians have been spinning off in and outside of China, with a clear and persistent imbalance. Yet one cannot just focus on historical renderings of the past. I would like to suggest a way to read Shanghai’s actual historical experience – I am aware that this will also add one more layer of representation – through the looking-glass of asymmetrical flows.
That Shanghai is the most studied Chinese city by historians – more than 100 books and dissertations by 2011 – is beyond any doubt. So much so that a well-known scholar put together a conference and a book, explicitly excluding Shanghai, to call for the exploration of other cities. In the last decade, there has been indeed a broadening of the field of Chinese urban history with several monographs on Beijing, Tianjin, Canton, Harbin, etc. Yet the balance still remains extremely skewed toward Shanghai as this author noted in a much earlier paper. What matters most, however, is that Shanghai history remains split between several clusters of partially connected historiographies. As history is about representing the past, connecting history means first reconnecting fields of historiography that have grown separately due to political barriers, then pattern of dominance of Western paradigms.
In China, the history of Shanghai as a particular sub-field did not emerge until well after it had taken solid roots abroad. Moreover, throughout the 1950s-1980s, whatever historians published on the city pertained more to issues of political and labor history framed under a strict Marxist framework. This politically inspired perspective imposed a posture of black & white denunciation of imperialist invasion, occupation, and exploitation. Shanghai had been taken by force under the threat of gunboats, its people placed under the yoke of merciless submission, and its economic vitality squeezed to the benefit of Western and Japanese merchants. While Chinese scholars have by and large abandoned this Manichean master narrative, it continues to taint a large part of historical research and to hold back a serious engagement with common views and clichés.
During the same period, Western scholars initiated belatedly, in the early 1960s, their own exploration of Shanghai’s historical terrain, some in partial communion with a Marxist view, some in defiance of such markers. Yet Shanghai history was read mostly through the looking glass of Western economic and political experience and historiography. The major paradigms reified the categories familiar to European historians: bourgeoisie/worker/peasant triptych, civil society, revolution. With the return to the city in American scholarship in the mid-1970s, a consistent dialog took shape around issues of modernization, action/reaction by Chinese elites, and state building. Until the mid-1980s, however, the overall production had not ventured beyond a narrow circle of conventional topics. This development took place with hardly any link with scholars in Mainland China.
Close to China, but equally separated from Chinese scholars due to political barriers, Japanese scholars also engaged with Shanghai history. Yet for most of the 1950s-mid-1980s period, only very few works came from historians. Aside from the classic Shanghai’s Guilds (1951), most publications consisted of compilations of texts and personal memoirs, especially on the war. As in Western countries, Japanese scholars turned again to urban history and Shanghai by the mid-1980s and produced a few monographs. Quite clearly, these works addressed issues of more central concern to Japanese and reached out only feebly the wide range of issues already being studied by Western scholars. Yet they brought a contribution that was being built in isolation due to language barriers.
Historical studies of Shanghai experienced a sustained boom from the 1990s onward. It is beyond the scope of this paper to review this very large body of literature. This second wave of studies had several characteristics. It privileged a China-centered approach, neglecting or disparaging, the Western factor and emphasizing Chinese internal social and political dynamics. It opened up new topics based on the wealth of materials made available in China proper. Finally it set the agenda for historical research on Shanghai and actually nurtured the construction of “Shanghai history” outside of China. For a full decade (1995-2005), a rich lineage of works shaped our interpretation of Shanghai’s particular experience in China.
In Japan, the nascent movement of Shanghai studies emerged under the aegis of the Japanese Society for research on Shanghai History (日本上海史研究会). Japanese scholars, like their Western counterparts, benefited from the larger access to historical materials. Production took two major forms: synthetic studies that embraced the whole course of Shanghai history and thematic monographs and edited volume. These works were solidly in tune with Western historiography. Yet this was a process that essentially worked only in one direction. The remarkable work done by Japanese historians failed to have an impact on the strong flow of Western studies of Shanghai. Again, an obvious example of disconnected historiographies.
Since the mid-2000s, the flow of historical studies devoted to Shanghai has experienced a reversal of current that will eventually produce a new historiographical landscape. By sheer numbers, the scholarly production in Mainland China has now reached a point where it is becoming a challenge to keep up with the outpouring of books, dissertations and thesis, not to mention of course papers in scholarly journals. Shanghai academic institutions – SASS, Fudan University, ECNU, Tongji University, and many others – all devote substantial resources, manpower and attention to the history of the city. The municipal Office of local chronicles (上海市地方志办公室) has resumed the tradition of producing “new local gazetteers” (110 vols.). The Institute of history of SASS, under the directorship of Xiong Yuezhi, has produced massive collections in several directions (general history, history of everyday life, etc.). It also took the lead in publishing in translation a complete series of works by Western and Japanese scholars.
At present, the dynamics of research on Shanghai remain out of sync between Europe and the United States on the one hand and China on the other hand. The availability of translated works in Chinese tend to obviate the interest and use of Western monographs by concentrating the gaze on these more accessible works, as if they represented a qualified sample of Western scholarship. Added to the loopholes in library collections in China, the connection between Western and Chinese scholarship remains uneven despite the genuine progress made in the last decade, due to an enduring legacy. Political factors still weigh substantially in a general training in history that adheres to the canon of the official master narrative, especially among graduate students. The critical distance is not there.
There are, however, positive signs that point to a convergence and reconciliation of the various historiographical traditions. Numerous conferences have facilitated the circulation of works and ideas beyond the limits of existing publications. The exchange of scholars to and from China is contributing to leveling the field. The massive transformation of Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholarship, and even of primary materials, into digital data is creating the conditions for a more equal access to resources, debates, and research paradigms. Various volumes have been co-edited by Chinese and Western or Japanese scholars.
Shanghai history is very demanding (like Korean history or Taiwanese history) in linguistic skills. In more than one work entitled “Shanghai” – in Chinese or English – a more prosaic reality perspires: studies based only on one-language materials or on one area (especially the International Settlement). This can be seen as a legacy of the past when materials were not accessible in Shanghai, when scholars had to rely on the mass of materials in foreign archives and libraries. Chinese scholars were equally handicapped linguistically and politically to access Western-language or Japanese-language materials. There is now no valid excuse for scholars not to avail themselves of the wide range of materials and resources at their disposal. The conditions are ripe now to reconnect what so far has existed as separate spheres of Shanghai history.
Shanghai's trajectory is embedded in multi-scale historical flows that shaped the way the "Shanghai experience" was construed by its own actors and asymmetries in economic and cultural relations that produced transformative processes at all levels of society and within many widening circles beyond the city.
From the time of the official opening of Shanghai to foreign trade after the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, Chinese and Westerners represented Shanghai in different and disconnected ways, creating visions that converged only slightly economically and socially and remained fundamentally politically divergent.
- Terra nostra: The Shanghai terrain
Shanghai started to emerge as an alternative of choice as a port by the end of the Southern Song. By 1077, the imperial administration set up a “bureau” in the locality (上海务). In 1277 this new role was officially recognized when the Yuan administration ranked Shanghai as a “town” (上海镇) and opened a shipping office (市舶司) in the city. Less than two decades later, a new administrative reorganization carved out a new county out of five existing xiang in the Huating County. Shanghai became the seat of that county in 1292. By the time Westerners "burst into" Shanghai, the city had been an administrative outpost for 765 years, a county seat for 550 years, a major transshipment center since the Southern Song, etc. It was not virgin land, to say the least. It was a place on which generations of literati and officials had built thick knowledge and about which there was no contest of legitimacy.
While the arrival of Westerners in Shanghai definitely opened a new page in the history of trade relations of the city with the outer world, the harbor had been involved for centuries in the coastal and maritime trade. The Ming and Qing emperors both tried to impose bans on maritime trade when they feel threatened by pirates (Ming) or Ming loyalists (Qing). These polices had a certain impact on the fate of harbor cities like Shanghai, even if the size of foreign trade was probably not a real match to the intense coastal domestic trade that was carried between north and south. Actually, a more significant impact on the fate of harbor cities was rather the strict rules that regulated the distribution of port of abode along the China coast. In the Jiangnan area, the flows of incoming and outgoing trade was arbitrarily divided between the “northern sea” (北洋) and the “southern sea” (南洋). The former was handled at Qinglongzhen, while the latter was carried out in Shanghai. After the stilting of the Qinglong River, however, the ships that ran the “northern line” increasingly turned to Shanghai as a port of abode. Eventually the imperial government acknowledged the new physical reality and made Shanghai the sole harbor for both the south- and north-China trade.
Older records fail to shed much light on the international aspect of the trade that was carried out in Shanghai before the mid-nineteenth century. There were ships that plied the sea between China and Japan. This “Japan trade” was processed in Shanghai. Korea does not seem to have been part of the picture but one could expect this trade to have been handled in north China. No trade was carried out with the countries of Southeast Asia as almost all of it was carried out in the ports of Guangdong and Fujian. Yet Shanghai benefited from its position as the official port for the “south line” that brought over the merchandise traded in the southern ports over to Jiangnan. One cannot say that this made Shanghai a truly international port like Calcutta or Malacca or even Canton with its pockets of foreign merchants. It exposed the city to foreign and exotic goods, to the existence of a world “out there”. This outer world, however, had been coming to China rather than vice versa. The Jiangnan elites may have been avid consumers of foreign goods as some authors argue, but they had not made the experience of a more cosmopolitan environment and direct contacts with foreigners.
On the eve of the opium war, the traffic that went through Shanghai had already reached a tremendous level. One can only rely on estimates made on the basis of the average number of ships, average freight and number of rotations. With an average tonnage of 420,000 for the whole fleet that plied the routes to Shanghai, the total annual volume of freight that went in and out of the harbor cannot have been inferior to 1,6 million tons. This figure placed Shanghai among the major harbors on the planet, even if from all appearances it did not benefit from the most advanced equipments compared to say London or New York. Nevertheless its favorable location and its reliance of the dense network of waterways in its hinterland allowed for the easy and smooth movement of goods inland out of the Jiangnan area.
To put it bluntly, before becoming a genuinely international city, Shanghai had been a cosmopolitan city within the Chinese realm. Our view of the city tends to be biased by the “new city” that emerged after the arrival of Westerners. Indeed this was a major event, although it would take decades before this event matured into a tangible reality. Yet what matters here is the fact that being a major port city, Shanghai was home to a population of merchants, sailors, dock workers, etc. who for the most part hailed from various parts of the country. Some communities figured more prominently than others, but even if their members shared a basic common culture, most did not belong to the higher elites. They were ‘common people’ with strong local identities who spoke different languages (the so-called dialects), ate different food, dressed differently, had grown up under different climates, who used different sets of measures, etc.
The population of Shanghai, in other words, had been made up of large numbers of sojourners for centuries. There were up and downs in the flow of people, especially during the periods when the imperial government under the Ming and under the Qing imposed a ban on maritime trade. Such drastic measures probably reduced the degree to which merchants came from outside. Yet, the ban affected much more the coastal areas with the forced removal of entire populations several miles inland than it did the major harbor cities where the ongoing trade could remain under the vigilant control of the local authorities. And when trade was not officially sanctioned, there was hardly anything that could prevent merchants from engaging in illicit trade pending the reversal of imperial policy. The development of a money-based economy and the needs of the regional economies – the northern region needed the grain and textile from the southern regions; the southern regions needed the fertilizer (soya cakes) that the northern and northeastern provinces produced – made it almost compulsory to maintain a relative flow of exchange.
In other words, Shanghai was terra nostra for the Chinese. It was a node within the imperial infrastructure as much as within a dense commercial network that extended inland and overseas. The local elites – officials, literati and leaders of the various guilds – could hardly have any misgivings about the role and status of Shanghai in the imperial realm. Numerous publications, especially local gazetteers, recorded all the significant aspects of the city/county extensively and made Shanghai real not just as a physical entity, but also as an economic, social and administrative polity. Shanghai did exist.
- Terra incognita: mapping territory, ruling people
When Westerners arrived, they set foot and sail in unknown terrain literally and had to build a knowledge base from scratch, which for a long time was limited to the river and its banks, their own flake of land, and vague forays in the hinterland. Initial separation produced separate mental geographies that translated into maps and discourses.
Maps are representations of space. As such, they tell very much about local knowledge of a place. When the British set foot in the Shanghai area, they had none. The China coast had been roughly sketched, but very little was known of the approaches to Shanghai, not to mention the city itself. The British were in a terra incognita, which they progressively mapped out in a sustained way, as can be seen on the successive maps produced by the Navy’s Hydrographic Office. Each passage was the occasion to measure the depth of the Huangpu River, to identify and locate remarkable places, villages, etc. It was an enterprise that took decades. A study of maps also reveals how much the communities established in and around Shanghai kept separate. As Westerners had no access to the walled city, they could only map their own territory, but the Chinese city eluded them completely. Maps reflected these “absences” that resulted not of a choice, but of a necessity. It was not before 1861 that the French were granted access to help with the defense of the city against the Taiping that the walled city came into cartographic view. Yet, it would become the sole reference map for about two decades.
The point I want to make is not about “us” vs. “they”, as some authors have argued about the cartographic mapping of Shanghai, with mutual ignorance on both sides. Neither would I support the idea that mapping by Westerners was like asserting power over their own land and dismissing the Chinese neighboring city. That power is involved in any form of mapping is a common view. What matters here is that the inability to map Chinese-controlled territory or, in a way, any territory beyond the portion allotted to them by the Chinese authorities, tells a very different story from the too widespread idea of Westerners bullying their way into Shanghai. Westerners were kept at bay with a constrained ability to impose their will. Actually, the Shen Bao published in 1875 as a Chinese map the first complete map of “Shanghai”, including the walled city and the two foreign settlements. In the subsequent decades, official cartographic representations of Shanghai often tended to focus on a given territory, either French Concession or International Settlement, for the simple purpose of having accurate maps to administer the relevant territory.
Nevertheless, the mapping of Shanghai represents for the historian another field with numerous disconnections that reflected more than separate administrative concerns. One cannot deny that these cartographic discontinuities also nurtured for each community, especially the political elites, mental maps of “ their Shanghai”. While the city was one, its constituent parts remained identified by boundaries on maps, which in times of crisis became genuine physical borders.
The signing of the Treaty of Nanjing that opened Shanghai to direct trading with Western merchants and included the right for them to settle in the city itself – in its outskirts, but nonetheless on Chinese soil – tipped the balance in the local political and social setup. On the surface, change was minimal and progressive. It started with the arrival of a few ships a year and small numbers of foreign merchants settling down along the riverside. Yet the opening of Shanghai brought a qualitative change. Direct trading with Westerners meant new economic opportunities. The conventional story goes that Western traders brought with them the Cantonese intermediaries that worked with in Canton under the cohong system. These intermediaries, who came to be known as compradors, played a pivotal role in the system of exchange that emerged in the city. But it would be an illusion to believe this was the only addition to the social and economic setup, as if something totally new had appeared. This is tantamount to gloss over the fact that those who came as compradors belonged to communities that had in fact been active and present in the city for centuries. The merchant communities from Guangdong and Fujian, or closer to Shanghai, from Zhejiang, were extremely familiar with the commercial practices, networks and resources of the city. The newcomers – newcomers as individuals, not ‘groups’ – could only fit in very quickly and naturally in the new context created by the treaty.
Rather than making Shanghai more cosmopolitan, the permission given to foreigners to settle and trade in the city opened a “new frontier”. And “new frontiers” generate curiosity, ambition and greed. Shanghai, by virtue of its strategic position at the outlet of the wealthiest and most integrated region of China, suddenly provided a direct link with the outside world. If the first Western merchants that explored the area spotted immediately the potential of Shanghai as a rear- or forward-base, how could centuries-experienced Chinese merchants fail to see the potential of the new connection with the outside world for their own business? Well before the advent of the telegraph, information flowed rapidly through the Chinese commercial networks. With the “opening” of Shanghai came a new surge of merchants, laborers, adventurers, profit-seekers, etc. There was no dearth of ambitious young men in the southern provinces that saw the opportunities at hand. There was no lack of manpower willing to toil in the newly opened or expanded warehouses. Shanghai in itself became for a few decades a ‘new frontier’ within a political order about to be badly shaken.
The birth and development of foreign settlements actually meant the rise of a multi-centered city or, more to the point, a city without center. What had constituted “Shanghai” in the 19th century, namely the walled city and its harbor suburb, was increasingly sidelined by the growing economic and demographic prosperity of the foreign settlements. The demolition of the wall in 1912 probably contributed to further erase the sole symbol of centrality of the original city. It lost its status as the proud seat of the county magistrate to become the southern neighborhood of Shanghai. With the emergence of a new vibrant urban neighborhood in the north, Zhabei, the Chinese city lost its territorial and administrative continuity.
What made Shanghai very distinct – though similar to other large commercial cities like Hankou or an administrative seat like Beijing – was its mixed population that combined genuine local residents, sojourner families with enduring roots in the city and a constant stream of new sojourners fresh from their towns and villages. In the International Settlement, those registered as “non-Shanghai locals” represented consistently 80 to 85 percent of the total Chinese population between 1885 and 1935. In the Chinese municipality, despite the inclusion of large rural districts, the ratio between 1929 and 1936 varied from 72 to 76 percent. Most came under the dense networks and organizations the Chinese guilds offered, some dating back to the 17th or 18th century. In fact, the guilds were intermediate bodies that worked with officials to manage social and urban problems in the city. The social setup, therefore, had these distinguishing features of a local society made up of various strata of sojourners long incorporated in a system of mutual and by and large self-applied control under the umbrella of a benign state apparatus. Native-place associations and ties, however, would remain the locus of Shanghai society until 1949.
The story has been told repeatedly in Chinese official history (and its Western epigones) of the sudden and brutal exploitation of China by overprivileged foreigners under the double protection of the treaties and gunships of their respective countries. There is no doubt that foreigners settled in China under special rights. Yet the rationale for these special rights was quite simple. Foreigners were seen as sub-groups of aliens that should take care of themselves in the same way as Chinese sub-groups of merchants by and large regulated themselves. The allotment of reserved areas – settlements – followed the same logic of placing aliens in one single place, away from the Chinese population. What neither the Chinese and foreign governments could foresee was the massive influx of Chinese population into the settlements. If we look away for a while at this political reading and attempt to observe the process that brought increasing numbers of individual foreigners, than whole families to Shanghai, we come fairly close to the process that brought Chinese to Shanghai. Foreigners in Shanghai were first and foremost migrants, and for the most part labor migrants. That some of them – the most successful ones – would stay over and raise two or three generations in the city is strikingly similar to the Chinese sojourners who had left their native place and settled in the city.
In October 1930, the Shanghai Municipal Council made a survey of all residents by type of housing and level of income. Income came under three headings: rich, middle class and poor. Despite these limitations, this survey has much to tell us. The foreign community had a very skewed income structure, with 26 percent categorized as “rich”, a high percentage compared to the Chinese population (5%), which highlighted the many advantages foreigners enjoyed by virtue of their status. At the same time, the number of “rich” Chinese (42,224) totally overwhelmed that of “rich” foreigners (8,567). In terms of fortunes, few foreigners could seriously rival with the wealthy Jiangnan or Cantonese merchants. Only the well-established Jewish families like Sassoon, Hardoon or Kadoorie could play in the same league. What the survey also pointed out, was the substantial part of the population categorized as “middle-class”, again with a discrepancy between foreigners (53%) and Chinese (33%). In absolute numbers, however, the 281,499 Chinese with a middle income literally towered the 17,739 foreigners in the same category. Since the SMC used the same criteria for both groups of population, this unveils a very telling reality: Chinese in Shanghai were the major players when it came to consumption and life style. They were the driving force behind the city’s economic pulse.
- Ideological constructions
The "fishing village" myth and the "model settlement" were the two major ideological constructions that eventually made an imprint on Shanghai's representation outside of China up to this day. Chinese representations navigated between "exotic dreamland and playground" and source of inspiration to beat Westerners at their own game which matured into "Shanghai modern", or China's archetype of modernization and modernity.
The history of Shanghai has been told as a “success story” entirely due to Western presence. Without the least hesitation, a 1934 guide of Shanghai boldly stated that “less than a century ago, Shanghai was little more than an anchorage for junks, with a few villages scattered along the low, muddy banks of the river.” This “anchorage” and its history is fully part of the mythical reconstruction of a Western-imagined Shanghai: “the muddy tow-path of fifty years ago which has magically become one of the most striking and beautiful civic entrances in the world, faced from the West by an impressive rampart of modern buildings and bounded on the East by the Huangpu river.” These self-aggrandizing views of Shanghai by Western travelers or residents, with the Bund as the symbol of their success, are part of a myth to which some Chinese have subscribed. Nevertheless, if Shanghai came to be represented in a way that magnified its aspect and symbolized Chinese modernity, the way in which Westerners and Chinese perceived and described the city, especially the Bund, differed widely.
The Western bias, however, was a late development. The first travelers to Shanghai were impressed by the Chinese Bund and failed to harbor the prejudices of those who followed their tracks some years later. The first visitors to Shanghai, Lindsay and Gutzlaff, reached the city in 1832. Lindsay reported quite favorably on the local facilities: “Commodious wharfs and large warehouses occupy the banks of the river, which is deep enough to allow junks to come and unload alongside of them; in the middle it has from six to eight fathoms, and is nearly half a mile in breadth”. Captain Monfort, traveling through Shanghai in the early 1850s, was impressed by the hustle and bustle in the city and its harbor: “there is nothing more active and animated than the aspect of the harbor and the wharves of the city”. These fairly positive visions of the city and its original Bund, along the walled city, would slowly give way to derogatory comments or simply complete omission with the rise of the English Bund.
When one reads through the travel accounts by early travelers to Shanghai, it becomes obvious that the Bund was not yet on their mental map. While a few words of praise are usually said about the British/International Settlement, it is about the buildings, the streets, and the modern appearance of the place. By 1867, a major travel guide on China and Japan made one of the first mentions of the riverfront as the “far-famed Bund”. The author gives credit to the original towing-path and its preservation and successive widening for giving Shanghai a “noble quay along the entire length of its river-front”. In 1867, however, the riverfront was still lined with only wooden pillars due to “the high cost of granite in this alluvial region”.  At low ebb, a wide mud-bank of about 30 meters extended from the timber facing the roadway. The tidal movement explains why long sloppy jetties, as can be seen on 19th-century paintings, were built to secure an approach at all stages of the tide.
Close to the turn of the century, the riverfront was taking shape physically, but above all in people’s mind. From various descriptions by travelers, one can sense that the Bund was beginning to have a certain uniqueness. It stood as the most concrete evidence of Western modernity and achievement in Shanghai. As waves of travelers and residents moved into Shanghai, the Bund became the main focal point, the place that gave Shanghai an identity, while the original city – the city once surrounded by a wall and canals – fell into oblivion. That part was unconsciously erased from history. Myth overpowered history. The Bund had come out of nothing: “The splendid Bund […] is the city’ pride and glory. It is hard to realize that this wide, white road, humming with life and swept by costly automobiles, was once nothing but a well trodden tow-path bordering a marsh.” It is true there was only a towpath, but it connected to the harbor that had been bustling for centuries along the walled city. Foreign trade and the development of “foreign Shanghai” metaphorically took off when it connected to the tremendous on-going trade that was taking place a few miles to the south.
While the Bund cannot in itself sum up the whole process of myth-building that “created” Shanghai after 1849, it offers a characteristic example of the overpowering capacity of ideological constructions to displace and replace historical realities. Throughout the history of the foreign presence in Shanghai, a complete process of “identity-building” unfolded, replete with key catchwords like “model settlement”, celebrations of local anniversaries (Jubilee of 1893) or foreign historical events (Coronation, 14 July, W.W. I, etc.).
2. Asymmetrical flows?
Shanghai became the breeding ground for various cross-currents that created, propelled, and nurtured "new" ways of acting and thinking, which eventually represented much less a surrender to Western/Japanese dominant flows than a (re)invention of Chinese practices with modern tools.
a.Economic flows and hybridity
The obvious way to "connect" Shanghai history is through its economic trajectory which made a substantial shift from a connection to domestic and intra-Asian markets to an increasingly worldwide economic system with, at times, profound resonances through moments of crisis, but in the long term, a fundamental advantage/lead in economic progress and integration.
Economic crisis were the most prominent markers of Shanghai's connection to the world outside, which repeatedly threw more or less significant sectors into disarray. The history of Shanghai was punctuated by moments of serious crisis that reflected the close connection established with the outside world from the very beginning of trade interaction with the West-dominated worldwide economic system.
The list below highlights the extent to which the local economy became closely entangled with economic world flows.
- 1871 Speculative bubble burst triggered by a monetary panic
- 1883 Credit crisis resulted speculation in Chinese companies
- 1909-1910 Rubber boom and crash
- 1919 Speculation in cotton
- 1925 Second rubber boom
- 1932: Silver crisis and industrial depression (textile, flour, etc.)
- 1941: Economic crash following Pearl Harbor and U.S. economic blockade
It is not the purpose of this paper to discuss in detail the various instances of economic crisis that hit Shanghai (or that emerged out of Shanghai). My argument is simply to emphasize the point that it soon became impossible to disambiguate the intricate nexus of relationships and factors of causality that came to be embedded in Shanghai’s local economy. None of the crisis above was disconnected from a foreign factor, even if local factors came into play at varying degrees. Various historians – it was a credo in China, but several European and Japanese historians have concurred – have incriminated the destructive effect of imperialism. One cannot deny that their view has some validity. At times, individuals and companies took a serious beating from factors way beyond their control as a political decision in Washington D.C. (Silver purchase act) or an unexpected turn of economic conjecture would cut supplies, made money more expensive or made a product redundant.
The economic history of Shanghai cannot be written simply by examining its internal processes and its relationship with its hinterland. It needs to be grafted onto a broader framework that encompasses the scales at which its economic actors operated, not through notions of losses and gains (a hopeless chimera), but of inscription in flows that allowed, sustained or impeded various degrees of accumulation and qualitative change of its system of production. By and large, before 1949 Shanghai remained a secondary actor on the world stage – no crisis in the city had any significant impact outside of China – and perhaps within the regional network of economic nodes to which it was connected. Its economic centrality in China, however, endowed it, even if unwillingly, with a major function in the development of a modern economy.
The second aspect that deserves our attention is precisely the other side of the coin, namely the assimilation of machines, techniques, and managerial know how. Western technology flowed into Shanghai onto a technologically less advanced, but organizationally sophisticated society with a long tradition in craftsmanship. This resulted in forms of hybridization through partnerships/shareholding, but also the diffusion and grafting of technologies onto a dynamic and responsive network of craftsmen and workshops. Finally, the Chinese emulated the same forms of company structure and management, though with a persistent sub-stratum of native organization.
M.-C. Bergère has established convincingly the process through which Chinese workers and craftsmen turned from employees to individual entrepreneurs: once they mastered the new technologies, they created their own workshop and replicated both the products and the training. Whereas the heavy hand of the state was trying to import wholesale machines, advisors, and patterns of industrial organizations – by and large it was a failure – thousands of small-scale workshops took up the lead in assimilating successfully Western technologies and, beyond sheer replication, started producing their own machines and feed the needs of national industry. By 1936, China – Shanghai – enjoyed a thriving and advanced machine manufacturing sector. The industrial success of Shanghai was intrinsically related to its connection to various nodes of technological innovation, from its closest neighbor (Japan) – something postwar history has downplayed in China – to Europe and the United States.
The import of technologies was not the only realm in which flows played a role. The Western/Chinese usual divide needs to be reassessed as many new companies emerged out of joint participation – shareholding – that also tell us something about the multiplicity of connections that resulted from contacts between Chinese and foreign merchants. A close examination of shareholding companies from the early period of opening to 1949 definitely challenges the simplistic notions of compradors, national bourgeoisie, and other flawed categories. The interplay between traditional forms of financial and commercial organization did not lead to the disappearance of the former. They actually fed into and supplemented each other as in the case of traditional and modern banks. Modern enterprise did not mean either the complete adoption of Western organizational charts. The largest Chinese industrial conglomerates operated on the basis of a core built around family ties and tight financial control.
The flow of ideas and cultural practices definitely reshaped Chinese worldview in a way that goes beyond the more common accepted notions of modernity. The inflow was wide and deep and represented a gain in knowledge that nothing equaled among local Westerners and Western countries. The flow gave birth to a variety of reinterpretations of the Chinese cultural heritage as well as genuine creations.
While printing technology was an ancient tradition in China, the use of modern printing presses boosted the industry considerably, making Shanghai the major publishing center in China, with a considerable number of translations from a wide range of languages, but also an enormous outpouring of new works by Chinese. The second and perhaps far more transformative input was the establishment of newspapers and magazines that spread news throughout the country, reshaped perceptions, and opened arenas for public discussion. This was a crucial innovation that offered many forms of hybridization.
A core ingredient in the mix that would eventually bring together members of the local elites and even large circles of society was the development of a public arena for discussion of all possible issues. Up to then, information had circulated and debates had taken place among the members of the elite. But by force it had been a slow and limited process through informal meetings, the publication of pamphlets, or the public petitioning of officials. Shanghai saw the birth of newspapers almost simultaneously with the establishment of foreign settlers. The first permanent periodical, the North China Herald, printed its first issue in August 1850. A far more significant step was taken when an enterprising and farsighted Briton established the first Chinese daily, the Shen Bao, in 1872. The “invention” of the press in Shanghai was a critical factor in reshaping the political world of the Chinese elites. Rudolf Wagner has argued persuasively that the Shen Bao, and the spate of newspapers and magazines that flourished in the city, created an environment in which information flowed freely and liberally, not just within the city, but between Shanghai and other Chinese cities, between Shanghai and other metropolises abroad, between China and the world. Public affairs were now within the reach of educated Chinese, not just as passive recipients of information, but also as contributors to a flow of arguments, ideas, and demands.
The emergence of an autonomous political and legal space in the city had far-fetched consequences. It carved out within Chinese territory a unique place where flows of ideas could circulate unimpeded. One is tempted to think in terms of political issues, of course, and challenges to the Chinese political order. While this was one of the most visible impacts, we may harbor too much of a teleological view by focusing on the end-result of a far more complex and multi-dimensional transformation. Ideas did not flow in thin air. They were created by the men and women who came to Shanghai. The protection afforded by the foreign settlements facilitated and accelerated not just the “free flow of ideas”, it brought into contact flows of people who mingled together, who brought or discovered new technologies, who sought to provide responses to the challenges of the time in material or intellectual terms. That the flow was or appeared asymmetrical with a strong infusion of “Western” ideas, technologies, and customs is not an issue. What actually matters is the evolving political, social, and cultural mix that was created through the rubbing among a wide range of actors. Rather than pointing to debatable issues of “domination” and “subservience”, my own emphasis is on the processes of appropriation (including those of alienation and destruction) by the different social actors.
The foreign settlements provided first and foremost protection to political actors. The influx of works – translations – combined to the growing sense of crisis among the Chinese elites opened new horizons for intellectual and political debates. When challenged at the political level, the Qing state tried to impose censorship, but its efforts were vain. The rise of political magazines and newspapers was one of the main features of the hectic but active development of the press in the two decades that preceded the 1911 Revolution. The growing tension between the Chinese imperial government and the settlements came to a clash in 1903 with the famous Subao case. The Subao case became a cause célèbre not just in Shanghai where passionate debates developed around the issue of the freedom of the press, but even in Europe when the affair was discussed in the British Parliament and the local press. The Subao case is exemplary of three significant processes. The first one was the swift appropriation of the press as a technology by the Chinese and its use as a tool for their own purposes. The second process was definitely the emergence of an autonomous and protected space for activities beyond the reach of the Chinese state. The third was the inclusion of the Chinese political and social arena in a more global public sphere.
Beyond the press, the cultural field became one of the most hotly contested and transformed aspects of urban life, yet again through the influx of technologies and contents, especially radio and cinema, which at once generated a double process of genuine creations (film, theater) and recycling of traditional cultural forms (opera into film, storytelling on the radio, etc.). If European, then Hollywood movies conquered Shanghai theaters, opening local society to different aesthetic and social horizons – something inconceivable in the first half century of Western presence in the city – Chinese cinema emerged almost right away as an autonomous entity. The first Chinese produced film in 1905, a recording of the Beijing Opera, The Battle of Dingjunshan, went on screen less than ten years after the first screening of a movie in the city (1896). It took another decade for a domestic cinematic industry, all centered in Shanghai, to fully take shape and offer a full range of entertainment movies. Throughout the 20th century, the movie scene was constituted of the two parallel but intimately linked spheres of Western and Chinese production. Yet if cinema brought the world to China, there was little that went beyond China, except among Chinese communities, in cinematographic terms.
Radio was another technology that made the many confines of the world more palpable and concrete to Shanghai audiences. Very little work, mostly unpublished, has been done on this particular vehicle of news, entertainment, and propaganda. Shanghai hosted a substantial number of stations held by foreigners and Chinese. In 1946, there were as many 108 private radio stations in the city. While there are no statistics on radio devices or listeners, the growth from 1922 when the first station was established certainly testifies to the success and growing demand for radio programs that brought news and songs from the world, imported and promoted a new genre, Chinese popular songs and its stars, and reinvented traditional genres like storytelling and opera.
Tentative concluding remarks
In this paper, I have attempted to delineate the themes and contours of how a connected history of Shanghai could be imagined. It is debatable whether it is feasible, and even advisable to take a single place (rather than say, cotton production and processing) as an object of connected history. Even a single place like Shanghai, a single city, encompasses many aspects that indeed branch out into a wide range of connections within China and with the outer world. Like many “global historians”, one is facing so many possible issues and topics that the relevance may be less in an attempt to write this history than in questioning the way in which this history has been written and continues to be written. My initial focus on historiography meant to emphasize that even at this secondary level – scholarly production, not primary sources – the connections have been missing for long periods of time, that overcoming the intellectual and linguistic barriers that remain will require an effort in earnest.
On the other hand, reflecting upon the historical trajectory of Shanghai, I can see a glimmer of hope in challenging common wisdom and trying to extract Shanghai history from its “localism”. While the implementation of an approach based on a “worldview” will have various degrees of relevance, there is no doubt that it will help revisiting several central issues in the history of the city in a new critical fashion. I have the feeling, however, that any such attempt made in earnest requires more a collective effort than is possible by a single scholar. Despite the 100-some books devoted to the city, and many more scholarly papers, and notwithstanding the genuine critiques of a Shanghai “overload” in Chinese urban history, one could well imagine a joint project of “connected history” of the city. This may contribute not to further emphasize the centrality of Shanghai in China’s political and cultural transformation, but precisely to decentralize the city within a broader framework of interpretation.
 Robert Dahl, Who governs? Democracy and power in an American city. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961).
 G. William Domhoff, Who really rules? : New Haven and community power reexamined (New Brunswick N.J.: Transaction Books, 1978).
 This is too wide a field to discuss in this paper. Best is to sift through the two most representative journals: Journal of World History and Journal of Global History.
 For a very thoughtful review of the various concepts and discussion of the French field, see Caroline Douki et Philippe Minard, « Histoire globale, histoires connectées : un changement d’échelle historiographique ? », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine n° 54-4bis, no. 5 (2007): 7-21.
 In relation with Asia, the major seminal works are Andre Frank, ReOrient global economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Kenneth Pomeranz, The great divergence : China, Europe, and the making of the modern world economy (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000); Kenneth Pomeranz, The world that trade created : society, culture, and the world economy, 1400-the present (Armonk N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999).
 Giorgio Riello, « La globalisation de l’Histoire globale : une question disputée », Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine n° 54-4bis, no. 5 (2007): 23-33.
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 Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Global Shanghai, 1850-2010. A history in fragments (London ; New York: Routledge, 2009).
 I am clearly indebted here to the conceptual work done by the scholars of Heidelberg University who based their entire overarching program, the Cluster of excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows” on this heuristically seminal notion.
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 The survey is not complete as it covers a total of 875,890 individuals (88%) of the 998,362 people recorded in the 1930 census. As we do not have the accompanying documents, there is no explanation about the missing 12 percent.
 All about Shanghai, 1934, p. 1
 All about Shanghai, 1934, p. 44
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 Mixed Court (SHANGHAI), The Shanghai Sedition Trial, populary known as the Supao case. Heard in the Mixed Court of Shanghai, on December 3, 4, 5, 7 & 16, 1903. Reprinted from the « North-China Herald. ». (Shanghai, 1904).
 Dingbo Wu et Patrick D. Murphy, Handbook of Chinese popular culture (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994), 172.