Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (Global Chinese Culture)

Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (Global Chinese Culture)

Jie Li

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 0231167172

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In the dazzling global metropolis of Shanghai, what has it meant to call this city home? In this account―part microhistory, part memoir―Jie Li salvages intimate recollections by successive generations of inhabitants of two vibrant, culturally mixed Shanghai alleyways from the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras. Exploring three dimensions of private life―territories, artifacts, and gossip―Li re-creates the sounds, smells, look, and feel of home over a tumultuous century.

First built by British and Japanese companies in 1915 and 1927, the two homes at the center of this narrative were located in an industrial part of the former "International Settlement." Before their recent demolition, they were nestled in Shanghai's labyrinthine alleyways, which housed more than half of the city's population from the Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution. Through interviews with her own family members as well as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers, Li weaves a complex social tapestry reflecting the lived experiences of ordinary people struggling to absorb and adapt to major historical change. These voices include workers, intellectuals, Communists, Nationalists, foreigners, compradors, wives, concubines, and children who all fought for a foothold and haven in this city, witnessing spectacles so full of farce and pathos they could only be whispered as secret histories.

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3.9 square meters in 1949), it rose to 6.3 square meters in 1989. See Pellow, “No Place to Live,” 399. 49. Chiara Saraceno, “The Italian Family: Paradoxes of Privacy,” trans. Raymond Rosenthal, in History of Private Life, ed. Prost and Vincent, 5:452–453. 50. Wang, “The Politics of Private Time,” 157–158. 51. The relationship between my grandparents and their married children was symptomatic of larger trends throughout China, for, as Yunxiang Yan has shown in his extensive study Private Life

fig. 1.17A). The oldest piece of furniture in their home, this grain bed was originally a part of Waigong’s paternal grandmother’s dowry, which came together with a rice paddy.4 Every autumn tenant farmers would bring two loads of grain harvested from her rice paddy and pour them into the bed. This would have been enough to feed her until the following harvest, but Waigong’s grandmother never ate from this bed and always saved the surplus grain to sell in the spring, when the price was highest,

Because Chinese compradors and contractors built and managed these properties, most housing compounds still retained the traditional courtyard layout, south-facing orientation, and local decorative motifs. Such a housing compound was called li 里 or fang 坊, its main alley long 弄, and its branch alleys longtang 弄堂, which also functioned like a court (tang 堂) or communal space. From the street to the alley long, the branch alley longtang, the individual houses, and the rooms inside each house, the

articles, blogs, and interviews with former residents and housing officials, I reconstruct the demolition of Alliance Lane and surrounding neighborhoods from the ground level, focusing especially on so-called nail households (dingzihu 釘子戶) who refuse to move and are often forcibly evicted (qiangqian 強遷). However much they appear like opposites, the nail households who defend their property against state capitalist appropriation have been tempered precisely from the selfless and “rustless” bolts

relocation company and the district court were pasted on the door, ordering the residents to move to an assigned apartment in the distant suburbs of Pudong. Underneath the notice, the residents replied in bold: “Only 460,000!” (A new apartment in the area cost at least two million, so this amount was indeed quite measly.) Fleeing from the mosquitoes, I walked farther down the alleyway and spoke to a middle-aged woman from another house, one of thirty households remaining in this neighborhood.

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