By Meng Yue
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 14, no. 1, pp.1-50
Reenvisioning the Grand Interior examines the transformation of China’s cosmopolitan urban space, as well as its social and cultural components, in the period between eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century. The essay is particularly focusing upon the ways in which gardens and landscapes were designed for play and for display. Taking the gardens of the salt merchants and Zhang Garden as the focal of analysis, the essay explores echoes and variations between the prosperous late imperial city Yangzhou and the modern cosmopolitan Shanghai. Based upon these echoes and variations, the author argues that the rise of Shanghai, known as China’s first modern city, historically fell behind the fall of Yangzhou, the late center of cosmopolitan culture of the Qing empire. This “Shanghai after Yangzhou” trajectory represents a challenge, rather than a replica, to the concept of “modern city.” At least, China’s modern city had another origin beside “modernity” or capitalism system.
Putting the treaty port Shanghai in the context of Yangzhou, the essay also attempts to translate “modern city” and the bourgeois public culture, defined by European and American historical narratives, into a non-Western context such as China. The essay draws comparison between the powerful, expansion-minded, state-supported economic upper-class in China with the European bourgeois. Both the state policy and global power curbed the expansion of such class in China. The result was the submergence of the Chinese counterpart of bourgeois. The argument is that the sub-mergence of such economic upper-class in China, rather than its emergence, that gave rise to public sphere at the turn of the century Shanghai.