Reconstructing Modernism:
The Shifting Narratives of Chinese Modernist Architecture

By Yaohua Shi

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 18, no. 1 (Spring 2006), pp. 30-84

This article is a study of the revisionist discourses surrounding Chinese modernist architecture. The author contends that the recent interest in modernist architecture is tied to the renewed desire for modernity in the post-Mao period. Moreover, assertions of a distinct indigenous modernist tradition revolve around a local/national dichotomy that pits Shanghai against the rest of the county. The article goes on to look at the role of identity politics in recent narratives of modernist architecture. The author suggests that accounts of Shanghai and Tongji University’s contributions should not be seen as pure evidence of local and institutional boosterism; they also provide an escape route for contemporary Chinese architects. Reconstructing an unbroken local modernist tradition at the turn of the twenty-first century potentially allows the Chinese to bypass the West . The article concludes with a brief discussion of how a present-day architectural firm in Shanghai, Atelier Deshaus, draws on the indigenous modernist legacy and negotiates the local/global binary.

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