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Level 5

5AAH1073 Beijing and Shanghai in the Twentieth Century: A Social History

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutorDr Rebecca Scott
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2 hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 1,500 word formative essay, 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essay (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The cities of Beijing and Shanghai have long fascinated people for different reasons. Both cities are associated with plenty of stereotypes: Beijing is often known as the sprawling capital of the North and a centre for learning which, with brief exceptions, was home to successive Chinese imperial, republican and socialist governments. Shanghai, meanwhile, is seen as the flashy megalopolis of the south. Somewhat removed from the immediate reach of central power, the former treaty port became a cosmopolitan hub, a socialist industrial centre and then the beacon of post-Mao economic dreams.

In this module we will explore the social history of modern Beijing and Shanghai during the long twentieth-century. Popular stereotypes aside, people experienced these cities in different ways. Housing, work, entertainment, infrastructure all shaped their lives in China's two most famous cities. Following on the heels of peddlers, rickshaw drivers, intellectuals, students, clerks, policemen, factory owners and factory workers, and all sorts of other urbanites shows how individuals and groups engaged with the city and how the city formed around them. The module will examine topics ranging from city governance to the construction of urban infrastructure, entertainment and consumer cultures, industrialisation, policing and court work, and labour politics. Selected primary sources will bring to life personal histories of the city as people lived through and tried to make sense of the monumental developments and changes that marked China's tumultuous twentieth-century. 

Provisional Teaching Plan

  1. Beijing and Shanghai: a brief history
  2. Governance and the city
  3. Build environment and infrastructure
  4. Living the city life: the educated and wealthy
  5. Living the city life: the proletariat and poor
  6. Urban delights: leisure and consumption
  7. Leftover stuff: recycling and waste
  8. Politics on display: labour and protest
  9. Policing urban life: crime and justice
  10. Death and the urban dead body

Suggested introductory reading 

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Jasper Becker, City of Heavenly Tranquillity. Beijing in the History of China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Madeleine Yue Dong, Republican Beijing. The City and Its Histories (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). 

Jie Li, Shanghai Homes. Palimpsests of Private Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

David Strand, Rickshaw Beijing. City People and Politics in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Global Shanghai, 1850-2010 (London: Routledge, 2009).

Wen-hsin Yeh, Shanghai Splendour. A Cultural History, 1843-1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008). 

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