Elite and Non-Elite Urban Cosmopolitanism in the Early Twentieth-Century China: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue

Title: 1122 | Elite and Non-Elite Urban Cosmopolitanism in the Early Twentieth-Century China: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Qianhui Ma, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, United States (organizer, presenter)
Tsutomu Nagata, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, United States (presenter)
Min Wang, Washington University in St. Louis, United States (presenter)
Haochen Wang, Washington University in St. Louis, United States (presenter)
Jianguo Li, Central China Normal University, China (presenter)
Yan Wei, Lingnan University, Hong Kong (chair, discussant)


Cities in the early twentieth-century China took shape in a cauldron of vibrant transnational and transcultural encounters. This panel analyzes a wide range of individual participation in these encounters with a particular interest in how urban cosmopolitanism was generated, experienced, and responded to across socioeconomic spectra. Through both historical and literary lenses, we investigate how the agendas of diverse social strata in such cosmopolitanism transformed the urban political, cultural, and material landscapes. Our major historical theme is the contacts within and between indigenous population and expatriate groups in cities. How did people of various strata experience these contacts differently or similarly? How did these contacts shape the cities, especially the urban spatial planning and administrative mechanisms? Moving from historical to literary, this panel examines depictions of the foreign and analyzes how these literary imaginations contributed to the envisioning of cities. On the other hand, how was China depicted by foreigners, and how did these foreign opinions reverberate back home? Furthermore, we pay special attention to who wrote these literary works and who they wrote for. Contextualizing our literary sources, we intend to explore: what were the non-elite readers reading? How did they make sense of the foreign? To what extent did their views differ from or parallel those of elite intellectuals? By stimulating dialogues between literature and history, our panel will provide nuanced insights into the intriguing picture of urban cosmopolitanism across socioeconomic spectra in the early twentieth-century China.

Panel Abstracts:
When Confucius Met T.S. Eliot: A Modernist Way towards Classical Poetry in Shanghai
Zau Sinmay 邵洵美, though widely known as a modern Chinese poet, made important literary critiques in the early twentieth century. His growing interest in criticism should be situated in the urban space of Shanghai in the 1930s, as he gradually developed an international perspective towards the understanding of national classical literature. This interest was eventually conveyed in English due to his cosmopolitan background.This essay takes Zau’s English essay “Confucius on Poetry” in 1938 on Tien Tsia Monthly as an example to detect modern Chinese writers’ cultural juxtapositions beyond the east-west dichotomy. The first section of the essay traces Zau’s interest in the literary criticism of T.S. Eliot to the early 1930s. The second section further explores Zau’s studies on classical Chinese literature in the 1930s Shanghai, as well as his attitude towards religion when he juxtaposed Confucius and T.S. Eliot in his article. Lastly, this essay concludes with a broader survey of other articles introducing Chinese classical poetry in Tien Tsia Monthly, demonstrating a trend of consciously introducing classical poetry by Chinese intellectuals to the English-speaking world.This essay hopes to explore how cosmopolitanism was presented when Zau attempted to communicate Chinese classical poetry with modern Anglo criticism in an English periodical. His undetected admiration of T.S. Eliot could shed light on a more comprehensive understanding of the pragmatic usages of literature and poetry, religion and tradition in a modern sense.

A Japanese Exploration of Shanghai Modernism: Tanizaki and His Travelogues
In January 1926, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō visited Shanghai. During this trip, the owner of Uchiyama Shoten, the best source in the city of books from Japan and Western books in Japanese translation, helped Tanizaki meet many young Chinese writers among his clientele, including Tian Han 田漢, Guo Moruo 郭沫若, Ouyang Yuqian 欧陽予倩, and Zhou Zuoren 周作人. Although Tanizaki is better known today for his works on traditional Japanese aesthetics and unusual fetishism, the young Chinese intellectuals’ excitement and lasting friendship with Tanizaki suggest that the writer then represented the cutting edge of East Asian literature. After the trip, Tanizaki published two travelogues, respectively in the magazines Bungei Shunjū (1923-) and Josei (1922-8). These two magazines are of particular importance: the former soon became one of the few giants with significant influence on Japanese intellectuals and war propaganda; the latter was one of the earliest women’s magazines from the time when women were regarded as “a new frontier” for the publication industry that had established the nationwide mass audience during the Russo-Japanese War (1914-5) and was looking for a new region ever since. Contextualizing the two travelogues in these two unique venues and with special attention paid to visual design, advertisements, and the organization of the entire tables of contents, this project will complement the current understanding of Tanizaki with a view from the side of Shanghai modernism.

Foreigners behind the Scenes: Representations of the Foreign in Modern Chinese Detective Fictions
Modern Chinese detective fictions in the early twentieth century are inseparable from the city of Shanghai. Most of these fictions were written and published in this metropolis, which rendered an important popular literature market supported by non-elite urban readers. The detective fictions, often claiming a realistic stance, demonstrate a particular interest in the widespread crimes in Shanghai at the time. Curiously, however, they seldom feature foreign characters. This absence of foreigners is intriguing, considering the fact that foreigners had maintained a highly noticeable presence in Shanghai since the mid-nineteenth century. It had not been uncommon for these expatriates to be involved in crimes, especially in the foreign concessions, which also function as the setting in many of the Chinese detective fictions. While foreign characters are largely absent, however, other kinds of foreign elements frequently appear in these fictions. Looming behind the scenes, they are usually associated with secret criminal organizations or rampant maladies in the city. This paper focuses on the representative works by Sun Liaohong 孙了红, a writer popular for the detective genre during the 1930s and 1940s. By examining and contextualizing his works, the paper intends to explore into how the particular ways of representing the foreign influence the aesthetics of the fictions, and furthermore, how such aesthetics reflects and responds to the non-elite urban readers' experiences of transnational and transcultural encounters in the semi-colonial Shanghai.

"Inconvenient Westerners": Policing White and Soviet Russians in Beijing, 1920s-1940s
This paper discusses and analyzes policing strategies and tactics vis-a-vis Russians in Beijing from the 1920s to the 1940s. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire in the late 1910s, Beijing witnessed an influx of White Russian refugees and Soviet Russians. Contrary to other Western groups who enjoyed a wide range of privileges, they did not enjoy extraterritorial protection and thus became one of the earliest foreign communities to submit to indigenous authorities. Police officials and rank-and-file policemen, eager to assert national sovereignty and maintain social order, adopted a firm but pragmatic approach. On the one hand, the gradual criminalization of poverty and anti-communism fervor in the 1920s transformed a previously privileged emigre into a social malaise and a political hazard, giving rise to intensive police surveillance and coercion. Shared prejudice towards vagrancy and political radicalism encouraged frequent cooperation between local law enforcement and foreign authorities. On the other hand, paternalism and bureaucratic resistance to sudden change encouraged the police to treat Russians in a mild and polite manner to avoid mass persecution and international repercussion of mishandling foreign cases. In this way, grassroots encounters between ordinary Russians and Beijing residents offers nuanced insights into policing organization, municipal governance, Sino-foreign relationship, and foreign privileges in the early twentieth century China.

Where Have All the Trees Gone?: Illegal Logging, Cultural Heritage, and the Making of Historical Beiping in the 1930s
The Kuomintang (KMT) regime’s transfer of the capital to Nanjing in 1928 precipitated soul searching among both elites and ordinary residents over the future of the former capital of Beiping. Municipal officials, intellectuals, journalists, educators, and social activists all saw the city’s rich cultural heritage as an asset capable of reclaiming its lost glory. The municipal administration preserved, cataloged, and celebrated the diverse range of historical sites to attract domestic and international tourists. The Beiping Shrines and Temples Administration (Beiping taimiao guanlichu)’s illegal logging of centuries-old cypress in 1933 menaced this blueprint for a cultural metropolis. Realizing that the commercial exploitation of historical sites would stain the national and international image of Beiping, anxious and outraged Beiping public actively assisted police investigation and pressed a reluctant KMT government to bring the wrongdoer to justice. A high-profile case mobilizing Beiping residents across the socioeconomic spectrum, the illegal logging reflects Beiping public’ commitment to urban self-reinvention to assert local pride and revive local economy. The lengthy and fraught trajectory of the case, nonetheless, reveals competing urban visions and the many obstacles to the rise of a historical Beiping

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