I Believe in Shanghai: The Transference of British Identity to Shanghai’s International Settlement

In his work ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’, Robert Bickers sets out to unpack the ways in which British culture transported to Shanghai in the post ‘unequal treaties’ era.[1] Prior to what has been dubbed as the ‘romanticized golden era of Shanghai in the 1930s’, Bickers’ spatial approach endeavours to fill the historiographical void which examines those British communities which existed at the edge of empire and colonial rule.[2] He makes the case that settler communities such as the ‘Shanghailanders’, which flourished primarily due to the laissez-faire commercialism of the period as opposed to direct colonial rule, have been somewhat ignored by historians of the British Empire. Bickers hopes that his work encourage other historians of Chinese politics to look more closely at the multi-layered identities of settler communities and how these affected foreign relations. His work sits in an expanding school of historiographical thought which examines the European cultural influence on treaty ports and urban environments throughout the world. Eileen Scully’s ‘Prostitution as Privilege: The ‘American Girl’ of Treaty-Port Shanghai, 1860-1937’, is one example which further investigates the impacts of European cultural diffusion on foreign relations, racial divides, social inequality and cityscapes.[3] Despite Bickers and Scully’s work, there is still a lack of scholarship which aims to integrate local Chinese voices into the discussion, or indeed the many other nationalities which comprised the International Settlement in Shanghai. This would be a vast undertaking, with archival material spread out and language barriers to overcome, however one that would be extremely fruitful in gaining understanding of the dynamics of Asian urban landscapes and their relational dynamics.

Shanghailanders, who for the most part were just ordinary people, had to contend with a whole new city, way of life, foreign customs and values and a large cosmopolitan population. Whilst one must appreciate the commercial opportunities offered to them by the colonial enterprise, impossible to find at home in Britain, for many, their new life in the East presented an identity crisis. Bickers highlights how their new environment was ‘grimy, polluted [and] congested’ and having to share their space helped to forge an imagined identity.[4] In his biography of Maurice Tinkler, Bickers alludes to how this helped fuel racial division and the perceived notion that Britishness and whiteness were imagined to be superior.[5] Furthermore, Bickers somewhat entertainingly compares the exoticism of life in Shanghai as to that of Slough. This captures the notion that life was distinguishably British and insular.

One of the key issues Bickers discusses is the founding myth of the Shanghailanders. This is captured in the slogan ‘I Believe in Shanghai’ which suggests that the settlers believed it their duty to make Shanghai the best and most modern city in the world. Whether this is true or not, Bickers argues it was a fundamental aspect of forging and upholding British identity in the treaty port. In reading Bickers’ biography of Maurice Tinkler (an officer in the Shanghai Municipal Police SMP), one is struck by the ‘ordinariness’ of the men who made up the majority of the Shanghailander population. For the most part, men like Tinkler were demobilised working class males. Furthermore, as Bickers points out, these men were often from rural backgrounds, unfamiliar to urban life in grand cityscapes. Playing a frame on the station billiard table was far more likely an enjoyable pastime than integrating and mingling with the indigenous Chinese population.

Finally, on a more spatial note, Jeremy Taylor’s ‘The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of Asia’, analyses the role of the Bund in portraying and projecting Western ideals upon the city of Shanghai.[6] The very nature of the buildings erected, often art deco or Bauhaus designs, give a sense far more akin to British Manchester than of the exotic Asian Shanghai. This was a place where British identity, notions of power and dominance could be projected clearly. Whilst Taylor comments on the commercial and military aspects of the Bund, which could be explored in much further detail, he brings out the function the Bund played in providing a space of leisure. With open expanses of grass, gardens, trees and benches, the Bund allowed British settlers to relax in the way they were familiar with. In cementing British identity in Shanghai, this aspect of the space and its functions proved of major importance.

[1] Robert Bickers, ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’, Past & Present, no. 159 (1998), pp. 161–211

[2] Meng Yue, Shanghai and the Edges of Empire, (Minnesota, 2006)

[3] Eileen P. Scully, ‘Prostitution as Privilege: The ‘American Girl’ of Treaty-Port Shanghai, 1860-1937’, The International History Review 20, no. 4 (1998), pp. 855–83

[4] Bickers, ‘Shanghailanders’ p. 193

[5] Robert Bickers, Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, (London, 2004)

[6] Jeremy E. Taylor, ‘The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of East Asia’, Social History, Vol. 27, No. 2 (May, 2002), pp. 125-142

Case Studies in World Fair Spatial Configurations

An examination of world fairs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries through a spatial historical lens provides a nuanced perspective on the overlapping cultural and international relations amongst nations at these exhibitions. This blog post will understand these fairs as “networks of exchange” rather than considering each exhibition in isolation.[1] Debra Hanson argues that the fairs, such as the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, initiated a new awareness within the “Western worldview” of the “transnational connections” amongst peoples, cultures, and nations.[2] I argue that this can be further understood through examining the spatial relations between different displays at these events, and in recognising how these relate to the global/local discourse.

David Raizman and Ethan Robey contend that the ‘language’ of material items holds political meaning. Material objects were judged by visitors in comparative terms between different nations and cultures, and politics and nationalistic rhetoric were intertwined with material objects in these fairs. Behind the unified image of peaceful competition presented at these world fairs, Raizman and Robey identify tensions and struggles between different participants, often due to their colonial status. A sort of contradiction can be identified here between image presented and reality:

“…economic competition among participant nations extended outward to supplies of raw materials and workers, and inexorably to colonialism, underpinned by the same military hardware so admired in the exhibition halls.”[3]

Raizman and Robey identify that often national histories were presented through specific narratives in the displays to help define and construct national pride.[4] We can thus identify an irony between many of the displays at these fairs. Whilst the displays of Western nations would present their colonial military ‘might’ in line with developments in technological modernity in the 19th century, the displays of Eastern or Southern (read: colonised) nations would be contrasted to these as a consumable commodity.[5] Nationalisms were communicated through the material objects on display and moulded and shaped in line with these narratives. The spatial relations amongst and between the displays played a part in this, as well as the guidebooks provided to supplement the displays and ensure the visitor followed the set path as they navigated the fair.[6] This defined the exhibitor’s position in relation to the host nation, as well as the observer’s position in relation to the displays and their original imagined locations.

A key example of how the spatial relations of the fairs constructed national narratives is in the 1893 Chicago Exposition. Structured as a classical White City, the buildings of the exposition were arranged in a centre and a periphery, with the Midway Plaisance leading away from the principal buildings. Hanson describes this lay out as a form of “spatial segregation,” as the further away one ventured from the central area the less ‘civilised’ the nations of display were presented to be.[9] Thus, the exhibition constructed a sliding scale of civilisational progress as physically represented by the Midway Plaisance, creating in line with this for the visitors a clear sense of the cultural global centre and periphery in actuality.

A further example of how the narratives of the displays were moulded by colonial influences can be seen in the Tunisian display at the Paris Exposition in 1867. Designed by French architect Alfred Chapon, the ‘Bardo of the Bey’ structure aimed to imitate Ahmed Bey’s summer palace:

[7]

The building adopted past styles and adapted them to contemporary (European) tastes, engaging with the present but preserving practices of the past. The interpretative narrative around the ‘Bardo of the Bey’ is divided. Hanson argues that the structure demonstrates Western management of the East, but for other scholars, it represents cultural negotiation and a physical symbol of hybridity.[8] However, colonial influences were intrinsically bound up in the structure’s creation. The “networks of exchange” occurring at these world fairs thus reflect the orientalist attitudes apparent in their spatial configurations.

Participation in the fairs often led to a construction of a careful, nuanced national past, in order to preserve national unity and political stability. Susan R. Fernsebner explores how a specific national image of “China” was presented by Chinese “expositional managers” (made up of Chinese elites) at various international expositions between 1904-1915.[10] How these elites presented ‘China’ tells us about their own ideas about Chinese nationalism at the time, and highlights the changes to the domestic Chinese political structure in the period. Fernsebner argues that the Nanyang Exposition of 1910 was used to mobilize people in the name of economic nationalism:

“In staging this exposition, Managing Director Chen Qi and his fellow organizers sought to stage a new kind of event for a mass audience in China, one that would help to shape a disciplined population to serve its nation… Organizers framed the ex-position as a studied inventory of the nation’s goods, both for domestic consumption amid foreign competition and export promotion, while placing a growing emphasis on science and industrial production.”[11]

Thus, the exhibitions at Nanyang served a dual purpose: the experience of visiting was painted as a national event to promote economic development, through and in combination with the social indoctrination of Chinese people viewing the displays.[12] Although less to do with the spatial configurations of the displays themselves, this example demonstrates how narrative of nationalism and modernity can be represented physically through material items (such as Raizman and Robey contested earlier on in this post), and how navigation of the physical exposition space affected the visitor phenomenologically.

 


[1] Raizman, David & Robey, Ethan (2017) ‘Introduction’ in Expanding Nationalisms at World’s Fairs: Identity, Diversity, and Exchange, 1851-1915. Routledge, p. 7

[2] Hanson, Debra (2017) ‘East meets West: Re-presenting the Arab-Islamic world at the nineteenth-century world’s fairs,’ in Raizman, David & Robey, Ethan (eds.), Expanding Nationalisms at World’s Fairs: Identity, Diversity, and Exchange, 1851-1915. Routledge, p. 15

[3] Raizman & Robey (2017) pp. 5-6

[4] Ibid, p. 11

[5] Hanson (2017) p. 15

[6] Ibid, p. 16

[7] Chapon, Alfred (1867) ‘Bardo,’ Pavilion of the Bey of Tunis, Exposition Universelle, Paris, sectional print. Reproduced from Revue generale de l’architecture et des travaux publics, vol. 27 (Paris: Paris Ducher 1869), pp. 35-36

[8] Hanson (2017) p. 27

[9] Ibid, p. 28

[10] Fernsebner, Susan R. (2017) ‘When the local is global: Case studies in early twentieth-century Chinese exposition projects,’ in Raizman, David & Robey, Ethan (eds.), Expanding Nationalisms at World’s Fairs: Identity, Diversity, and Exchange, 1851-1915. Routledge, p. 173

[11] Ibid, p. 178

[12] Ibid, p. 179

Shanghai’s ‘Underworld’: Considering Crime Spatially

When investigating the history of crime, whether on an institutional or ‘organised’ level, or simply petty thievery, we encounter many oppositions and binaries. Crime exists in opposition to an imposed order. It implies a nonadherence to a set rule. Frederic Wakeman’s article on policing Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s explores the various forces seeking to instil order in Shanghai, which contributed towards its development as an urban municipality.[1] Throughout his article there runs an analytical undercurrent about how crime (considering it as representing an opposition to a desired order) affected urban administrative developments. This in turn influenced Shanghai’s development as a demarcated municipality. In this blog post, I will reject the notion of crime as in complete opposition to policed urban order in Shanghai in the 1920s. I argue that these criminal networks were bound up in the governing processes of Shanghai, both formally and informally. We can better understand the spatial ordering of urban Shanghai, and how this evolved throughout the early- to mid-20th century, by analysing this complex relationship between crime, order, and authority.

The language used when discussing crime in an urban context often constructs a separate location for its occurrence. For instance, presenting the ‘underworld’ of a city, which exists alongside the regular city, provides an imaginary for where crime takes place that is useful to maintain order. Out of sight and out of mind, as it were. This separation allows residents to feel safe in the ordered ‘above-ground’ side of the city, separated from the ‘underworld’ of criminal activities and morally questionable behaviour. Concerning the ‘underworld’ of Shanghai, Wakeman explains:

“Virtually all of these underworld elements belonged to small bands of gangsters called dang or hui that were ruled over by a massive criminal confederation and secret society, originally organized by Yangzi River boatmen, called the “Green Gang” (Qingbang).”[2]

 Wakeman argues that because the Qingbang kept the criminal world of Shanghai ‘in order,’ their activities and existence were tolerated by the International Settlement, French, and Chinese police forces. Many police officers and detectives were associated with the Qingbang or drawn from its membership, as this association was key to performing arrests needed in order to supplement their regular salaries.[3] Already we can observe a complexity in that the Qingbang were instilling an informal form of order within their pursuits as criminals and racketeers. There is order in the coordination of their criminal activities, and thus the notion that crime exists in binary opposition to lawfulness is no longer applicable. Furthermore, we can understand this directly through the influence of crime on Shanghai’s evolution into a municipality.

The power struggle between the central Nanjing government and municipalities establishing their own identities played out through the police and urban order mediums.[4] In Shanghai, both Wakeman and Brian Martin connect these tensions to complex criminal networks through locating illegal activities in the French Concession area. Captain Fiori of the French Concessionary Police (FCP) protected the economic power of Qingbang undertakings, such as in gambling or opium rackets. First, in the early 1920s through instating Huang Jinrong as chief detective, and then in the later 1920s through using Du Yuesheng’s influence to maintain the Concession’s security in the face of national political unrest.[5] Martin argues that the FCP tolerated Du’s racketeering in return for Qingbang aid in maintaining order within the Concession:

“The close cooperation between the French police and Du Yuesheng’s gangsters was officially acknowledged in 1928 by the acting Consul General Meyrier in a dispatch to the French Minister in Beiping. It is probable that the French used the gangster bosses as their intermediaries in establishing contacts with the GMD’s NRA [Guomindang’s National Revolutionary Army], an important element in their strategy to maintain the security of the Concession during the first four months of 1927.”[6]

Through this intertwining of authority, the Qingbang’s crimes become relegated in the public’s imagination to another ‘criminal world,’ not visible to and unaffecting of their safety within the Concession area. In turn, this criminal ‘underworld’ is ordered by the spatial limitations of the collusion that resulted from the complicated relationship between these criminals and the police. An understanding of crime in a binary as solely in opposition to official authority prevents investigation of how illegal activities affected urban administrative developments in Shanghai, which directly contributed to its demarcation as a municipality. Where we historically locate crime, and how visibly it appeared, is affected by recognising these informal expressions of authority in combination with formal institutionalised authority.

 


[1] Frederic Wakeman Jr. (1988) ‘Policing Modern Shanghai,’ The China Quarterly, 115: 409

[2] Wakeman (1988) p. 414; William T. Rowe (1982) ‘The Qingbang and collaboration under the Japanese, 1939-1945: materials in the Wuhan Municipal Archives,’ Modern China, 8(4): 493-94

[3] Wakeman (1988) p. 415

[4] Ibid, p. 425-6

[5] Wakeman (1988) p. 415; Martin, Brian G. (2020) The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime, 1919-1937, Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 115

[6] Martin (2020) p. 115

Newspaper Advertisements and the Promise of Hygienic Modernity

One of the most eye-catching aspects of newspapers, no matter what era, are advertisements. Ever since the advent of mass production and commercial sales, enterprising businessmen have attempted to sell a whole panoply of products. Chinese newspapers seem to have a penchant for advertising pharmaceutical products. A curious collection of diagrams published in 2017 highlights the overlaps between ads in the Shenbao and North China Daily News (NCDN) triggered an interesting deep dive into the appearance of specific ads in Chinese newspaper sources of the early 1900s. [1] These diagrams highlight an interesting evolution in the types of advertisements that appeared in Chinese Newspapers as perspectives on health evolved. Newspaper advertisements are powerful indicators of the zeitgeist of a region. In the case of pharmaceutical advertisements, it represented a powerful shift in the discourses surrounding hygiene and health in China. This was especially true in treaty ports, where increased accessibility to commodified drugs changed the nature of what health or weisheng (衛生) meant.


We begin with the primary source accounts found in newspapers from the early 1910s to the late 1940s, which denoted a marked shift in the number of pharmaceutical advertisements found in China-based newspapers. Shenbao in particular seems to have an eclectic mixture of pharmaceutical companies from Japan, the UK, the US and Germany. From 1914 to 1949, Bayer was commonly featured in both Shenbao and NCDN selling Aspirin and Cresival. While Aspirin is a household name in today’s day and age, used for the treatment of headaches and as a blood thinner. In the specific case of the Jiangsheng Bao (literally the sound of River Newspaper) a newspaper produced in Xiamen from 1918 to 1951, these pharmaceutical advertisements are so ubiquitous that most daily papers had at least one mention of medication. Once again, we see Bayer with a fairly large ad for Eldoform (anti-diarrheal) Mitigal (an ointment used to treat scabies) and Cresival. Of the many drugs advertised, Cresival seems to be the most mysterious. In the Jiangsheng Bao’s account of this medicine, it claims to clear phlegm and be the foremost cure for cough. In essence, a very good cough syrup. Bayer’s significant investment in Chinese newspaper advertisements seems quite unusual when taken out of context. Why would a German pharmaceutical company be interested in selling minor medications to people halfway across the globe?

Bayer Advertisement in 06/09/1932 Issue of Jiangsheng Bao [2]


The increased mentions of this medicine and for that matter, all types of medication indicated a significant shift in how Chinese people saw health as acquirable and consumable. In Ruth Rogaski’s Hygenic Modernity, she highlights how introduction to western culture increased the accessibility of ready-made remedies. [3] She discusses the wider adoption of Western hygienic norms throughout the 1920s and 30s in Treaty Ports throughout China: “For one and a half yuan, one could obtain weisheng in a pill.” Rogaski focuses most on the aggressive advertising of “Dr William’s Pink Pills for Pale People” a drug that was advertised heavily in the Shebao and NCDN from 1914 to 1949. [4] This pill was sold as a miracle cure for everything from “insomnia to intestinal worms”. She cogently comments on how these newspaper advertisements adapted themselves to the Chinese context, targeting a variety of figures such as the traditional male head of the household and their wifely counterparts. The ailments that these pills targeted were relevant to the discourses surrounding modernity and medicine at the time. [5]

The marked shift in how hygiene was seen as easily consumable and a mark of modernity drove pharmaceutical companies to set up shop in treaty ports such as Shanghai. Bayer set up its first Chinese factory producing Aspirin in 1936. [6] It seems that alongside the aggressive advertising in newspapers, Bayer was capitalising on this weisheng revolution and finding a market for commodified health. Their increased presence in newspaper advertisements across China was quite intentional. As the social discourse surrounding hygiene and modernity in China grew, so did the consumption of these “health consumables” that could improve not just the general health of the average Chinese person, but the health of the overall state and civilisation. These pharmaceutical newspaper advertisements in the Shenbao, North China Daily News and Jiangsheng Bao reflected on the rapidly evolving ideas on health and modernity in China that pervaded that period.

[1] ‘Circulations of pharmaceutical brands between the newspapers Shenbao and North China Daily News (1914-1949)’, MADSPACE, 5 May 2017,  <https://madspace.org/cooked/Drawings?ID=128> [accessed 5 February 2022].

[2] ‘Jiangsheng Bao’, Archive.org, 06/09/1932, <https://archive.org/details/jiangshengbao-1932.09.06/page/n6/mode/2up> [accessed 5 February 2022].

[3] Ruth Rogaski, Hygenic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China (London, 2004), p. 227.

[4] Ibid, p. 229..

[5] Ibid, p. 230.

[6] Bayer, ‘Bayer China History’ <https://www.bayer.com.cn/index.php/AboutBayer/BayerChina/2nd/History?l=en-us> [accessed 5 February 2022].

Between the Municipal and Inhabitant: The Push and Pull of Power

The battle for power expression and control between the municipality and their inhabitants is a recurring theme in many of the stories that discuss cities and their development. These groups are by no means monolithic and many have substantial splits in their interests, however, as analytic units, it is fair to categorise them as such. From Shanghai to Singapore, Beijing to Changchun, there were also, subtle interplays of power and class that hint towards wider power structures. It is this combination of push and pulls between the municipality and its inhabitants, and the way that power was negotiated that is the main subject of this post.

In the case of Shanghai, an often hilarious but deeply saddening state of affairs was the segregation of Chinese and European populations. The imagined signposts saying “No dogs or Chinese”, although more a myth than reality, is a reminder that many European municipal councils had clear ideas over specific racial usages of space. [1] In the Shanghalander case especially, desires to enforce extraterritoriality and full sovereign control would have meant within these “European spaces” whether represented or real, were backed by real expressions of power.

For Singapore, the representations and usage of space laid out by the plan strongly indicated that colonial and later municipal authorities struggled to identify and assert control over the various Malay “Kampungs” (living areas). This was mostly because many lived outside of the main areas that were of interest to Raffles and Farquhar and that language provided a formidable barrier to understanding these places. [2] The Chinese areas were also dominated by various bāngqún (幫群) organisations that represented the inhabitant population. These “bāng” held considerable power that sometimes ran against colonial designs for the city. [3]

For both of these cities, there were clear examples where attempts to assert municipal or colonial control were either subverted or resisted. Although there has not been much mention of Malay or Indian resistance towards certain municipal policies. The Chinese community in Singapore, being larger in size and power, did actively mobilise their influence. In response to the unilateral passing of Police Acts in 1857, the entire Chinese community went on strike, effectively halting the economy for a few days. Despite this strike not being an act of open and violent revolt. It nonetheless serves as an example where local inhabitants expressed power through shockingly effective strategies. For Shanghai, unarmed demonstrations against what was presumably the exclusion of Chinese from public parks and spaces amongst other measures is a good example of inhabitant resistance towards assertions of municipal power. Furthermore, Chinese requests for better municipal representation could also be counted as legitimate bids to integrate inhabitant interests into municipal decision making.

That being said, the case of Shanghai is unique, as what qualified someone as an “inhabitant” was quite nebulous. Did the community of White Shanghailanders count as inhabitants? Or was this definition limited to the Chinese. The somewhat cop-out answer of “both”, makes the most sense. While local Chinese were most definitely counted as the original inhabitants of the city, many Europeans eventually were considered ‘local’ inhabitants of the area. The main difference was that often Europeans were allowed to actively participate in the decision-making processes that ran through the SMC, while the Chinese struggled to acquire that privilege. [4] Singapore’s definition for “inhabitant” was often a lot clearer, the existing Chinese, Malay, Indian and Orang Laut settlements created a distinct divide between European colonisers and local communities.

This leads us to the interesting intersection of class and race in both Singapore and Shanghai. In both cases, English educated and typically Chinese businessmen were sometimes permitted to join the ranks of municipal decision-makers. This was more so the case in Singapore where businessmen of considerable stature such as Seah Liang Seah, founder of the Ngee Ann Kongsi and Choa Giang Thye, also a prominent member of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, actively participated in municipal politics and advocated for the Chinese Community as early as 1857. [5] The English language ability of these higher-class Chinese businessmen afforded them access to the primarily European sphere of politics. They often acted as interlocutors for local populations, albeit only to a degree. Their lack of sustained and direct involvement in Clan and Bāng organisations may have impacted their ability to fully represent their constituent compatriots. In Shanghai, SMC postings were barred to the Chinese until 1920, the ‘virulent racism’ of Shanghailanders often prevented even prominent Chinese businessmen from entering the municipal sphere.

In conclusion, throughout any spatial story, there was often a battle for power expression and control between the municipality and their inhabitants. This was sometimes mediated by prominent members of the inhabitant community (often Chinese) that could communicate in English and thus partially enter into municipal decision-making. The reality is that the interests of municipal bodies and the actual inhabitants did not always coincide, whether due to racism or language (mostly racism). Although the impacts of this are not necessarily felt today, we can certainly see the struggles of the voiceless coolie, or hawker store vendor, that rarely had a voice in how their city was run.

[1] Robert Bickers ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’ Past and Present (May, 1998), p. 205 

[2] The Jackson Plan (Singapore, National Library of Singapore, 1822

[3] Brenda Yeoh Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore (Singapore, 2003) p. 39

[4]Robert Bickers ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’ Past and Present (May, 1998), p. 205

[5] Brenda Yeoh Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore (Singapore, 2003) p. 61