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China's Contested Capital

Architecture, Ritual, and Response in Nanjing

Charles Musgrove

Publication Year: 2013

When the Chinese Nationalist Party nominally reunified the country in 1928, Chiang Kai-shek and other party leaders insisted that Nanjing was better suited than Beijing to serve as its capital. For the next decade, until the Japanese invasion in 1937, Nanjing was the “model capital” of Nationalist China, the center of not just a new regime, but also a new modern outlook in a China destined to reclaim its place at the forefront of nations. Interesting parallels between China’s recent rise under the Post-Mao Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist era have brought increasing scholarly attention to the Nanjing Decade (1927–1937); however, study of Nanjing itself has been neglected. Charles Musgrove brings the city back into the discussion of China’s modern development, focusing on how it was transformed from a factional capital with only regional influence into a symbol of nationhood—a city where newly forming ideals of citizenship were celebrated and contested on its streets and at its monuments.

China’s Contested Capital investigates the development of the model capital from multiple perspectives. It explores the ideological underpinnings of the project by looking at the divisive debates surrounding the new capital’s establishment as well as the ideological discourse of Sun Yat-Sen used to legitimize it. In terms of the actual building of the city, it provides an analysis of both the scientific methodology adopted to plan it and the aesthetic experiments employed to construct it. Finally, it examines the political and social life of the city, looking at not only the reinvented traditions that gave official spaces a sacred air but also the ways that people actually used streets and monuments, including the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum, to pursue their own interests, often in defiance of Nationalist repression. Contrary to the conventional story of incompetence and failure, Musgrove shows that there was more to Nationalist Party nation-building than simply “paper plans” that never came to fruition. He argues rather that the model capital essentially legitimized a new form of state power embodied in new symbolic systems that the Communist Party was able to tap into after defeating the Nationalists in 1949. At the same time, the book makes the case that, although it was unintended by party planners who promoted single-party rule, Nanjing’s legitimacy was also a product of protests and contestation, which the party-state only partially succeeded in channeling for its own ends.

China’s Contested Capital is an important contribution to the literature on twentieth-century Chinese urban history and the social and political history of one of China’s key cities during the Republican period.

49 illus.

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Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia's Architecture


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Scholarship is a collective endeavor, even in the production of so-called monographs. I have many people to thank for helping me produce this one. This project began at the University of California at San Diego, where Joseph Esherick and Paul Pickowicz provided invaluable guidance and frank criticism from its inception to its current end. ...

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pp. 1-22

In the February 1938 issue of National Geographic, Julius Eigner introduced the magazine’s substantial reading public to the city of Nanjing. By that time many readers may already have heard of the widely publicized atrocities committed by the Japanese in late 1937 and early 1938. ...

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Chapter 1. The Capital Established: Sun Yat-sen, Nationalist China, and Nanjing

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pp. 23-54

New capitals are always the product of politically motivated decisions that grow out of power struggles and cultural contestations in new polities (Vale 1992). New capital locations symbolize changes of power, goals, and attitudes, and when nation-states incorporate multiple regional interests and diverse cultural units, their selection rarely represents consensus. ...

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Chapter 2. Visions of Grandeur in the Capital Plan

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pp. 55-88

When one looks closely at any system of governance over time, it tends to look more like an ever-changing work in progress than a truly eternal institution. But, of course, all systems claim to be based on a solid foundation of eternal values and constant forms. ...

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Chapter 3. Administrative Aesthetics and Architectural Revolution in the Capital

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pp. 89-124

During the Nanjing Decade, designers attempted to create an “architectural revolution” in the capital city. The main patron of this revolution was the Nationalist Government led by the Guomindang, which hired Chinese architects to plan and build an area devoted to the national administration. ...

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Chapter 4. The Necropolis of Nanjing: The GMD’s Ceremonial Center and Cosmological Microcosm

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pp. 125-166

A distinct culture consists of a web of entangled symbol systems. In his essays on culture, Clifford Geertz described the role of symbols and rituals in religious, ideological, and aesthetic systems of meaning as interacting in a cultural matrix of contending social groups.1 ...

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Chapter 5. Lessons in Allure: Celebrations of State in the Capital

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pp. 167-203

The Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum was the most important structure in the Guomindang’s attempt to create a new state ritual that would ensure its place in the “center of things,” which would help to legitimate its self-proclaimed role as the leader of a revolutionary, modern China. ...

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Chapter 6. Views from the Street: Development, Defiance, and Discipline in Nanjing

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pp. 204-244

On maps of Nanjing from the 1930s, everything looks to be clear, orderly, and rational. A thick line representing Sun Yat-sen Road runs from one side of the city to the other, with neat lines crossing at regular intervals, denoting trunk lines and arterial secondary roads that effectually establish boundaries between commercial centers and newly developing neighborhoods. ...

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pp. 245-266

Nationalist Party efforts to construct a model capital that would produce modern citizens succeeded in changing the expectations of the people in the city and, arguably, across the country. Indeed, citizens had appeared. They were not the cooperative students of political tutelage that the GMD had hoped to cultivate, ...


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pp. 267-284


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pp. 285-304


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pp. 305-316

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837952
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836283

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Spatial Habitus: Making and Meaning in Asia's Architecture
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OCLC Number: 859157605
MUSE Marc Record: Download for China's Contested Capital

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Subject Headings

  • Nanjing (Jiangsu Sheng, China) -- History.
  • Nanjing (Jiangsu Sheng, China) -- Politics and government.
  • Architecture -- Political aspects -- China -- Nanjing (Jiangsu Sheng).
  • City planning -- China -- Nanjing (Jiangsu Sheng).
  • China -- History -- 1928-1937.
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