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Reviewed by:
  • Kongjian yu shehui: Jindai Tianjin chengshi de yanbian
  • Jenny Huangfu (bio)
Liu Haiyan 刘海岩. Kongjian yu shehui: Jindai Tianjin chengshi de yanbian 空间与社会: 近代天津城市的演变 (Space and society: The transformation of modern Tianjin). Tianjin, China: Tianjin shehui kexueyuan chubanshe 天津社会科学院出版社, 2003. 363 pp. Paperback 22.00 RMB, isbn 7-806-8803-9.

As an old trading center and a treaty port, Tianjin followed a complex and multifaceted course of modernization that cannot be understood as just a state project. Its residents were a mixed population, including a large number of peasant migrants primarily from the north China plain, a small but powerful population of foreign settlers and Chinese elites, and a scattered band of local power holders organized in the form of guilds and secret societies. The values and lifestyles of these different groups clashed and amalgamated, making an exceptionally exuberant urban society. It is not surprising that one finds a host of sometimes contradictory and often symbiotic interests shaping the city's development—the business interests of the foreign powers, the modernization agenda of the local government, and the divergent demands of the population. To understand modernization in Space and Society, Liu elucidates a longer span of time than most scholarship on the topic, extending back to the Ming dynasty and forward to the Republic. The result is a richly documented, though analytically disappointing, account, useful for readers with a specific interest in urbanization and those with a more general interest in social history in late imperial China.

A native of Tianjin, Liu has written extensively on its urban transformations, most prolifically on the period of the Tianjin Provisional Government (dutong yamen, an administration set up by the Allied Expeditionary Force during the Boxer Uprising).1 This book is the cumulative result of his decade-long research and observation, drawing from various gazetteers, guild documents, travelers' journals, archives of the chamber of commerce, and newspapers. The eleven chapters are arranged in three parts: "Urban Space," "Social Structure," and "Daily Life." Part 1 is devoted to the impact of geography and ecology in the overall shaping of Tianjin. Part 2 deals with a broad range of issues pertaining to long-term social change—changes in the influx of population, new careers and occupations, and the emergence of modern institutions and civil order. In part 3, Liu takes a close look at urban life—the shifts in residential patterns, new styles of courtyards and houses, and modern public works and philanthropy. Each chapter takes one topic through the whole timeline, with an overview on the late imperial period followed by a description of the mechanism for changes. [End Page 522]

In the preface Liu offers an apology for writing a "revisionist" history of Tianjin urbanization that does not follow the classical "push" and "pull" model found in Western scholarship. This model is insufficient to explain the expansion of Tianjin's population, he explains, for the city did not offer many attractive jobs to pull in migrants, nor was peasant bankruptcy in the periphery a sufficient push factor for its migrant influx. Instead, he found in Skinner's notion of "physiographic region" an alternative explanation, seeing environment as "the key precondition of the making of the city [but which also] restricts the development of the city." While the notion of physiography might still remain a new concept to the average Chinese reader, Western scholars of urban history might very well be disappointed by the lack of analytical contribution in this approach.

At the heart of part 1 is the impact of Tianjin's regional ecology on patterns of human activity in the early modern and modern periods. Liu traces the shifting roles of waterways in the early development of the city, the changes in its spatial structure, and the impact of modern transportation in constructing a new urban space. We learn that the city, being a lowland and the joining point for the tributaries of the Hai River, first developed as a focus of grain shipping. The Hai River, an artificial amalgamation of several natural rivers for the purpose of shipping, was a constant source of flooding to the dismay of past rulers and the local population. Liu observes that the Ming and early Qing...


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