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2005 YAMIN XU Twentieth-Century China, Vol. 30, No. 2 (April, 2005): 28-71. 28 POLICING CIVILITY ON THE STREETS: ENCOUNTERS WITH LITTERBUGS, “NIGHTSOIL LORDS,” AND STREET CORNER URINATORS IN REPUBLICAN BEIJING ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗1 YAMIN XU, LE MOYNE COLLEGE INTRODUCTION: CIVILITY, NATION, AND THE STATE In 1994, a local historian of Beijing wrote that throughout history “other Chinese have cities acquired nice nicknames such as ‘Spring City’ (春城, Chuncheng) for Kunming, ‘Flowering City’ (花城, Huacheng) for Guangzhou, and ‘Beautiful City’ (锦城, Jincheng) for Chengdu. But if the old capital city of Beijing were nicknamed [in the Republican period], it would have had to have been called ‘a stinking city’ (臭城, choucheng).”2 Indeed, officials and columnists in Republican Beijing were seriously concerned with Beijing’s sanitation problems and the unhygienic conduct of some residents in public places. Just as people in other parts of China who worried, in David Strand’s words, “what foreigners would think” about China’s cities and, by extension, the nation,3 Beijing’s Republican municipal officials feared that Beijing’s guanzhan—“civility” (觀瞻)—was at stake. ∗ The research for this study was funded by the University of California at Berkeley, including the Institute of East Asian Studies and the Department of History. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies and the 2003 annual meeting of the New England Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. I would like to thank the following for their helpful comments and suggestions: Frederic Wakeman, Jr., Wenhsin Yeh, Thomas Gold, Merle Goldman, John W. Langdon, Edward A. McCord, Kristin Stapleton, Leda Jean Ciraolo, and two anonymous Twentieth-Century China reviewers. I particularly wish to thank Christopher A. Reed for his valuable comments and suggestions and the copyeditors of Twentieth-Century China for their painstaking editorial help. 1 From 1928 to 1937 and from 1945 to 1949, China’s former imperial capital city Beijing (“Northern capital”) was called Beiping (“Northern peace”) by the Nationalist regime. Since the span of this study crosses several historical periods during which the city was called by different names, and to avoid confusion, I choose to use “Beijing” to refer to the city. For discussions on various names adopted for Beijing in the past by both Chinese and foreigners, see Cao Zixi et al. comp., Beijing tongshi (A general history of Beijing) (Beijing: Zhongguo shudian, 1994), 9: 42, and Susan Naquin, Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400-1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), xxxiii-xxxiv. In 1925 Beijing, one yuan was equivalent to 0.72 of a Kuping (库平, treasury) silver tael; see John Stewart Burgess, The Guilds of Peking (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928), 83. In 1930 Shanghai, one Chinese yuan was equivalent to US $0.27 and£0.056 sterling; see Frederic Wakeman, Jr., Policing Shanghai, 1927-1937 (Berkeley: University of Califronia Press, 1995), xi. 2 Fang Biao, Jingcheng baiguai (One hundred strange things related to Beijing) (Beijing: Zhonghua gongshang lianhe chubanshe, 1994), 99. 3 David Strand, “New Chinese Cities,” in Remaking the Chinese City: Modernity and National Identity, 1900-1950, ed. Joseph W. Esherick (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000), 216. For the “appearance” of Chongqing in the 1930s, see Lee McIsaac, “The City as Nation: Creating a 29 TWENTIETH-CENTURY CHINA In October 1928, for example, municipal officials from the Beijing mayor’s office pointed out that urination in public places was not just “harmful to public health,” but “would destroy Beijing’s guanzhan” as well. Another report filed by the Beijing Public Health Bureau stated that public toilets with low walls seriously undermined Beijing’s “image and reputation,” as people urinating at these toilets could be clearly seen by pedestrians (see Figure 1). For similar reasons, Beijing’s municipal officials turned down many applications from merchants who wanted to build new public toilets in the middle of congested intersections, believing that these toilets would damage the city’s guanzhan.4 In 1929, a newspaper columnist wondered how and when the ancient capital, the erstwhile symbol of “majesty, classic beauty and elegance” (庄嚴古雅, zhuangyan guya), had acquired a new “distinguishing feature” (特色, tese): the odors of stinking black dirt and foul water that everyone had to chi (吃, “eat...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-5065
Print ISSN
1521-5385
Pages
pp. 28-71
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-25
Open Access
No
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