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Reviewed by:
  • Wartime Shanghai
  • Chang-tai Hung (bio)
Wen-hsin Yeh, editor. Wartime Shanghai. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. x, 198 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 0-415-17441-4.

Modern Chinese history has long awaited a study like Wen-hsin Yeh's Wartime Shanghai. Other than a few scattered publications, little is available in English on China's wartime experience, especially in major cities such as Beiping (Beijing), Shanghai, Nanjing, and Guangzhou. Yeh's volume thus fills a critical void. The book is a sequel to the earlier 1992 work, Shanghai Sojourners, edited by Yeh and Frederic Wakeman, Jr., but it touches on another period and a different theme. Whereas Shanghai Sojourners, a collection of essays by a group of distinguished contributors, focuses mainly on a less troubled era before the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), Wartime Shanghai, also by a group of leading scholars, concentrates on the Japanese invasion and the forced occupation of China's most important city. And whereas the former discusses Shanghai's multiple identities and urban culture, the latter centers on collaboration, resistance, and political terrorism. [End Page 565]

Wartime Shanghai, which originated at a conference at the University of California, Berkeley, in December 1994, explores diverse topics about a city under siege. Bernard Wasserstein focuses on foreign resisters and collaborators; Joshua A. Fogel discusses a left-wing Japanese community; Parks M. Coble describes the activities of Chinese capitalists; Poshek Fu reveals the political ambiguities in the Chinese cinema; Wen-hsin Yeh uncovers the hidden world of the Chinese secret service (a revision of an earlier journal article); Frederic Wakeman, Jr., examines the calculated rebuilding of the age-old baojia (mutual responsibility) system by the Japanese occupation authorities; and Marie-Claire Bergère recounts the fascinating story of the postwar purge and the end of the French Concession. Together, these narratives mark a new advance in our understanding of one of modern China's most anguished eras.

In her introduction, Wen-hsin Yeh offers a swift and substantial survey of the events that occurred in many political and societal sectors during Shanghai's gudao (solitary island) period (1937-1941) and during the city's total submission to Japanese troops after the attack on Pearl Harbor (1941-1945). Yeh's succinct summary of each chapter skillfully unveils, within a broad historical context, the many twists and turns of life in occupied Shanghai. The essays, in general, illuminate the complex links between the politics of occupation and the strategies of staying alive in Shanghai. Descriptions of the covert and overt activities of collaboration, resistance, espionage, and savage power struggles between the Chongqing agents, the Wang Jingwei puppet regime, and the Japanese military authorities in Shanghai conjure up images of a world ruled by political assassination, betrayal, escapism, and sheer survival.

The volume's greatest strength lies in the ability of the contributors to marshal vast amounts of new and intriguing information garnered from extensive research in archives and libraries. In addition to summarizing recent findings, their essays are enlivened by thoughtful discussion and confident judgment. Wakeman, for instance, continues to mine the rich trove of the Shanghai Municipal Police (International Settlement) archives, this time discussing how the Japanese authorities used the baojia system as an effective means of urban control. The mechanism eventually extended to foreign concessions, enhancing the power of the state over people's lives.

This is an important book not only for its fresh findings but also for its stimulating treatment of an array of intricate political and economic topics. It has its shortcomings, however. The book's central themes are not explicitly delineated; it is long on politics but short on social and cultural activities; and it provides wide coverage of the powerful and the advantaged but is deficient in dealing with the people on the street.

What are the central themes? This basic question is curiously not addressed, not even in the introduction. Judging by many chapter titles, two principal topics [End Page 566] are collaboration and resistance. But readers looking to this collection for a clear definition of either subject will be disappointed. It is true that the contributors are not obliged to explore any predetermined theme, but some...


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