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Urban Communities, State, Spatial Order, and Modernity:
Studies of Imperial and Republican Beijing in Perspective
Madeleine Yue Dong. Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. xxiii, 380 pp. Cloth $50.00/£32.50, ISBN 0-520-23050-7.
Susan Naquin. Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400–1900. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. xxxv, 816 pp. Cloth $85.00/£55.00, ISBN 0-520-21991-0.
Jianfei Zhu. Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420–1911. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004. xiv, 281 pp. Hardback $135.00, ISBN 0-415-31883-1.

A Historiographic Context

During the 1970s, new studies on urban China began to advance rapidly while scholars decisively abandoned Max Weber’s propositions about Chinese cities1 that had dominated the field. The first such systematic challenge to the Weberian approach, it is recalled, was led by G. William Skinner whose path-breaking studies2 were built on his earlier research work on the marketing and social structure in rural China.

Skinner refutes several basic Weberian assumptions about Chinese cities. One is that traditional Chinese cities were built neither on nor for trade but mainly served as residences of imperial viceroys.3 By re-presenting the medieval (the eighth through the thirteenth century) economic and urban revolution “discovered” by Denis Twitchett, Shiba Yoshinobu, Mark Elvin, and others4 in a new framework of “regional citification and urban systems” and by further extending the development of this regional pattern well into the Ming-Qing periods, Skinner puts Weberians on a defense position. Moving away from the Weberian Oriental-city typology, Skinner has brought attention to diversified city groups that, depending on their physiographic locations, occupied different positions in two overlapped but not identical hierarchical urban systems and spatial structures—one administrative and the other economical. Of the two, Skinner emphasizes the latter, which was non-state oriented and “reflected the ‘natural’ structure of Chinese society—a world of marketing and trading [End Page 1] systems, informal politics, and nested subcultures dominated by officials-outof- office, nonofficial gentry, and important merchants.”5 Also, Skinner adds, “administrative capitals were but a subset of economic central places.”6

Weber also claimed that since “[t]he urban resident in China normally belonged to his native rural community” and “legally belonged to his family and native village in which the temple of his ancestors stood and to which he conscientiously maintained affiliation,”7 it was hard for the Chinese urban dwellers to develop “oath-bound communities” that would fight to “attain autonomy.”8 While formulating his response, Skinner recognizes a reality that the traditional Chinese elite (gentry) “was by no means predominantly urban” and that in imperial Chinese cities the urban culture was not “comparable to that of the bourgeoisie in late medieval Europe or of the chōnin in Tokugawa Japan.” On the other hand, Skinner argues that there was a growing “merchant influence” in Chinese cities,9 which could be regarded as equivalent to the “bourgeois” culture of the “Occidental city.”

There is yet another obstacle to overcome before proving that Weber was wrong about urban communities in Chinese cities: Skinner needs to explain that Chinese merchants were not parochial and particularistic groups bounded by native-place ties. Indeed, Skinner has a different view: he sees native-place ties as a mobility strategy exploited by regional groups to facilitate their moving up to higher-level central places for professional career opportunities. As for monopolies maintained by native-place groups in handcraft industry or trade, Skinner considers them as regionally based specializations, or “an ethnic division of labor.”10 In short, native-place ties are viewed as practical and economical strategies rather than an essential Oriental cultural behavior.

To respond to the old generalizations that traditional Chinese cities lacked a complex urban social and spatial structure, Skinner draws attention to “a model of urban ecology” and points to the case of Qing Beijing where two nuclei in the city were formed: “[O]ne the center of merchant activity, the other the center of gentry and official activity.”11 The emergence of a merchant nucleus obviously paralleled a growing “merchant influence.”

To confront Weber’s claim that “there was ordinarily no joint association representing a community of city burghers per se, [and that] even the concept of such a possibility is completely lacking,”12 Skinner has also highlighted the emergence of broadly based federations of guilds and native-place associations in the late Qing as well as “the extension into the public realm” of their “municipal” services that were “initially provided . . . for their members alone.”13

A number of important studies on Chinese cities published later have further developed Skinner’s “dialogues” with Weber. William Rowe’s superbly researched two-volume studies on the city of Hankou,14 are well-known examples of this growing scholarship. Rowe goes much further and is bolder than Skinner while drawing conclusions; he is close to declaring that Weber is dead, at least from the [End Page 2] vantage point of his Qing Hankou.15 The presentation of Rowe’s Hankou is at odds with Weber’s propositions almost in every aspect:

Chinese firms operated along principles of rational capital accounting, close calculation of returns on investment . . . As for local society, Weber’s assumption that most city dwellers were rapacious sojourners appears unfounded . . . Organizationally, the influence of “sib” . . . was negligible.” When guilds did maintain ties outside Hankow, these ties were far less often to a rural native place than they were to other major urban centers (e.g., Shanghai) within the developing national market economy. The guilds were internally constituted along increasingly nonparticularistic lines, and tended to become proto-capitalist corporations . . . Despite its many officials, Hankow was able to escape the heavy-handed bureaucratic domination posited by Weber. Guilds and other voluntary associations (such as benevolent halls) became progressively more powerful, but they did not necessarily do so at the expense of the rest of the urban population. Rather, such groups increasingly sought to identify their interests with those of a broader urban community and to devise methods of broad, extrabureaucratic coordination to achieve communal goals . . . [T]he social and economic structures characteristic of Ch’ing Hankow, and the gradual change that those structures underwent in the course of the nineteenth century, led directly into the industrial revolution of the 1890s and the political revolution of 1911.16

In his second volume, Rowe has argued for more “areas of commonality” between nineteenth-century Hankou and “certain European cities of the century or so before industrialization”:

The city as a whole was essentially free from feudal controls, answerable only to itself and to the bureaucratic agents of the central state administration. This central state, whose presence both in China and in Western Europe was still relatively lightly felt, adopted a modestly paternalistic attitude toward the city’s social problems, rather than either compete indifference of the more actively interventionist policies that often followed in the wake of industrialization. On the other hand, this era was marked by the steady development of organized, corporatestyle civic action and the proliferation of a wide range of philanthropic and public- service institutions, designed to meet the unprecedented and specifically urban social problems faced by cities in the early modern period.17

Rowe agrees with Georg Simmel that a community is “an open-ended network of densely intermeshed personal relationships,” and that “what held the community together was not commonality so much as interdependence.” Rowe readily accepts Simmel’s distinction of two sorts of conflict, and believes that conflict, so far as not being destructive, could aid community. If the “potentially integrative functions of social conflict” can be appreciated, Rowe suggests, “it becomes possible to understand how a large city such as Hankow could function well as a social unit without an overwhelming state presence.”18 To put it in another way, when local communities are deeply involved in services in what Skinner has called “public realm,” or when local officials implicitly or explicitly vested “these social-service functions in an expanding, [End Page 3] extrabureaucratic ‘public sphere’ (kung rather than guan),” Rowe believes that this had already made the Qing administration “increasingly superfluous at best.”19 To conclude, communities of Hankou as extrabureaucratic urban institutions were certainly capable of running the city, if not actually already running it.

David Strand’s study of 1920s Beijing20 also confronts the Weberian generalizations about Chinese cities. Strand draws attention to the rise of the jeweler An Disheng to the presidency of the city’s chamber of commerce in 1918, regarding An’s leadership as representing a new turn of the citywide merchant community in its relationship with the government. Although An ultimately failed and was then driven “back to the narrow base of home guild and home county,” his activism, in Strand’s view, was meaningful because it aimed at making “the chamber . . . a more efficient vehicle for antiregime nationalism and the articulation of merchant interests” (pp. 102–113, 118). At a lower level, although “shops and work gangs adopted a self-consciously family-like style of operations organized around patriarchal leaders and subleaders,” and although these economic units were commonly built on “real kin, friendship, or native-place ties,” Strand does not consider them as particularistic or parochial. Instead he stresses their internal “solidarity.” Even though “[f]euds and intensely personal conflicts” and “factional and communal strife” were common both within and between these economic and social units, these fights are seen as being stimulated and escalated by a hope of maintaining “the dignity of the group and the position of individuals within the social hierarchy of the group.” From here, Strand has made a close link between traditional shop clerks, apprentices, or work gangs on one hand, and “larger federations and associations” or “a widening of allegiance” with experienced “political and class consciousness” on the other. After all, Strand argues, political parties, occupational associations, merchant and other professional associations, college student groups, trade unions, widely spread newspaper opinions, street demonstrations and speeches, and so on drastically changed Beijing’s political and social settings as they were more “public” oriented than traditionally social and economic units were (pp. 163–164).

Plural Interpretive Schemes

The obsoleteness of the Weberian generalization does not prevent Rowe’s presentation of Qing Hankou and Strand’s of Republican Beijing as well as their broad implications from meeting a strong resistance led, in particular, by Frederic Wakeman. 21 Meanwhile, a few studies of Shanghai22 have depicted quite different urban pictures to counterbalance Rowe and Strand’s presentations.

Let us first take a look at Shanghai Sojourners, a book coedited by Wakeman and Wen-hsin Yeh. The book title itself is a strong statement, which take readers right back to one of the fundamental claims made by Weber. Shanghai, according to the editors, remained a city of immigrants as its population experienced a tenfold increase between 1842 and 1945. Even though, the size of the group that one may find comparable to Weber’s “urban bourgeoisie” “was relatively insignificant.” [End Page 4] Most of the city people were still identified as nonnative, and those being identified as natives during the Nanjing decade were less than 30 percent. The majority of single male workers “went home to their villages to marry” and “left their wives behind upon returning to Shanghai.” In addition, Shanghai’s population “was often divided along cultural, national, and class lines.” Socially and economically divided Shanghai was described, in words of the well-known leftist intellectual Xia Yan, as “a city of forty-eight skyscrapers built upon twenty-four layers of hell” (pp. 1, 3–5).

In this context, readers should not be surprised to find that “the very notion of a civic center itself was taken from the West; and the city hall, the court house, the auditorium, the library, the square, the museum, the hospital, the athletic stadium, and other public buildings were all admittedly inspired by Western examples. The very model of a modern municipal government, as opposed to the old district magistrate’s yamen, was taken from the English example” (p. 5). In addition, the divided municipal administration was controlled by “multiple civic authorities,” and “municipal institutions were ad hoc, elites were in continuing conflict among themselves, colonial concerns overrode pleas for political autonomy, and local government depended upon organized crime as an instrument for social control” (pp. 6, 9).

Wakeman and Yeh are reluctant to call the people living and staying in Shanghai “citizens”; they instead call them “immigrants,” “sojourners,” “refugees,” “denizens,” “individuals,” “native-place groups,” “students,” “workers,” “peasants-artisans,” “apprentices,” “gangsters,” “sojourning capitalists,” or people with “locale-specified occupations,” such as “Yangzhou people’s ‘three knives’ (barbers, cooks, and pedicurists), Yancheng and Funing rickshaw pullers, Nantong drayers, Taizhou peanut peddlers, Gaoyou wok repairers,” and so on. For Wakeman and Yeh, the implication of such a presentation is clear: residents of Shanghai were segmented and divided into many different particularistic groups bounded by native-place ties or by sworn “brother/sisterhoods”; they were thus inherently parochial (pp. 3–11).

As we recall, Rowe rejects the claims made by Weber, Fei Xiaotong, and others that “effective urban communities never emerged in China” (whereas such communities were the social base for the “Occidental city” to attain autonomy), and maintains that social conflict’s “potentially integrative functions” could help build “a city wide community” in Hankou.23 Wakeman and Yeh, on the contrary, deliberately avoid the term “community” while describing social groups in Shanghai. To many, Wakeman and Yeh argue, the collective identity of Shanghai ren (Shanghainese) was ambivalent at best. It was possible for “émigrés from various parts of Jiangnan to proudly retain their local identities as Shaoxing or Wuxi people while simultaneously claiming a more general status as the real Shanghai ren,” but those “hayseeds” were treated as “others” to be contrasted finely with the “real Shanghai ren” for the latter to establish their identity (pp. 11–14).

The last point is fully addressed by Emily Honig,24 who argues, “The struggle of Jiangnan immigrants to claim Shanghai identity as theirs depended largely on the belief in the existence of a despised group of Subei people—a belief that has [End Page 5] been central throughout Shanghai’s development as a modern, industrial center. Shanghai identity can be understood only in contradistinction to the other against which it defined itself, and Subei people represented that other” (p. 14).

Honig takes a new approach to native place identity and treats it not “in a literal way” (p. 7) but as a process that “involves the creation, invocation, and manipulation of notions of cultural distinctiveness to establish self/other dichotomies among people in a shared political and economic system” (p. 9). Like Wakeman and Yeh, Honig characterizes pre-1949 Shanghai primarily as “a city of immigrants” (p. 11) where a people came from a particular place and established its own neighborhoods. For example, Ningbo people “concentrated in the French Concession and in the northern part of the South City (Nanshi) along the Huangpu River; Cantonese mainly settled in Hongkou or along Guangdong Road, near the large shipyards where many were employed; natives of northern Jiangsu were found mostly in shack settlements on the outskirts of the foreign concessions” (p. 12). Honig points out that social hierarchy in Shanghai was largely structured “according to local origins: the elite was composed primarily of people from Guangdong and Jiangnan, and the unskilled service sector was staffed mostly by migrants from Subei” (p. 12). Moreover, Honig reveals that social conflict, too, “was often based on native place antagonisms”—between, for example, Cantonese and Ningbo natives, or between Subei and Jiangnan natives (pp. 12–13).

Wakeman’s own study on the police and Brian Martin’s study on organized crime of Republican Shanghai further confirm the urban conditions described in Shanghai Sojourners. What Wakeman and Martin have presented is how a weak civic culture, a divided municipal administration, and fragmented and mutually excluded social groups turned the semicolonial city into an uncontrollable crime field and a safe haven for gangsters in the East. In the end, the public-minded gentry—characteristic of Rowe’s Qing Hankou—or the polite mediators-policemen of Republican Beijing—described by Strand—failed to make a presence in Wakeman and Martin’s Republican Shanghai.

Hanchao Lu’s portrait of commoners’ Shanghai has brought in a different perspective for viewing the urban landscape of modern China.25 Lu’s Shanghai, like that presented in Shanghai Sojourners, was also dominated by rural immigrants, but he ignores those established groups and focuses on only little urbanites and the urban poor. He does not see a self-conscious urban community based on a commonly shared Shanghai “locational identity” but has instead found “a honeycomb consisting of numerous small cells—the compact, even crowded, and multifunctional neighborhoods—where people conducted most of their daily activities” (p. 14). On the other hand, although the city “was fragmented into numerous communities,” the latter were not necessarily torn apart by rampant criminal activities or gang wars described by Wakeman and Martin. On the contrary, Lu discovers that these commoners were living “a life of moderate comfort . . . without venturing into the outside world—just a few blocks away” (p. 15). [End Page 6]

Xiaoqun Xu, unlike Lu, studies those established social groups and does find in Wakeman and Martin’s criminalized city “the rise of a self-conscious professional community” comprised mainly of a middle-class people: doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, journalists, and others. More important, Xu discovers, the relationship between professional associations and the state was, contrary to a Weberian’s proposition, not necessarily antagonistic but rather symbiotic. In other words, professional associations sought neither independence nor challenged the state; they needed the state to back them up by granting them professional status and privileges. On the other hand, the state welcomed the support from professional associations to broaden its legitimacy. Their relationship was thus constructed on a basis of “a negotiated mutual tolerance and cooperation.”26

Studies of other Chinese cities also diverge from one another. For example, Kristin Stapleton27 discovers that Qing Chengdu, unlike Hankou and some other cities where merchant guilds and native-place associations exerted more influence on urban governance, was dominated by officials (p. 35):“Chengdu was an officials’ town” (p. 36). But these officials were missing on the streets in the commoners’ Chengdu presented by Di Wang.28 Wang also claims that this was true of “the street in China” in general: “The lack of urban administration before the early twentieth century in China led to a local autonomy . . . The street cultivated a sense of neighborliness among people that helped strengthen consciousness in the urban community” (p. 23).

In Stapleton’s presentation, the maintenance of public order was mainly the responsibility of “the formal administration of Chengdu before the twentieth century”; baojia groupings under neighborhood headmen had no “administrative substance,” and Qing Chengdu relied more on “soldiers and yamen functionaries for policing.” Chengdu was also heavily guarded by ten military battalions of some 4,000 soldiers (p. 38); particularly during the “winter defense” period, the streets of Chengdu were tightly patrolled by soldiers. “Other street patrols were organized by the two county magistrates, who had large staffs of ‘runners’ to carry out policing and judicial duties, such as serving summonses and arresting suspected offenders. In the 1880s, Sichuan’s magistrates were ordered to monitor the movements of foreigners in their territories and take responsibility for their safety” (pp. 38–39). Chengdu’s urban reform since the late Qing, which is the main topic of Stapleton’s study, was initiated and led by officials involving several governors-general. Since 1902, the new police force organized by Zhou Shanpei has become responsible for the maintenance of public order in Chengdu (pp. 67–76; chaps. 3 and 4). The state was even more active in urban governance during the Republican period, particularly under the military commander Yang Sen (chap. 7). In short, Stapleton’s Chengdu was hardly a city built by and for urban communities, but rather policed and governed by government during both of the Qing and Republican periods, though the old security force of Qing Chengdu was corrupt and ineffective.

Yet in Wang’s Chengdu, “[t]he streets were controlled primarily through the neighborhood-organized baojia system,” and baojia leaders “were selected from [End Page 7] local residents . . . [who] were not formal officials in the city” (p. 23). In fact, Wang believes that “[t]he Qing government had little direct involvement in control of the street. This pattern of management had a profound impact on urban everyday life; the activities organized by the residents of a street or neighborhood clearly reflected a degree of community cohesion and control” (p. 23). Wang wants to prove that the streets in imperial China were very much like their European counterparts described by Fernand Braudel, which were presented as being “marked by an unparalleled freedom . . . A study of a city’s streets and neighborhoods reveals that urban dwellers enjoyed considerable autonomy because state power did not reach to that level until the early twentieth century and that they took advantage of this freedom to appropriate public space for their own needs” (p. 24).

The street life of Qing Chengdu presented by Wang was colorful and bustling, yet it was a painting of timeless customs based on a collective memory, which tends to be nostalgic and sweet, while pushing communal conflicts, if any, to a remote background: “Ordinary citizens were the major occupants of Chengdu streets, which, because of the lack of official control, offered many opportunities for recreation, social discourse, and earning a living” (p. 68).

However, according to Stapleton, the patriarchs of communities were “frequently called on to educate and restrain their sons and younger brothers” by county magistrates (p. 37); “Popular culture and public performances received close government scrutiny” (p. 38). Indeed, if the streets and neighborhoods of Chengdu really “lack[ed] official control” and people there were really left alone “to appropriate public space for their own needs,” a viewer of Stapleton’s Chengdu may wonder: Had officials in Chengdu ever been concerned with a notion of “public order” on the streets prior to the twentieth century? If so, how was this order maintained? How did the order of the “free” public and the order designed and enforced by officials accord (or not accord) with each other?

Di Wang does bring up the issues concerning tensions between “nongovernmental elite reformers” (p. 105) and official new policies promoters, on one hand, and “wicked,” “unbearably vulgar,” “unhealthy,” “dirty,” and “licentious” (p. 108) street commoners (chap. 4), on the other. He has also discussed issues concerning “street control” (chap. 5), street conflicts and struggles among commoners (chap. 7), and “street politics” (chap. 7). However, all these issues are presented as being historically new to Chengdu, emerging only in the twentieth century. Wang makes it clear that “[p]ublic space in traditional Chengdu had been relatively ‘free’ ” (p. 245), and the modern state, with the new police force as its agents, started to penetrate into this otherwise not only autonomous and self-regulated but also harmonious social space that had long been the norm for Chengdu officials in imperial times (pp. 246ff).

The contrasts between Rowe’s Hankou and Shanghai presented by Wakeman, Yeh, Honig, and others and between Stapleton and Wang’s Chengdu make any attempt to seek a single model to replace the Weberian one almost meaningless. It is perhaps counterproductive to focus so much on proving that Chinese cities were [End Page 8] or were not closely similar to their Western counterparts while trying to generate broad conclusions from one or two specific cases, as Robert Antony and Jane Kate Leonard once commented while reviewing studies on Qing governing institutions:

Generally, scholarship since the 1970s has tended to “disaggregate” China and look at historical problems in discrete spatial and temporal settings, as moments in a dynamic ever-changing process of historical development. In spite of this trend, scholars sometimes lose sight of the evolving historical processes in different regional and local settings, and generalize the findings of studies of discrete locales to all of China, thus constructing anew overarching interpretive schemes that highlight similarity and the synchronic whole at the expense of difference and the discrete diachronic aspects of China’s multiple regional governing environment.29

Native-Place Communities in New Perspectives

In her study of this topic concerning Shanghai, Bryna Goodman keeps a distance not only from Weber but also from Rowe. She believes that it is wrong to view Chinese native-place groups only from an ahistorical cultural perspective while treating them as traditional organizations—“the static foil to ‘modernity.’ ” Rather, “the idea of the native place was imbued with different meanings at different times and by different historical actors and therefore (though undeniably an element of Chinese culture) cannot be divorced from changing political and ideological contexts or be understood merely as a cultural ‘remnant.’ ” To support her argument that the native place as the “elements of ‘culture’ are not inherently ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ but the necessary, often useful and always constraining paths of change,” Goodman points to the “shifting forms of native-place association, changing institutional structures over time and the changing ideological justifications for these forms.” Along these lines, Goodman adopts a framework of “multiple and variable urban identities” to explain how and why the native place identity did not prevent an urban sojourner from developing other levels of “territory identity”—with city and nation.30

In fact, Rowe has already stressed that “[t]here is no reason to assume that the identification of a Chinese urban dweller with his native place—what may be termed his ‘native identity’—in any way precluded the development of a conception of himself as a full member of the community to which he had immigrated or in which he sojourned”—what Rowe calls the dweller’s “locational identity.” In other words, a Hankou dweller had “multiple identities.” On the other hand, however, Rowe believes that “an indigenous process of ‘rationalization’—progress along a path Weber identified within the European past but denied in China”—or, “a process of deparochialization was clear underway” in Qing Hankou. In this process, common trade based “federation into multiplex trade organizations” and “federation into multiplex local-origin organizations” increasingly replaced single “local origin” based organizations.31 Whereas Rowe still views native-place groups as inherently parochial, irrational, and traditional in comparison with cosmopolitan, rational, and modern institutions, Goodman rejects such a Weberian juxtaposition and believes that native-place organizations [End Page 9] could and can accommodate modernity by adapting themselves to new social, economic, and ideological conditions. As a matter of fact, Goodman points out, native place groups not only continually prospered in Republican Shanghai but also have come back in post-Mao-era Chinese cities (pp. 44–46, 305–306).

Richard Belsky’s most recent study of native-place associations in late imperial Beijing,32 which mainly focuses on native places as “corporate” entities (p. 259) with their walled compounds—lodges (huiguan)—takes a different approach. While not being “especially concerned with whether the native-place lodges were a progressive institution that facilitated modernization” (p. 17), Belsky could not escape from other Weberian questions: What was the relationship between sojourners and the city? How did sojourners identify themselves? Did they form “oath-bound communities”? What was their relationship with the state?

Belsky’s main contribution to the studies of native-place groups in urban China is that he situates native-place lodges in the unique “urban ecology” by treating them not only “as a space” (chap. 5) but also “in space” (chap. 4). For him, the above questions cannot be fully answered without understanding first the characteristics of imperial Beijing’s native-place lodges in terms of their position in this urban ecology. To begin with, most native-place lodges in Beijing were built for scholars and officials—examination candidates, expectant officials, traveling scholars and officials, and so on (pp. 59–67). As a result, most native-place lodgers stayed in the capital only temporarily (p. 63) and “had no interest in becoming Beijing men” (p. 117). To these sojourners, to form what Rowe calls a “locational identity” was therefore out of consideration; even so, Belsky does not believe these lodgers to be parochial in nature, and he points to several factors that suggest the opposite is true.

First, the number of native-place lodges in Beijing was extremely high—well over five hundred by the late nineteenth century (p. 57), and they were concentrated in the Xuannan ward and in places around Liulichang in the Outer City. Even so, the neighborhoods being occupied were not divided into small “pockets” along the lines of different groups of native-place lodgers (pp. 88–93). Belsky has further elaborated upon Skinner’s idea of “urban ecology” (p. 17) by pointing out more accurately that the Xuannan ward was the actual nucleus for scholars and officials (pp. 86ff). Whereas Skinner emphasizes the emergence of the nucleus of merchants to attest to their growing influence in order to make a case that Chinese cities were indeed built upon trade, commerce, and the bourgeoisie, Belsky makes Skinner’s old gentry (scholars) almost a revolutionary class that “could over time create unintended historical dynamics” (p. 16), as this was demonstrated during the late Qing reform movement in the 1890s (pp. 217ff). It was this crowded but undivided scholar-official ward, Belsky argues, that brought “scholar-official elites of different regions together and helped to forge a sense of imperium that would greatly facilitate and inform the emergence of a concept of a ‘national’ China in the late nineteenth century” (p. 94).

Second, Belsky stresses that the “social homogeneity represented by this undivided distribution of scholars and officials reflected and facilitated the creation of [End Page 10] an elite cosmopolitan community among China’s imperial political class” (p. 115). Belsky’s position here is not only very close to that of Goodman, but also not so distant from that of Rowe, only Rowe highlights the existence of a non-particularistic merchant community. To support his claim that scholar-official lodgers were a “national”-oriented “elite cosmopolitan community,” Belsky challenges Frederick W. Mote’s notion that lodges were “native-place theme parks” (pp. 110, 116). Belsky finds that although native-place lodges were walled compounds remaining closed to nonnatives, they were also exposed to other nonnative cultures. For example, a huiguan was not obligated to hire a native chef to cook for its native lodges (pp. 110–112); the former worthies worshipped in lodgers were not only remembered by natives, but were also “figures whose accomplishments were primarily of an imperial rather than a local nature” (p. 137). That most commonly performed opera on the stages of different native-place lodges was the Beijing opera and “not the particular regional opera of the huiguan where the performance was put on” is seen as an additional fact to prove that the “notion of Beijing huiguan as cultural bastions is flawed” (p. 117).

Belsky highly emphasizes how the spatial layout of the hundreds of nativeplace lodges in a very concentrated area changed imperial Beijing’s urban ecology, facilitated the communications between lodgers from different regions, and reinforced lodgers’ self-perception of being a national elite class. This national identity was fully manifested during the reform movement in the 1890s as regional elites gathered in Beijing took the advantage of the huiguan space’s being lightly regulated by the state to hold political meetings. Between April 22 and May 5, 1895, a total of thirty-two political petitions were circulated among and signed by examination candidates lodged in huiguan and officials who had close ties with these huiguan, whose total number went well over four thousand. Belsky thinks that this rapid development had to do not only with the spatial layout of Beijing’s huiguan, but also with huiguan’s, to quote Strand, “tradition of corporate self-regulation,” which, in Belsky’s view, “accorded the huiguan an added measure of autonomy.”33

However, Belsky does not suggest that huiguan in imperial Beijing had been seeking a political independence; on the contrary, he sees that huiguan had been more interested in developing a sort of “close, complex, and ultimately complimentary” (p. 167) relations with the state: “The lodges were neither forced by the state into acting as instruments of public order nor allowed to operate autonomously in a government-free vacuum. Instead, social order was a joint project conducted by and on behalf of both the scholar-official compatriot community and the government” (pp. 167–168).

In Belsky’s presentation, huiguan and compatriot ties were exploited by the Qing state to implement “a system of mutual responsibility among civil officials”: huiguan were held responsible for their lodgers, and metropolitan officials as guarantors were asked to issue “chopped bonds” for their fellow natives sojourned in Beijing (pp. 168–174). The politicization of huiguan since their [End Page 11] involvement in the 1890s reform movement, Belsky maintains, marked the decisive turn for the “symbiotic” (p. 168) relationship between huiguan and the state established and cultivated in the early periods, as the Qing state penetration of huiguan increased (p. 168); the Republican state followed the same path and more tightly regulated huiguan (pp. 231–234, 256). Huiguan’s ultimate dissolution by the socialist state in the early 1950s is seen by Belsky as a “logical end of a progression under way for many years” (p. 256) when the social and political environment had already drastically changed due to factors such as the abolition of the examination system in 1905 and the moving of the capital to Nanjing under the Nationalist regime after 1927 (pp. 236–237, 256).

Spatial Order of Imperial Beijing and Subcultures

Many scholars, while participating in these ongoing dialogues, have taken a spatial approach to reexamine the nature of the relationship between Chinese society and the state. Belsky’s work on Beijing native-place lodges discussed above is an example. Allison Dray-Novey, who studies imperial Beijing from the perspective of spatial order enforced by the vigorous and vigilant Manchu state, had actually tried this approach much earlier.34 Unlike Di Wang’s Qing Chengdu, imperial Beijing under the Qing as presented by Dray-Novey was a bureaucratically planned, heavily policed, and securely guarded administrative center where the presence of the state down to the street and neighborhood level was strong. From this perspective, Qing Beijing at first glance fits rather well with the Weberian typology of the “Oriental” city. As the contrast between Beijing and Hankou made by Dray- Novey shows (pp. 912–913), it would have been a much more difficulty task for Rowe to make a case outdating the Weberian model about Chinese cities had he chosen imperial Beijing as the subject of his study. Nor could Di Wang so confidently make broad generalizations about “the street” in China under the Qing had he taken Dray-Novey’s Beijing into consideration.

By depicting the omnipresent state security forces that deeply penetrated neighborhoods, streets, and alleyways, Dray-Novey has added a long footnote to Strand’s study of Republican Beijing, as Strand is preoccupied with the “radical expansion of local officialdom” during the Republican period and with the influence of the Japanese model on Beijing’s modern police.35 In Dray-Novey’s presentation, the penetrating state and its complicated security forces were already there during the entire Qing period long before the arrival of the Westerners and Japanese. From Dray- Novey’s perspective, Beijing native-place lodges’ autonomous space or their “tradition of corporate self-regulation” discussed by Belsky with a reference to Strand was firmly locked up in a space already defined by the Qing state and its gendarmerie.

On the other hand, along the lines of Skinner’s analysis of urban ecology of traditional Chinese cities, Dray-Novey challenges the assumption that only modern cities, such as Chicago, are historically capable of establishing spatial order on a territorial basis to organize and control urban social life, and that “relatively undifferentiated [End Page 12] use of space tends to be a feature of preindustrial cities” (pp. 886–887). She takes imperial Beijing as an example to show how a preindustrial city also had a long history of dividing up its urban space to be used by different population subgroups. Dray-Novey rejects the old interpretative schemes that tried to draw a clear line between modern and preindustrial cities. Her main argument follows:

[T]he dynamics of a large, dense, and heterogeneous population produce an increased number of urban subcultures, and the potential for constant conflict among them leads to growth of the territorial arrangement that sociologists call spatial order. As this kind of order takes hold in a city, various subcultures and activities increasingly are separated in space. Although spatial order originally arises spontaneously, the need to reinforce it is a principal reason for the development of police.

(p. 885)

And “a large, dense, and heterogeneous population” could be an outcome of either industrialization (as in Western modern cities) or urbanization (in non-Western preindustrial cities), so preindustrial cities like imperial Beijing could also establish spatial order, which included the following elements: nested cities (Forbidden, Imperial, and Inner Cities) separated by huge walls and gates, ethnically separated neighborhoods mainly in the Inner City, chessboard-patterned streets and alleyways, and the heavy patrol of streets and neighborhoods carried out by overlapping multiple security forces (pp. 890–894). Dray-Novey points to the fact that “[m]any identifiable groups pursuing a particular way of life—high officials, Buddhist monks, actors, beggars, prostitutes, opium-smokers—could be associated with specific locales or commercial establishments in the Inner City, the Outer City, or the suburbs outside the walls” (pp. 891–892). In another place, she interprets and identifies the different groups of Qing Beijing’s population as differentiated subcultures— “ethnic (Manchu, Mongol, Chinese, sojourners and visitors from many provinces outside the capital, foreigners); bureaucratic (high officials, examination candidates); religious (Muslims, Buddhist monks, Daoist priests, Christian missionaries and their converts); artistic (writers, actors, painters, craftsmen); criminal (bullies, thieves); economic (merchants, beggars)” (p. 889). Noting that Qing Beijing’s multiple “police institutions” closely fit with these “various segments of the populace (‘subcultures’)” (p. 909), Dray-Novey in the rest of her article (pp. 890–913) gives a detailed analysis of the organization, structure, and operations of Qing Beijing’s police institutions that were “overlapped both geographically and functionally” (p. 904).

Dray-Novey’s presentation has greatly increased our knowledge of the spatial context against which Qing state institutions operated. In the end, Dray-Novey suggests “a universal pattern in urban social history” (p. 914) in the world: “In remote times, appearance emerged as a principle of social order in human settlements large enough to constitute a ‘world of strangers.’ When these settlements became much larger and therefore contained many [End Page 13] subcultures, a more powerful principle of order was found in the organization of space. The older system based on appearance continued to exist, but over time the system based on space became dominant. City police and increased bureaucratic control followed” (pp. 914–915).

Dray-Novey accepts the theory that “[u]rban tolerance is made possible by spatial separation—and resulting controlled contact—among subcultures. Modern urban residents can live comfortably as part of a diverse city population because space mediates contact among potentially conflicting groups.” On the other hand, “territorial boundaries among subcultures” need to be enforced by city police (p. 886). In responding to the growing urban population and ever more diversified subcultures and to the needs of maintaining the public order, “police functions,” according to Dray-Novey, “may be initiated by either government or community action” (p. 885), as shown by the cases of Beijing and Rowe’s Hankou, respectively (pp. 912–914).

Given the fact that the spatial order of Qing Beijing was structured and enforced by a Manchu-dominated state as it was trying to divide the population into different groups and determine their political, social, and ethnic status, the subcultures that “emerged,” as defined here, have quite a different nature compared to Chicago, where subcultures result more from natural social and economic developments.

Spatial Strategies and State and Communal Power

Whereas to Dray-Novey the spatial order of Qing Beijing was a system structured to avoid “actual or threatened clashes” (p. 886) between different population groups and their subcultures, to other scholars of urban China a more intelligible interpretation of this is to be sought from a revised Weberian perspective by viewing it as part of the ideology and strategies embraced by the state or community to enhance social control. In this connection, Arthur F. Wright’s earlier interpretative scheme36 that highlighted the cosmological order established in Chinese imperial cities attests to its analytical power again. For example, Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt writes:

The fundamental feature of the Chinese imperial city is four-sided enclosure. Every Chinese imperial city is encased by four outer walls which meet at right angles to form a rectangle. Within the walls are at least one and sometimes two or more sets of walls that define smaller rectangular enclosures. Inside the smaller enclosures palatial sectors are elevated . . . Outer and inner city walls were pierced by gates, the second characteristic of the Chinese imperial city . . . Another feature of Chinese imperial city outer walls was the defensive projection, which took the form of a lookout tower or a protective battlement . . . Orientation of the streets, like the walls, was according to the four cardinal directions—symbolically the clearly demarcated boundaries of the Chinese empire.37

Within city walls, as the ancient capital Chang’an exemplified, neighborhoods were divided into walled wards—“governmentally controlled spaces that were inhabited predominantly by peoples of one occupational, religious, or ethnic group” (pp. 9–10). [End Page 14]

Steinhardt continues: “The four-sided Chinese city is a physical manifestation of the traditional belief in a square-shaped universe, bounded by walls, with the Son of Heaven at its center. Tradition associates each of the four world quarters and the center with a symbolic animal, color, metal, season (excluding the center in this case), and a host of other phenomena” (p. 8). Such a spatial structure, in Steinhardt’s view, helped to make Chinese urban population control easier (p. 9).

Yinong Xu, while reconstructing the early history of Suzhou, a city that was believed to be developed from the ancient Wu capital, has also elaborated upon the city’s cosmological symbolism manifested through its urban form and spatial structure defined by walls and gates.38 Having accepted spatial form as a form of social ordering and “the conceptual and possibly institutional inseparability of the walled city from its status as the regional or local administrative center of the imperial government” (p. 6), Yinong Xu believes that the unchanged Suzhou city walls, “and thus the overall form of the city” since 1229 or perhaps from even several centuries earlier than that (pp. 6, 240), demonstrated “the persistence of the political function” of the city (p. 67). Yinong Xu firmly holds that “no Chinese city in the imperial era was ever a corporate entity of its own; nor did any of them have the organizational features that set European cities apart in legal and political ways” (pp. 2–3).

From a very different angle, David Bray traces the source of the city’s power as well as the basis of its governmentality of the modern danwei—“the basic unit of urban life” operated under the socialist state—back to China’s ancient space practices.39 He finds that China is particularly rich with a culture of walls being utilized to define space and order (pp. 17–22); that ancient China’s walled city as idealized in Rights of Zhou was a physical representation of Chinese cosmology, with its residential space being further divided into wards by the “interlocking grid of avenues” and, again, by walls, thus creating needed spatial forms for organizing residents into the baojia system (pp. 22–25); and that the walled courtyard compound home (siheyuan) since ancient times was designed for ordering the hierarchical domestic space (pp. 25–34, 199). This space practice is seen being further developed for ordering the internal space of the guilds and corporations of Republican China (pp. 40–46, 200). As for the main subject of his study, the danwei, Bray has made the following observations:

[A]s a spatial form, it was saturated with meanings reflecting the social, political, and economic order to which it belonged (p. 195) . . . The disparate genealogy of the danwei spatial form provides an important insight into the significance of spatial practice within the everyday operation of the danwei. The walled compound form reinforces the sense in which the danwei is a collectivized social unit, providing both protection and identity to its members. Internal spatial arrangements, particularly the axial alignment of major buildings, are designed to symbolically reproduce the mythical order of the “socialist state,” ensuring that the centrality of the party and of productive labor are [End Page 15] constantly represented to all who live and work within the danwei. Moreover, the standardization of living and working spaces within the danwei reinforce the principles of egalitarianism and common identity, as well as suggesting a sense of national unity in the socialist cause.

(p. 200)

However, quite different from the original Weberian approach, David Bray rejects “the state-centered analytical framework” (p. 195). He stresses that the danwei as a spatial form should not be seen “as a manifestation of CCP party/ state power,” especially “as a coercive force of suppression—that is, ‘power over’—but rather as a complex set of productive relationships. As a realm of micro power relationships, the danwei produces a very particular form of collective-oriented subjectivity” (p. 196). In other words, the enclosed community within the danwei space could exercise a collectivized and spatially framed power over individuals.

Jianfei Zhu, on the other hand, devotes a full study on imperial Beijing’s spatial strategies,40 which he believes to be rooted in “Chinese culture and mentality” (p. 2). Zhu’s objectives include explaining “how power and space are interrelated, and how space accommodates and facilitates an operation of power in a set of power relations,” or “how power relations were supported in spatial arrangements” (p. 3). In Zhu’s presentation, imperial Beijing’s spatial form is foremost “a centric and symmetrical layout,” which, instead of being something designed for separating what Dray- Novey terms “subcultures,” is seen rather as symbolically representing “Confucian ideas of a sacred emperor, the Son of Heaven, residing at the center of the universe, coordinating the ways of ‘heaven’ with that of humans on earth” (pp. 5–6). From this perspective, the spatial order of imperial Beijing is viewed as highly state-centered.

Zhu further discusses the Confucian and Neo-Confucian ideology in chapter 2 and, like Yinong Xu and others, traces one of its critical sources back to Zhou Li (Rights of Zhou). In a general outline of this ideology interpreted by the Han synthesist Dong Zhongshu and major Song Neo-Confucian philosophers, Zhu lists the following characteristics: a holistic worldview, a universal moralism, a political absolutism, and an emperor-centered centralism (p. 36). Zhu believes that the influences of this Han-Song Confucianism on Beijing were “pervasive in all spheres of social life in real space” (p. 41) and were particularly reflected in the city’s “spatial hierarchical order based on an articulated centrality”—“a spatial centrism” (p. 36). The key to understand this in spatial terms, according to Zhu, is that Beijing was built around the emperor; in this sense, imperial Beijing was “a formal representation of wangdao [kingly way]” (p. 41) through its formal city plan: “The large complex at the center, the uncompromising assertion of the axis over almost the entire city, and, in association with that, the axial way” (p. 42). On the other hand, imperial Beijing was a functional representation of badao (dominance by sheer power) in “an actual spatial practice”; it was “a space of political dominance.” This was achieved [End Page 16] through establishing a spatial order “centering on the palace and extending outward to the city and the provinces of the empire,” which made “actual space in reality” to act “as a latent and constitutive realm for the exercise of imperial power and domination” (pp. 41–44).

While discussing the actual space practice in imperial Beijing, Zhu highlights the following features: “There is no open and collective spatial field where a society can congregate in a central area. An open space, with its fluidity and continuity and its tendency to gather and to form a centrality, is missing in imperial Beijing. This space, instead, is dissected and fragmented, by city walls” (p. 46).

In other words, all spaces in imperial Beijing are “localized and closed by walls and gates” (p. 51). Above them, “four enclosures” (Forbidden, Imperial, Inner, and Outer Cities) were created and were laid out hierarchically; from inside out, they formed “one sequence of descending order in social status and spatial positioning” (p. 46). While pointing out emphatically that imperial Beijing lacks “open” spaces, spaces described as “agora,” “piazza,” and “square” in the West, Zhu does uncover many other alternative areas that functioned as foci of a local social life—streets, nodes and nodal areas (such as street intersections), shop fronts, “front spaces of official, civic and religious structures (such as county offices and local temples), spaces around city gates, spaces around bridges and along river banks, and other spaces at the edges of the city” (pp. 52, 78). In Zhu’s view, the formal spatial structure—walls, gates, and enclosures— represented the state order, while streets, nodes and nodal areas, shop fronts, and so on, were social spaces of “relative openness” (p. 78). This meant that urban space in imperial Beijing was not completely embraced by the state. To measure and compare the degree of spatial “freedom” of enclosed cities in Beijing, Zhu calculates the ratio between “dead-end” and “through” streets and alleyways and has the following figures to offer (p. 54):

Outer City 0.205 (140/683)
Inner City 0.350 (666/1903)
Imperial City 0.965 (362/375)

The measuring of the ratio between all connecting points (of lines—streets and alleyways) and all lines (streets/alleyways) in the three cities results in similar indications (pp. 55–56). These statistics are a spatial confirmation of hierarchical control imposed upon these three cities; clearly, the Imperial and Inner Cities were more tightly controlled than the Outer City was. On the other hand, Zhu’s discussion on state institutions and society (such as guilds, theaters, restaurants, temple fairs and festivals, and so on) also confirms this overall spatial arrangement (pp. 61–90). Zhu sees the actual state/society tension being reflected in the following spatial terms: [End Page 17]

The state horizontally fragmented and compartmentalized the population and urban space, and vertically differentiated between parts of the population and spatial enclosures; it thus created an overall vertical hierarchy, the political high ground, which enabled the downward flow of force and control which, in turn, reinforced the horizontal and vertical divisions, and the overall tectonic of the high ground. The urban society, on the other hand, unfolding on a large open field of networks, fostered lateral encounters and associations across the divided parts of the population and space, and thus confused social order and classification, horizontalizing the overall vertical hierarchy. The state divided and controlled society, whereas society reintegrated the divided compartments, polluted the classification, and endangered the hierarchy of the state.

(pp. 88–89)

In chapters 4 through 7, Zhu analyzes in details the “political architecture” of the Forbidden City. By calculating “all elements of material boundaries,” such as columns, partitions, distance, walls of all sizes and scales (pp. 103ff), Zhu reveals several prominent spatial features of the palace compound. For example, the emperor’s real residence, in terms of a metric depth, a relational or structural depth, and of an overall depth regarding integration and segregation, “is one of the deepest or most segregated spaces within the closed Palace City” (p. 118). Concerning the residential compounds of the emperor’s harem, ladies at different positions in a hierarchy were separated from the emperor by different “metrical as well as structural, topological distances on the paths between them,” as “[t]he lanes that related the emperor’s to the ladies’ locations involved metrical length, change of direction and layers of boundaries made by walls and gates” (pp. 122–123). Zhu also examines the physical locations of eunuch servants and discovers that the inner court was a “corporeal space” with “a strong adjacency of eunuchs, and an overall pattern of ascending density, towards the inner center” (pp. 119, 127). In the emperor’s two residential compounds, for example, 278 eunuchs resided. Also recorded was the highest density rate of eunuchs in a single building—56—for the entire Forbidden City (p. 127). For the area of the outer court, which is termed “an institutional space,” Zhu reveals features such as “a correspondence between an institutional hierarchy and a spatial hierarchy,” and that “institutional distance was mediated by spatial distance” (p. 138). In analyzing the defense system of the Forbidden City, Zhu stresses that the security forces employed several spatial strategies (such as using checkpoints, concentration of the forces in a central area, and the control of the u-shape that wrapped the Forbidden City as different spatial devices) to reinforce the “effect of walls, of spatial depth and of the inside-outside division (pp. 159–161). In the last chapter devoted to the discussions of political architecture, Zhu analyzes how the institutionalization of the central authority centered on the emperor was materialized through employing certain spatial strategies. One such strategy had to do with the ratio between the depth of spatial layout and the height of political authority. Since this ratio reflected “the intrinsic superiority of inside over outside, across a boundary, in [End Page 18] the form of a wall or a distance,” so “the deeper the center of the court is, the higher the position of the emperor at the apex becomes” (p. 171). In addition, by utilizing the effect of walls, enclosures, and distance, the emperor “obtained a panoramic gaze on his subjects”:

The gaze was strictly one-way. While there was a gaze upon the outside, there was no visibility to the court from outside. Both spatially and institutionally, the center of Beijing was invisible from outside, obscured by boundaries and a hierarchy of distances, and various institutional, disciplinary and violent means of denial and defence. In relation to this inequality of seeing between inside and outside was another, a more basic inequality, that of the boundary itself: the superiority of inside over outside.

(p. 172)

In Beijing, the center is invisible, behind layers of walls with a hierarchy of distances. The outside, however, is fully visible from the center, through an intelligence mechanism. A strictly opposite flow of incoming information and outgoing directives together impose an eye-power, an imperial gaze, upon a whole social space of the empire.

(p. 187)

Zhu’s analysis of the spatial layout of the institutions’ locations of imperial sacrifices in Beijing and the spatial structure of the Altar of Heaven (chap. 8) confirms his argument that spatial layout helped the state to internalize the formal imperial ideology: “External, material dispositions became part of the internal, semantic content of ideology. That north is above south, inside above outside and center above periphery, as constructed in spatial layout and through human performance, is intrinsically semantic and symbolic. In this discourse practice, all the contrasts and oppositions outlined above [indicate] one meaning only: the emperor is above all humans” (pp. 210–211).

In the end, Zhu’s imperial Beijing in spatial terms was dominated by the state centered on the emperor and by the classical imperial ideology built upon both Zhou Li and Song Neo-Confucianism. He recognizes that there existed simultaneously “an excessive fragmentation of space into microcosms, into courtyard compounds and internal subdivisions, deep and minute in themselves, and profuse and varied in the overall quantity and arrangement,” and that even “[i]n the central areas in Beijing, there is a dynamic decentralization.” However,

[a]ll the microcosms are organized with axes, which in turn are governed by one central north-south axis. The small spaces, highly segmented, were nevertheless controlled rigorously for a total composition of forms (xing) visible at a certain distance and, beyond that, of a dynamic propensity (shi) breathing and flowing over an urban and geographical surface. This ambitious and imaginary vision, supported by the most authoritarian political power developed from 1380, attains a horizontal largeness of cosmic aura between heaven and the earth. It certainly symbolizes the sacred imperial authority and a heavenly spirit that supports it.

(p. 234)

In short, as Zhu maintains, the spatial layout in imperial Beijing helped to “construct a total order in the human social world” (p. 246); “Beijing as a whole reveals two theses: a cosmological ethics and a political authoritarianism” (pp. 246–247). [End Page 19]

State versus Society: Negotiated Boundaries

As the above discussions show, Zhu’s Beijing and Dray-Novey’s Beijing are mutually complementary. One is presented as the center of the empire where the imperial throne attained the formal dominance at the cosmological level; the other is presented as a city of subcultures where the imperial gendarmerie established a comprehensive control over the streets and neighborhoods. Unlike Rowe’s Hankou or Di Wang’s Chengdu, Zhu’s and Dray-Novey’s Beijing was the embodiment of two different but nonetheless established orders, though both authors concentrate on describing in their own terms what the orders were (that is, as something being established and fixed rather than as something continually evolved).

From historical perspective, the spatial order of Qing Beijing represented a restoration of the social order that had been commonly established in Chinese cities before the ninth century. The typical features of this spatial order included not only city walls and gates, but also walls that separated wards/neighborhoods. Also, markets under this order could only be established in certain well-defined areas and operate in certain hours during the day. In each ward, dwellers were often related in occupation, religion, or ethnicity.41 As Skinner has outlined, the so-called medieval urban revolution between the late eighth century and the Southern Song (1127–1279) gradually changed this “classical” urban social and spatial order: “Its salient features were . . . the breakdown and eventual collapse of the official marketing organization; . . . the disappearance of the enclosed marketplace, along with the walled-ward system, and their replacement by ‘a much freer street plan in which trade and commerce could be conducted anywhere within the city or its outlying suburbs’; [and] the rapid expansion of particular walled cities and the growth of commercial suburbs outside their gates.”42

The changes of Yinong Xu’s Suzhou confirmed Skinner’s outlines. By the early ninth century, government control over residential wards relaxed; residents had more freedom to choose neighborhoods; the ward system was replaced by the system of streets and alleys (p. 133); shops moved from the designated districts and were opened in residential areas (p. 148); and the city’s commercial areas expanded beyond city walls and extended to western suburbs (p. 242).

The spatial order of imperial Beijing studied by Dray-Novey bore a strong similarity to the “classical” Chinese urban system established prior to the medieval urban revolution. For example, neighborhoods in the Inner City (excluding the Forbidden and Imperial Cities) were fixedly designated to twenty-four ethnic (Manchu, Mongol, or Chinese) banner units,43 both nonbanner and banner individuals of a specific company (zuoling) were not allowed to live in neighborhoods other than the one designated to them, marketplaces had designated areas and only operated during the day, resident movement at night was restricted, and so on. [End Page 20]

Part of the designated neighborhoods for the Bordered Yellow Banner. Source: Qinding Baqi tongzhi, 30 (Qifen zhi 30): 5b.
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Figure 1. 

Part of the designated neighborhoods for the Bordered Yellow Banner. Source: Qinding Baqi tongzhi, 30 (Qifen zhi 30): 5b.

[End Page 21]

Enclosed banner neighborhoods in the Inner City, 1750. Displayed here are neighborhoods along Fatongsi and Jingtusi alleyways in the northeast Inner City. The neighborhoods were designated to part of the 14 Mongol companies and their families of the Second (Left) Regiment (canling) under the Bordered Yellow Banner. Sources: Qinding Baqi tongzhi, 30 (Qifen zhi 30): 7a–b; Jiamo Qianlong jingcheng quantu [A reproduction of the map of the whole capital city under the Qianlong reign] (1750. Reproduction. Edited by Beijingshi gudai jianzhu yanjiusuo and Beijingshi wenwu shiye guanliju ziliao zhongxin. Beijing: Yanshan chubanshe, 1996), 2: 5.
Click for larger view
Figure 2. 

Enclosed banner neighborhoods in the Inner City, 1750. Displayed here are neighborhoods along Fatongsi and Jingtusi alleyways in the northeast Inner City. The neighborhoods were designated to part of the 14 Mongol companies and their families of the Second (Left) Regiment (canling) under the Bordered Yellow Banner. Sources: Qinding Baqi tongzhi, 30 (Qifen zhi 30): 7a–b; Jiamo Qianlong jingcheng quantu [A reproduction of the map of the whole capital city under the Qianlong reign] (1750. Reproduction. Edited by Beijingshi gudai jianzhu yanjiusuo and Beijingshi wenwu shiye guanliju ziliao zhongxin. Beijing: Yanshan chubanshe, 1996), 2: 5.

However, factors such as poverty and the increase of the banner population were working against this ideal neighborhood division. In 1683, some highranking banner ministers proposed to build more houses in empty areas outside the city walls for poor, single bannermen, which meant that these bannermen would leave their companies’ designated neighborhoods. The Kangxi emperor rejected the proposal, reasoning that it would be hard to control these [End Page 22] men. He suggested that rich banner officials and aristocrats who had more than forty jian of houses should each donate one jian to the poor, single bannermen. 44 Although this plan would keep these bannermen inside the Inner City, it could not guarantee that the donated houses would be in the specific neighborhood of the particular receiver. In 1695, the Kangxi emperor again was informed that more than seven thousand banner people had no houses in which to stay. This time he ordered to build two thousand jian of houses for each banner in areas outside the Inner City.45 The spatial order concerning the separation of the banner Inner City from other areas of the city was clearly violated.

Also, as a 1738 edict indicated, more than four thousand jian of new banner houses were under construction a year earlier, which were built on the empty grounds found in different banner neighborhoods. The size of empty grounds found in each banner territory varied, and so if the separation of banner residents was to be followed strictly, each banner would have an uneven number of new houses to distribute to its members. As a result, the Qianlong emperor accepted a proposal to distribute houses evenly to different banners, which meant that some members of a particular banner unit would have to live in the neighborhoods designated to another banner unit.46

In a study of house property transactions in Qing Beijing, Zhang Xialin examined more than 1,500 existing and recorded title deeds that revealed active house property (including shop house) exchanges between Beijing residents.47 Although not focusing on how these real estate transactions affected the spatial order laid out by the Qing state, the detailed listing of title deeds in the section of appendix 1 of Zhang’s study does allow me to compile the following two tables, which reveal a wide range of crossing banner, crossing ethnic division, and crossing neighborhood house property exchanges not only between banner residents, but also between banner and nonbanner residents. Also, many of these transactions involved nonbanner residents who bought or sold house properties that were located in the banner Inner City, suggesting stark violations of the spatial order the Qing state wished to establish in Beijing.

[See next two pages for data tables] [End Page 23]

House Property Transactions Concerning Shops in Qing Beijing Based on Existing/Recorded Title Deeds
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Table 1. 

House Property Transactions Concerning Shops in Qing Beijing Based on Existing/Recorded Title Deeds

[End Page 24]

House Property Transactions in Qing Beijing Based on Existing/Recorded Title Deeds
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Table 2. 

House Property Transactions in Qing Beijing Based on Existing/Recorded Title Deeds

[End Page 25]

Developments in many other areas since the mid-eighteenth century also pointed to a gradual breakdown of Qing Beijing’s spatial order established since the midseventeenth century. In this connection, Susan Naquin’s impressive study of Ming and Qing Beijing48 is highly recommended. Although Naquin’s main focus is Ming-Qing Beijing’s religious communities centered on temples, she has touched upon many other political, economic, social, and cultural institutions and groups in the city. The objects of her investigation were not fixed, but rather situated in a real history. The reality of Beijing is presented as fluid, changing constantly, and defiant to any fixed order defined by the state.

Naquin states explicitly that she has no interest in reviving the “public sphere” debate, though she follows the tripartite division of state, family, and social organizations “outside” (“a tricky concept with blurred boundaries”) the former two (pp. xxviii–xxix) (but without using the related Chinese terms).49 Naquin stresses the division between the state and family, which provides an analytical framework for her to study temples that were located outside these two institutions. Since Beijing had no parks, promenades, squares, plazas, fountains, gardens, or stadiums, let alone city halls, museums, concert halls, and zoos opened to the public, temples (which were “open to the public [and] had ample space within its walled courtyards”) became the “most important component of public space in Chinese cities in the late imperial era.” In comparison, Ming-Qing Beijing’s streets, roads, or intersections, though spaces intensely used by the general public, were not unattended by the state, as presented in Di Wang’s Chengdu; rather, “the hand of government was ready to seize any who employed them for assembly” (pp. xxx–xxxi). Also, “[p]laces for public entertainment (restaurants, wineshops, teahouses, or theaters) were congenial to temporary but not long-term associations. Commercial buildings, in which owners, staff, and customers met, did not readily provide the place or the rituals for the creation of broad-reaching formal or informal associations, although shared occupation did become a basis for community formation” (p. xxxi). All this made temples and their communities especially important for studying institutions outside the state and family.

Naquin starts with an introduction of Beijing’s heavily guarded walls and gates, which she points out to be “both symbol and reality of imperial power, key determinants of [Beijing’s] urban layout, and omnipresent in the orientation of residents and visitors” (p. 10). Like many others, Naquin cannot ignore the fact that Beijing’s overall spatial layout “asserted the centrality of the emperor . . . : The shape of the walls, their careful orientation to the points of the compass, the well-defined central axis, and the concentric focus on the imperial residence can rightly be seen as expressions of an imperial ideology in which the emperor was ‘cosmic pivot’ and the capital city a mirror of the cosmos over which he ruled” (p. 7).

In addition, walls and gates are presented as means of political and social control, which created many “inconvenient barriers to easy movement” (p. 8). More importantly, walls and gates created many segregated spaces: “Walls [End Page 26] within, walls without, enclosures nested inside enclosure, cities within cities—compartmentalization was fundamental to Peking’s history and identity before the twentieth century” (p. 6).

Constrained spatially, imperial Beijing, unlike Rowe’s Hankou, “had no separate city government” (p. xxii), nor was it a good place for nourishing and developing self-conscious communities. Rather, “walls encapsulated activities, turned communities inward, and worked against the idea of common public space or shared identities” (p. 6); “Common residence within or near the walls of the Ming-Qing capital did not automatically create a shared culture or an urban community” (p. 18). That said, Ming-Qing Beijing, even though dominated by imperial symbolism, ideology, and power, still had plenty of room for different communities. In fact, Naquin presents Beijing not just as the capital that only served the interests of the state, but also as a city for local communities and private life: “Although the imperial and official Peking usually presented itself as the sharply bounded space defined by the walls, the worlds of commerce, religion, and private leisure extended firmly but irregularly into the countryside” (p. 17). In other words, the presence of the state in Beijing was powerful, but the control of the state over society was far from absolute and total; fragmented, spontaneous, and diversified communities were everywhere in the city, though most of them were not necessarily antagonistic toward the state.

Chapters 2 and 3 are devoted to a general introduction of Ming-Qing Beijing’s temples and the communities surrounding them: the physical layout of the city’s temples, their buildings, their gods, their clerics, their connections to one another, their patrons, their assets, and their use by wider publics (p. 19). Readers from here could get a lot of detailed information, such as the number of temples, their locations, or different names by which these temples were known. Naquin identifies more than 2,500 temples in total in both the city proper and suburbs between 1400 and 1900 (p. 20). As physical spaces, temples in Beijing resembled very much walled courtyard houses (pp. 27–31, 34), except that they were homes for various gods (pp. 35ff) and opened to the public who could come to pray, to make obeisances, offerings, vows, devotions, or divination (p. 22). The gods worshiped in these temples were not organized under any “single overarching system” (p. 38), but they “interacted” with people who came—answering their prayers, and showing them “miracles” or anger (pp. 44–45). Temples were owned by neither private families nor state organizations, but they and their chief clerics could not escape state control. Two offices under the Ministry of Rites in both the Ming and Qing were responsible for handling “affairs” related to the operations of these temples (p. 50); all ordained clerics were required to be registered with and licensed by government (p. 51). Corruption of temples and their clerics was also a prominent feature (p. 56).

Temples were supported and maintained by patrons who formed more lasting communities than coming-and-going visitors and supplicants. Temple patrons included members of the imperial families, eunuchs, organized occupational/native- [End Page 27] place groups, or unorganized individuals. Renovating, repairing, and rebuilding temples were communal projects (pp. 58ff). Temples had their own assets: houses, courtyards, landholdings, gift materials, and money (pp. 65ff); they connected themselves to local communities by providing spaces for theatric performances, horse and cart races, polo, and mounted archery shows (pp. 83–85). Temples were increasingly secularized by using their properties to open hotels, to run temple fairs, or to store the coffins of sojourners (pp. 75, 86–88). Temples also were involved in “public service”—mainly relief activities—run by the Ming and Qing states (pp. 89ff). Naquin also discusses “more perilous possibilities” (p. 91) offered by temples:

Becoming a monk could, under some circumstances, be intended as a political act, and temples could be places for ostentatious literati reclusion from politics. (Peking was, however, hardly the most convincing side for such a gesture.) Like public houses, temples were also suitable sites for elite graffiti and . . . this anonymous medium was ideal for veiled criticisms of powerful people and government business. Monasteries were places where clerics could not only legitimately congregate but also give lectures and instructions, and noted monks traveled about (especially during the Ming), preaching to large clerical and lay audiences.

(p. 91)

Meeting places were thus crucial to an organization or movement of any size. But where could an uncensored or disinterested discussion of national business take place? Schools, private homes, and public houses (inns, teahouses, and wineshops) each had their drawbacks. Because temples were a place outside the home and outside the offices of government where people could meet at their leisure, they became the locus for political conversation and association.

(p. 92)

In short, Naquin reveals many possibilities that temples could offer. Temples were legitimate institutions, and their existence and operations were permitted by the state; the boundaries between them and their related communities and the state were not absolute but negotiable. Most of the activities with which temples were involved were not antagonistic in nature from the perspective of the state, but welcomed and tolerable; when it was effective, the state was vigilant and always kept an eye on these activities (pp. 104–5). Otherwise, the community affairs associated with the temples were local and diverse, contrasting starkly with the cosmological order represented by Beijing’s walls and gates.

Chapters 4 through 8 (more than 270 pages) consist of the second part of Naquin’s book, which, while following the above general outlines, situate temples and their communities in an “actual history” (p. 105) of Ming Beijing. For example, readers are told that Ming Beijing had “a few thousand nobles, perhaps several ten thousand eunuchs, 50,000 local merchants, 50,000 officials, and perhaps 150,000 military households” (p. 126); members of temple communities came from these people. In analyzing Ming imperial patronage of Beijing temples, which often involved emperors’ wives, mothers, and daughters (pp. 153ff), Naquin balances the generally perceived “deleterious economic effect on greater Peking of the involvement of Ming emperors and members of their household” with their “support, protection, and investment” (p. 143): “Temple [End Page 28] patronage by emperors contributed to the diversity of Peking’s religious infrastructure. Although ad hoc and eclectic, a reflection of diverse personal beliefs, such patronage was of enduring importance because of the resources that could be committed” (p. 153).

To show temples’ extensive social and political connections, Naquin has also discussed eunuchs’ involvement in patronizing temples and revealed the other side of this group of human beings: They were not evil and rapacious all the time, but shared “with others in the palace community a sincere rather than opportunistic interest in religion” (p. 162).

In the section dealing with urban communities in Ming Beijing and their relationship with the state, Naquin again stresses that “the government showed little interest in creating or maintaining a local community” but preferred “the security of divided governance to power-sharing with citizens,” and that “[i]f community there was, it was the throne and the local officials who acted on its behalf, not a local elite” (pp. 178–179). Also, we are told that sojourners in Ming Beijing were seldom involved in charitable activities (p. 196), nor were they interested in establishing a local identity (p. 197) (or, in Rowe’s term, “locational identity”). Their consciousness in this area was weak. Naquin reminds readers that “it would be wrong to read Ming huiguan as some kind of higher form of social life, a sprout of modernity”; in her judgment, Ming huiguan’s “purposes were private, not public” (p. 203). Residents of Ming Beijing are thus presented as fragmented and divisive: they “identified themselves in different, sometimes competing and sometimes overlapping ways”; religious institutions were used “to demarcate and reinforce exclusive communities” (p. 214). This said, Naquin does not overlook the fact that temple communities, as being “particularly accessible and accommodating,” were also coping, cooperating, and connecting. Moreover, although viewing the level of their formal organization as rather low, Naquin sees in these communities “a trend, increasingly visible in the late Ming, toward associations of greater power and permanency” (p. 214). Naquin situates many temple associations or pilgrimage groups developed in the late Ming in a historical context against which many other types of political, intellectual, or even religious sectarian groups were formed (pp. 215ff); she proves that “there were many possibilities for the formation of communities outside the palace, outside the bureaucracy, and outside the homes of the residents” (p. 247). But Naquin is cautious to make too much out of these seemingly spontaneous and fragmented communities and associations: “The formal precariousness of these organizations, the participation of people who were part of the state structure, and the absence of language of independence or opposition make teleological comparisons with a later and ostensibly autonomous European ‘public sphere’ dangerous and probably inappropriate. The question even seems somewhat backwards” (p. 248).

Chapters 9 through 16 (nearly four hundred pages) form the third part of Naquin’s book and deal with the history of Qing Beijing. While the city did not change too much physically and retained much of its cosmologically spatial order designed by and for Ming rulers, its political, social, and ethnic “compartmentalization” [End Page 29] changed quite dramatically, as it became “now a formally bifurcated society” (p. 300), divided into banner and nonbanner cities. Whereas Dray-Novey views Qing Beijing’s omnipresent soldiers and police as a response to emerging “subcultures,” Naquin treats their work on the streets and in neighborhoods as part of the state’s new efforts to recompartmentalize Beijing’s urban residential districts and communities (pp. 359–366). But, as a main theme running through Naquin’s study, changes in an actual history, as presented in chapters 11 and 12, worked against this compartmentalized spatial order, as “the Inner and Outer City populations could not be permanently segregated, and the lines of authority between the police and judicial authorities became increasingly blurred” (p. 366):

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, immigrants were becoming natives, separate populations began to mix, and life outside the imperial domain developed its own culture and integrity.

(p. 450)

By the nineteenth century, as central power weakened, there would finally be room for the assertion of local interests and for new institutions located outside the state, and for the public articulation of collective local concerns.

(p. 366)

Temples facilitated these changes by providing reasons for people, otherwise enclosed in compartmentalized spaces, to act as collective patrons and, therefore, meet with and connect to each other (pp. 434–437). Temples also provided physical spaces for different residential groups to come together to celebrate seasonal festivals (pp. 439ff). While participating in these activities, different groups of people were identified as “undifferentiated” “sightseers” (youren), “the residents of the Capital City” (Jingshi jumin), or as “people of the capital” (duren) (p. 448). Naquin calls all this a process of “reintegration” (chap. 12), a force running directly against the state order reinforced on a basis of spatial compartmentalization.

One of Naquin’s main focuses is the groups associated with the cult of Bixia Yuanjun—the Heavenly Immortal and Holy Mother, Our Lady of Mount Tai (chap. 14). Naquin gives detailed accounts about the origin of this female deity and how different groups of local people came together to form various shenghui (holy religious associations) or xianghui (incense associations), whose members would organize pilgrimages or events for “presenting incense,” collecting donations, funding temple renovations, and providing services to communities. Naquin believes that although none of these organized activities was abnormal from the perspective of the state, they can be used to “gauge the versatility, openness, flexibility, and organizational potential (and limits) of these shenghui” (p. 528). Naquin also examines these shenghui associations to demonstrate how Beijing’s “religious establishments were used to create ties between people and to knit together the city’s residents” (p. 565).

Naquin’s research is balanced, and she does not ignore the fact that “temples could also become the foci for exclusive communities and be used to divide people” (p. 565). In chapter 15 she examines precisely such religious establishments that served for particular communities (Muslims, Christians, followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and [End Page 30] sectarians). Naquin sees, paradoxically, from these “more corporate, more exclusive, more tightly managed” and “more privatized institutions” “the particular cosmopolitanism of Qing Peking,” because they all contributed to “an enlargement of the realm of action beyond the family and the state” (pp. 565–566). The last two sections of this chapter are devoted to discussions of guilds and native-place and occupational huiguan (lodges), because they not only were related to temples (a temple could be used as the location for a huiguan, and huiguan also placed shrines in their buildings), but also functioned as privatized and exclusive organizations (pp. 598–621).

In Naquin’s judgment, a native-place lodge was an organization that created “clear boundaries between those who belonged and those who did not,” and its “membership was ascribed and selective rather than voluntary and open to all.” Unlike Hankou or Shanghai, Beijing’s guilds and lodges before 1860, Naquin claims, “were not major public buildings, and their halls did not dominate the landscape” (p. 620). Although huiguan “were detached from family and state,” Naquin refuses to call them gong or “public in function” (p. 621). She makes it clear that “[l]odge premises were private and intended for exclusive use” (p. 599).

Naquin also points out that because banner and nonbanner “were the real operational categories, the rhetoric used to discuss Peking did not emphasize a distinction between insider and outsider, host and guest, or native and sojourner” (p. 602). But this blurred concept between natives and sojourners did not encourage the latter to join in the former to form a citywide community. Naquin maintains instead that while “particularizing the loyalties of the sojourning elite” (p. 621), “huiguan encouraged sojourners to turn inward, to emphasize their separateness,” and thus “discouraged the transformation of outsiders into natives” (p. 619).

Moreover, unlike other scholars who stress the autonomy of huiguan, Naquin instead highlights their internal struggles: “Literati tried to exclude merchants; prefectures tried to kick out component counties; businesses squeezed out their rivals . . . Ambitious men sometimes took control of the property for their own private use, and protracted disputes could and did easily arise” (p. 607).

In chapter 16 Naquin discusses how temples were also used for “public purposes.” They were used for organizing temple fairs and entertainment and for providing government services (government-run soup kitchens or “vagrant homes”). More importantly, to respond to the crises of the mid-nineteenth century, many private institutions outside temples were established in Beijing to provide public services (pp. 651ff). While acknowledging that the activities of these private institutions were very much a part of what Mary Rankin and many other since characterized as “an explosion of nineteenth-century elite activism in the cities of the Lower Yangtze,” Naquin avoids calling them representative of a new “public sphere.” In describing these late Qing institutions’ “intimate and complicated relationship with the state,” Naquin is more in line with Bryna Goodman’s characterization: They provided “ ‘partial autonomy, interpenetration, and negotiation’ [more] than any tidy division between ‘public’ and ‘private’ ” (p. 651). On the other hand, Naquin is more willing to see this [End Page 31] explosion of city services “as a reflection of the organizational potential already present in Chinese society” (p. 670), but this is the best she can make out of these private institutions. As she states in the beginning of her book, Naquin is not interested in providing through these institutions “the answers to questions about the future of democracy in China” (p. xxix). She treats guilds, native-place lodges, and many other elitist-run, private institutions that emerged in the late nineteenth century very much like temple communities and associations. They operated outside the state, but still “lived in the shadow of the state” (p. 620). However, as Naquin has brilliantly demonstrated, while sharing resources and drawing people together for a variety of purposes, these organizations were able to use “the physical space of temples to create a social space” and develop “a rich associational life” (p. 704).

“Old” Beijing and Modernity

Toward the end of her book, Naquin explains how guidebooks and other writings of the Republican period re-presented and essentialized Beijing as the “old capital”—“a city of past imperial glory, a city with a special traditional culture” (pp. 691ff). Madeleine Yue Dong’s extensive study of Republican Beijing50 in fact begins with a discussion on “old Beijing” (lao Beijing), but the representations of this lao Beijing have been produced since the 1980s and what they have re-presented is not “imperial Beijing but the historically recent Republican Beijing.” One of Dong’s goals is to unveil a real history of Republican Beijing in the midst of this fascination with “old Beijing”; Dong sees this blast of nostalgic literary representations as a reflection of “a powerful historical legacy” of Republican Beijing (pp. 1–3).

Dong has chosen a different angle to present Republican Beijing and, thus, distances herself from David Strand:

This book differs from Strand’s in two significant ways. Instead of treating the city as a stage for major historical figures and events, it brings together the political, economic, social, and cultural forces in Beijing life involved in the transformation of the old imperial capital and its re-creation as the “cultural city” of modern China. Beijing in the Republican period was not only a city of warlords, protesting students, and literary figures but also a city of storytellers, wrestlers, snack vendors, and landscape architects. It was not only a center of politics but also a place where people made their livings every day. Second, Strand’s book focuses primarily on the warlord era before 1928 and only briefly deals with the arrival of the Nationalists and the incongruence of their social vision with the realities of Beijing life. This book, in contrast, stresses the importance of the years of Nationalist rule in Beijing’s history. For Beijing, the Nationalist government’s takeover of the country meant the relocation of the capital to Nanjing, followed by economic decline, stronger statism, and tighter social control, as well as a new form of cultural construction that stressed national identity. The year 1928 marked major shifts in the government’s strategies of nation-state building that are clearly shown in the history of Beijing. For these reasons, the period covered by this book extends beyond 1928 into the 1930s, when the city received a new image by being designated as the “center for traditional Chinese culture.”

(p. 8) [End Page 32]

One of the main debates in which Dong has engaged is how to view tradition and modernity. She rejects a view that sets up “an opposition of the traditional versus the modern, or the past versus the present”; this is a particularly important issue because Republican Beijing has always been labeled as a traditional city, while “modern” is generally associated with treaty ports and Western cities (p. 9).

Dong’s book breaks into three parts. Part 1 mainly deals with the spatial transformation of Beijing. In the process, the old spatial order established in Ming-Qing times studied by Dray-Novey, Naquin, and Zhu was fundamentally altered as city walls were toppled, gates were restructured, public space was enlarged, new avenues and transportation systems were built and introduced, former imperial spaces and gardens were converted to public parks, and even the old names of alleyways and streets were changed (pp. 74–75). With these changes, the remnants of the former “compartmentalized” imperial social spaces (e.g., social and ethnic statuses and hierarchies; pp. 30–33, 53–54) were further destroyed, as residents of Republican Beijing became an undifferentiated “public” (pp. 54–55). All these changes are presented as being programmed, as the Xuanwu Gate project demonstrated, by the new Republican municipal government “for the public interest” (pp. 55–66): “The reshaping of Republican Beijing’s urban form was basically initiated and planned by the state,” though this was balanced “to a considerable degree” by the resistance of local residents (p. 77).

Part 2 of Dong’s book presents the experiences of living in Beijing for artisans, craftpersons, and other artists (pp. 105–121, 131–135); pawnshop owners and bankers (pp. 121–131); fashion-conscious department store shoppers (pp. 148, 150–152, 159–160); “old-style” consumers (pp. 163–169); secondhand-goods merchants, petty peddlers, and bogus goods sellers and buyers (pp. 183–185, 189–190); and a variety of street or teashop entertainers, storytellers, acrobats, and other folk artists (pp. 186–188, 193– 205). In this part, Dong argues that although Republican Beijing did not become “a center of industrial production,” it was part of “a global industrial economic network that treated the city primarily as a market for commodities and did not contribute to its productive development” (p. 106). Stressing this point in both the introduction and conclusion of her book, Dong claims that “Republican Beijing, despite its imperial structures, was definitively a modern city” (p. 297); this is so because modernity

is not limited to material modernization expressed in a society’s meeting a set of homogeneous, universal criteria for development, such as infrastructure, skyscrapers, or public utilities. It extends beyond these to refer, first, to a condition of existence structured by large-scale capitalist industrial production, not necessarily at the local level but in an integrated world characterized by bureaucratic nationstates, and second, to the consciousness of people in a society of their position in this integrated world, as well as their active efforts to define the present through not only national and elite discourses but also everyday practices.

(p. 17; cf. p. 297) [End Page 33]

Dong asserts: “[A]lmost everyone in the city was directly influenced by the new system. Almost every sector of handicraft production and every small shop either produced goods for global markets, sold foreign goods to local consumers, or produced new industrial goods like towels and socks using machines on a small scale” (p. 141). From this perspective, insofar as Beijing was linked to the world capitalist industrial production, even being “located at the receiving end of particular trade and production chains” (p. 106), even with up to 75 percent of its residents classified as “the poor” (p. 156), its “everyday practices” of traditional handcraft industry, of secondhand-goods-based recycling businesses, or of temple-fair-related trades and entertainments, all attested to the city’s modernity.

The last part of Dong’s book deals with various writings of the Republican period about the city. These include the writings of sociologists who examined urban ills (poverty, crime, prostitution, and so on) and proposed various reform plans (chap. 7); the writings (many nostalgic) about imperial and Republican Beijing’s history, peoples, places, details of the traditional life, customs, foods, and fun (chap. 8); and the writings of “new intellectuals” as well as the fictions of Lao She (chap. 9). In Dong’s analyses, these writings simultaneously “reflected, distorted, and reconstituted the city” (p. 247). More important, they were closely related to the modernity issue, because the “material and social life of recycling was closely tied to the city’s representation, the primary trope of which has been characterized as nostalgia” (p. 301). Dong argues that what was re-presented in these writings as old Beijing was actually new, and that “a nostalgia for the ‘past’ was in fact directed toward the present . . . In other words, for different reasons and intentions, the present was viewed as the past—a view that led to the mentality that the modern was always in the future” (p. 302). As for ordinary Beijing residents, they held an ambiguous attitude toward modernity. Dong concludes quite philosophically:

They brought the past into their daily life that was already fragmented by modernity, but they lamented that an uncertain future would erase it all. The modern was both already here and yet to come. The coexistence of the “not yet” mentality and nostalgia for the present can well be argued to be an important paradoxical quality of Chinese modernity, an active force in Chinese experience, interpretation, and attitude toward the modern world . . . In this sense, the scholars of old Beijing and ordinary people’s everyday practice of recycling represented the essence of Chinese modernity . . . To them, Republican Beijing was already a modern city.

(p. 303)

In this study, Dong amazingly links almost everything that happened in Republican Beijing to modernity—from the transformation of the imperial spatial order and projects planned out by the new Republican municipal government to local residents’ resistance to these new changes, from the new banking system and new sectors of production to old pawnshops and traditional handcraft industry, from new fashions and new department stores to traditional temple fairs and secondhand-goods trade, from the new intellectuals to the scholars and residents who lived in a nostalgic longing for the past: They were all tied to modernity. [End Page 34]

To reconcile Republican Beijing’s seemingly “traditional” traits with the city’s modern nature, Dong introduces a notion called “recycling”:

Faced with various crises during this period, many of the people, and even the government, of Beijing dealt with problems of the present by recycling material and symbolic elements of the past in order to gain some control over the transformation of their city. The concept of recycling breaks down the separation of old and new and instead stresses a dynamic relationship between the two.

(p. 11)

In other words, recycling was a strategy adopted by people at the time (as well as today) to cope with changes. With this notion, Dong hopes to break up the model of “linear” history, which denies a possibility that traditional Beijing—a Chinese city—could also be modern (pp. 12, 17). It is self-evident to Dong that without breaking up the link between “modern” and the West first, the Chinese “past” will not find a position within the temporal and spatial coordinates called “modernity.”

On one hand, for the majority of the city’s population that suffered from poverty, the buying and selling of secondhand goods was driven by economic necessity (p. 300); on the other hand, this omnipresent recycling business was essential to Beijing’s modernity. In this connection, the Tianqiao (Bridge of Heaven) district—“the largest market serving the city’s poor residents” (p. 172) and the center of street entertainment (pp. 193–205) and the recycling business (p. 206)—played a particular role in integrating “the broad ‘public’ ” and “the city as a whole” (p. 192). This was the only place in Republican Beijing that attracted and involved “the entire spectrum of Beijing residents” (p. 206) where “everyone performed, half-hidden behind masks” (p. 192).

The Concept of recycling makes it possible to view the city as a whole. Republican Beijing was, in many ways, fragmented . . . Beijing was like a body with different circulation systems. Expensive industrial products entered certain homes through certain markets; handcraft articles met the needs of others; recycled goods served the very poor. It was a system of stratification and separation. But these goods at some point all entered the process of recycling, a process that brought together the whole city, from the small alleys to the Legation Quarter. In this sense, there was a community, or “common urban culture,” in Strand’s words, in Republican Beijing, and it was created by recycling with all of its cultural and sentimental implications. This community and culture was what gave Beijing its distinctive identity and what most people directed their sense of nostalgia toward.

(p. 306)

Modernity, in the final analysis, is interpreted by Dong as being connected to the world network of capitalist production and consumption. Readers, therefore, might speculate, in a rather blunt way, that had there been no Tianqiao and its “flea market,” there would have been no modern Republican Beijing. From this perspective, the gap between Max Weber and Dong appears to be insurmountable.

Yamin Xu  

Yamin Xu teaches history at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. [End Page 35]


1.  Max Weber, The Religion of China (New York: Free Press, 1951), and The City (New York: Free Press, 1958).

2.  G. William Skinner, introduction to “Urban Development in Imperial China”; “Regional Urbanization in Nineteenth-Century China”; introduction to “Urban and Rural in Chinese Society”; “Cities and the Hierarchy of Local Systems”; introduction to “Urban Social Structure in Ch’ing China,” in G. William Skinner, ed., The City in Late Imperial China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1977), pp. 3–31, 211–249, 253–273, 275–351, 521–553, respectively.

3.  Weber, The Religion of China, p. 13.

4.  Denis Twitchett, “The T’ang Market System,” Asia Major 12, no. 2 (1966): 202–243; “Merchant, Trade and Government in Late T’ang,” Asia Major 14, part 1 (1968): 63–95; Shiba Yoshinobu (originally published in Japanese in 1968 and translated by Mark Elvin), Commerce and Society in Sung China (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Center for Chinese Studies, 1970); Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1973), part 2, “The Medieval Economic Revolution,” especially chap. 12, “The Revolution in Market Structure and Urbanization.”

5.  Skinner, “Urban Development,” pp. 9–31; “Regional Urbanization”; and “Cities and the Hierarchy.”

6.  Skinner, “Cities and the Hierarchy,” p. 275.

7.  Weber, The City, pp. 81–82, 101.

8.  Weber, The Religion of China, pp. 13–14, 90.

9.  Skinner, “Urban and Rural,” pp. 267–269.

10.  Skinner, “Urban Social Structure,” pp. 540–544.

11.  Skinner, “Urban Social Structure,” p. 533. Richard Belsky has pointed out that Skinner has mistakenly identified a district in the east Inner City as the nucleus of nonbanner Chinese scholars and scholar-officials. Also, whereas Skinner sees, in Belsky’s words, the “relative immutability” of Beijing’s social space from the 1750s to 1910s, Belsky argues that the two nuclei were the result of a historical development. Belsky points out that there was no occupational distinction between literati and merchants in terms of choosing their residential loci during the Ming, because the city’s special hierarchy outside the imperial domain was determined by wealth alone. See Richard Belsky, Localities at the Center: Native Place, Space, and Power in Late Imperial Beijing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center/Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 77–79.

12.  Weber, The City, p. 83.

13.  Skinner, “Urban Social Structure,” pp. 549–550.

14.  William Rowe, Hankow: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796–1889 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984), and Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796–1895 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989).

15.  Rowe writes, “It is exactly this sort of uninformed generalization that the present study wishes to render obsolete.” See Hankow: Conflict, p. 357 n. 21.

16.  Ibid., pp. 10, 13.

17.  Rowe, Hankow: Conflict, p. 5.

18.  Ibid., p. 8.

19.  Ibid., p. 351.

20.  David Strand, Rickshaw Beijing: City People and Politics in the 1920s (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989).

21.  Frederic Wakeman, “The Civil Society and Public Sphere Debate: Western Reflections on Chinese Political Culture,” Modern China 19, no. 2 (April 1993): pp. 108–138. [End Page 36]

22.  Frederic Wakeman and Wen-hsin Yeh, eds., Shanghai Sojourners (Berkeley: University of California Institute of East Asian Studies, 1992); Wakeman, Policing Shanghai, 1927–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); Brian G. Martin, The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime, 1919–1927 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

23.  Rowe, Hankow: Conflict, pp. 8–9.

24.  Emily Honig, Creating Chinese Ethnicity: Subei People in Shanghai, 1850–1980 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).

25.  Hanchao Lu, Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999).

26.  Xiaoqun Xu, Chinese Professionals and the Republican State: The Rise of Professional Associations in Shanghai, 1912–1937 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 11–12, 15–18, 48–49.

27.  Kristin Stapleton, Civilizing Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform, 1895–1937 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center/Harvard University Press, 2000).

28.  Di Wang, Street Culture in Chengdu: Public Space, Urban Commoners, and Local Politics, 1870–1930 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).

29.  Robert J. Antony and Jane Kate Leonard, “Dragons, Tigers, and Dogs: Introduction,” in Robert J. Antony and Jane Kate Leonard, eds., Dragons, Tigers, and Dogs: Qing Crisis Management and the Boundaries of State Power in Late Imperial China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University East Asia Program, 2002), 1.

30.  Bryna Goodman, Native Place, City, and Nation: Regional Networks and Identifies in Shanghai, 1853–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 26, 46, 307, 310.

31.  Rowe, Hankow: Commerce, pp. 250, 283.

32.  Belsky, Localities at the Center.

33.  Belsky, “Placing the Hundred Days: Native-Place Ties and Urban Space,” in Rebecca E. Karl and Peter Zarrow, eds., Rethinking the 1898 Reform Period: Political and Cultural Change in Late Qing China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center/Harvard University Press, 2002), pp. 124–157, 136–142, 152, 156–157.

34.  Allison Dray-Novey, “Spatial Order and Police in Imperial Beijing,” Journal of Asian Studies 52, no. 4 (November 1993): 885–922.

35.  Strand, Rickshaw Beijing, pp. 66–72, 95. See also Dray-Novey, “The Twilight of the Beijing Gendarmerie, 1900–1924” (forthcoming). Dray-Novey’s studies show that there had been an expansion of the state at the street/neighborhood level long before the Republican era in Beijing.

36.  Arthur F. Wright, “Symbolism and Function: Reflections on Changan and Other Great Cities,” Journal of Asian Studies 24, no. 4 (August 1965): 667–679; “The Cosmology of the Chinese City,” in Skinner, “Urban Social Structure,” pp. 33–73.

37.  Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, Chinese Imperial City Planning (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1990), pp. 6–8.

38.  Yinong Xu, The Chinese City in Space and Time: The Development of Urban Form in Suzhou (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2000), pp. 31–55, 237–238.

39.  David Bray, Social Space and Governance in Urban China: The Danwei System from Origins to Reform (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005).

40.  Jianfei Zhu, Chinese Spatial Strategies: Imperial Beijing, 1420–1911 (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004).

41.  See Steinhardt, Chinese Imperial City Planning, and Yinong Xu, The Chinese City in Space and Time. [End Page 37]

42.  Skinner, “Urban Development,” pp. 23–24.

43. Baqi tongzhi chuji [Annuals of the Eight Banners, first collection] (250 + 3 juan. Edited by Ortai et al., 1739. Reprint. Punctuated by Li Xun and Zhao Degui. 8 vols. Changchun: Dongbei shifan daxue chubanshe, 1985), 1: 17–24 (Qifen zhi 2); Qinding Baqi tongzhi [Annuals of the Eight Banners, imperial ordained collection] (342+12 juan. 1799. Reprinted in Siku quanshu, vols. 664–71. Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987), 30: Qifen zhi 30.

44. Baqi tongzhi chuji, 1 (Tutian zhi 1): 319.

45. Baqi tongzhi chuji, 1 (Yingjian zhi 1): 438; Qing huidian shili [Collected institutes and precedents of the Qing dynasty] (Guangxu edition, 1899. 1,220 juan. Reprint. 12 vols. Beoijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1991), 12 (1120: Tianzhai): 130.

46. Qinding Baqi tongzhi, Juanshou 11: 25a–b.

47.  Zhang Xiaolin, Qingdai Beijing chengqu fangqi yanjiu [A study of title deeds concerning house property transactions in Qing Beijing] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2000).

48.  Susan Naquin, Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

49.  For the division of guan-gong-si, see, for example, Strand, Rickshaw Beijing, 87–88; William Rowe, “The Public Sphere in Modern China,” Modern China 16, no. 3 (July 1990): 309–329.

50.  Madeleine Yue Dong, Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). [End Page 38]