The ‘Wars made Shanghai” Blog

‘Wars made Shanghai’: Toward a spatial history of 19th-20th-century Shanghai (1842-1952)” is a new collaborative project between the Lyon Institute of East Asian Studies (IAO) and the Institute of History of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. This project was selected by the French National Research Agency (ANR) under its 2012 Open Call for Projects. It will develop over 2013-2016. One segment of the project also received the financial support of the Rhône-Alpes Region under its CMIRA Research Grant Program. This blog will serve as a platform to present and discuss issues and highlights during the course of the project. English and Chinese will be the two mediums in which we shall communicate.

The P.I.s of the project are Prof. MA Jun (马 军), senior research fellow at the Institute of History (SASS) and Prof. Christian Henriot (安克強), professor at the University of Lyon and research fellow at the Lyon Institute of East Asian Studies (IAO). Prof. Ma and Prof. Henriot have a shared interest in the social history of Shanghai in the XXth century and have initiated collaboration on various projects in the past. The research team involved in ‘War made Shanghai’ includes a dozen scholars and Ph.D. candidates. Their profile will soon be available on the Virtual Shanghai platform.

In this project, we plan to address two challenges, one in terms of work hypothesis and one in terms of methodological approach. The history of Shanghai has been told from the angle of modernization, westernization, and astounding economic development. In other words, Shanghai appears in most narratives as a « success story ». A success indeed it was. And precisely, an even more astonishing success when one looks closely at the history of warfare and violence in the city. In this project, we argue that the development of Shanghai as an urban territory was conditioned by issues of defense and conflict. Shanghai thrived and prospered out of war. From the initial military foray and brief occupation by British troops in 1842 to the civil war (1945-49) and its ripples in post-war China, all through the civil rebellions (1853-55, 1860-61), revolutionary movements (1911, 1925-1927), and Sino-Japanese conflicts (1932, 1937), the city was the seat of forms of violence that affected both the spatial configuration, the distribution, composition and activities of the population, and the whole economic structure.

Wars have a tremendous impact on territories and their populations. Many cities were, at one point in their history, subjected to the grueling consequences of warfare. Some have suffered repeated assaults, successive cycles of destruction and reconstruction, displacement of population, and as a consequence, a remolding of their environment. Yet only a few large modern metropolis have gone through such cycles of sudden and thorough destruction, followed by periods of more or less rapid reconstruction, involving a massive regeneration of their populations. In this project, we plan to demonstrate that Shanghai represented an exceptional – though unfortunate — case of an urban space that from the mid-19th century to the late 1940s was engulfed in several conflicts. The city can also claim the sad record of having been the first city in the world to be exposed to and ravaged by the most modern weaponry and to have suffered from heretofore unknown levels of violence.

From a methodological perspective this project proposes to explore the history of war and civilian violence in Shanghai over a long century (1842-1952) from the perspective of  spatial history and seeks to establish the determinants and modes of transformation of the city that resulted from warfare. It sits at the interface of history and geography. The methodological approach to be adopted fits in the realm of “digital humanities”, in particular digital history. It will rely on the use of digital instruments tailored for and by  historians in the collection and processing of historical data, as well as in historical narratives.


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