Shanghai and Its Image; Architecture, Visual Culture, and the Popular Pictorial Modern Sketch, 1934-1937

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Ritter, Kelly, Constructed Environment - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Li, Shiqiao, Architectural History, University of Virginia
Wilson, Richard, Architectural History, University of Virginia
Crane, Sheila, Architectural History, University of Virginia
Higginbotham, Carmen, Dean, VCUArts

This dissertation probes the ways well-known city spaces were actively shaped by popular periodicals, analyzing the stakes of these engagements with the city, and how these works intersect with the social and political spheres of 1930s Shanghai. In this dissertation I use the twin lenses of architecture and visual culture to investigate three urban forms: the skyscraper, the slum, and the lilong/shikumen of Shanghai. These three architectures were highly visible parts of the 1930s city. Each chapter marries focused research on images of these architectures from local pictorial magazines with special attention to the publication 時代漫畫 Modern Sketch, and the tangible, historical state of the city. This viewshed, focused on the people and processes that enliven cities, reveals a city as a deeply complex and often contradictory place marked by opinions, preferences, cultural and social engagements that elude the map.

The dissertation finds that Shanghai citizens, like Shanghai municipal governments and the politicians in Nanjing, like architects and urban planners, were deeply invested in their city and country. The images circulating in Modern Sketch and the urban imaginary at large demonstrate that it wasn’t just architects and politicians who understood the constructed environment as a material manifestation of political and social discourse. By asking questions about the kind of modern city being created in Shanghai the pictorial pushed readers to confront the challenges facing Shanghai and China. By holding the city to account when they mistreated citizens and favored others the pictorial presented alternative visions of how to create a just, moral, and successful society. By troubling perceptions of who were contributing citizens and who had abandoned social and cultural responsibilities in the pursuit of pleasure the pictorial asked readers to think about the way they were living their lives and to what end.

Architecture answers the question of who the 1930s city was serving, who it was celebrating, and the norms and values that it was espousing. And the criticisms of the city found in Modern Sketch are pressing; Republican China was a young nation in the 1930s and it faced threats both from internal factions (the Communist Party, for instance) as well as menacing foreign powers like Japan. These critiques are existential, they are pointed, they are persistent, and they are joined to the city.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Shanghai, architecture, visual culture, urban history, architectural history, China, Modern Sketch, visual culture, shikumen, lilong, slum, skyscraper, pictorial magazines, print culture, urban imaginary, cultural imaginary
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