by Jeffrey Wasserstrom
BlogCritics, book review by Xujun Eberlein, published: May 08, 2009
Unusual for a historical discourse, the book takes the structure of a photo album, collecting snapshots every quarter century over a period of 160 years. Such a structure has the benefit of tracing a clear, though rough, contour of the city's trajectory. The focus is on
A cosmopolitan city – what a celebrated label! Surely neither the Chinese nor Westerners have any objection against it. Yet within its historical connotation lies the water-and-fire contradiction in the ways different sides view and feel about it. Even today, reflecting on this history risks bringing out hasty jingoism from all sorts of people. Given the existence of such divergent perspectives, it is Wasserstrom's unswerving and non-judgmental treatment of the subject that interests me the most about the book.
The disparity begins with
Starting from there,
(Before going further into the later chapters, I must clarify that the above questions are not addressed by the author directly. Instead, taking an interesting stance, the author sides with neither the Chinese nor the Westerners. In other words, he displays more interest in factual accounts rather than interpretations. He lays out facts and different perspectives, and teases out interesting details, while leaving the conclusions to the reader. As such, another reader might see a totally different set of questions raised.)
Thus globalization, as shown in
Every coin has two sides. Globalization, then as now, isn't purely evil either. I was surprised to learn from this book that Shen Pao, one of the oldest and most prominent Chinese newspapers, was created by a Briton in 1872. The paper's historical significance is summarized in Baidu.com (the leading Chinese search engine for websites and a cultural discussion forum) as: "In Shen Pao's 78 years of history, it recorded from late Qing Dynasty through ROC all sorts of political, military, economic, cultural and societal information, whose very high historical value resulted in the name 'the encyclopedia of modern history." Furthermore, "Shen Pao's layout was divided into sections of news, commentary, art and ads, which laid out the foundation for the 4-section base structure of modern Chinese newspapers."
Another significant thing brought in by the early globalization was Western architecture. While the old Shanghailanders are long gone, their architecture remains. In fact today it is often cited by foreign residents that, one major attraction of
A major problem with globalization is that it forces the uniform development from the "advanced" economy's point of view, regardless the hugely varying conditions and cultures in the so-called "backward" nations and places. Ironically though, in
As we read on in Global Shanghai, Wasserstrom's chapters for 1950 and 1975 depicted a history more familiar to my generation of Chinese. The foreigners were driven out in early 1950s. Here, the Chinese were supposed to feel elated, having been librated from imperialist oppression. While the latter part was true (as
“The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.” So goes the opening of the Chinese classic Three Kingdoms. After President Nixon's visit in 1972,
Meanwhile, foreigners swarm in. According to the Chinese Wikipedia, at the end of 1843, the year
But Chinese media and academic publications still grumble about how few foreigners there are. It's only 0.67% of
On the other hand, a writer friend and