Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (Global Chinese Culture)
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In the dazzling global metropolis of Shanghai, what has it meant to call this city home? In this account―part microhistory, part memoir―Jie Li salvages intimate recollections by successive generations of inhabitants of two vibrant, culturally mixed Shanghai alleyways from the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras. Exploring three dimensions of private life―territories, artifacts, and gossip―Li re-creates the sounds, smells, look, and feel of home over a tumultuous century.
First built by British and Japanese companies in 1915 and 1927, the two homes at the center of this narrative were located in an industrial part of the former "International Settlement." Before their recent demolition, they were nestled in Shanghai's labyrinthine alleyways, which housed more than half of the city's population from the Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution. Through interviews with her own family members as well as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers, Li weaves a complex social tapestry reflecting the lived experiences of ordinary people struggling to absorb and adapt to major historical change. These voices include workers, intellectuals, Communists, Nationalists, foreigners, compradors, wives, concubines, and children who all fought for a foothold and haven in this city, witnessing spectacles so full of farce and pathos they could only be whispered as secret histories.
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without having to share everyday facilities. By contrast, the urban poor must accommodate multiple persons and multiple purposes in the same rooms. Cooking, dressing, and even going to the toilet may be observable affairs, and domestic activities often extend into semipublic spaces such as communal kitchens and alleyways.59 Insofar as “the private houses of elite and well-to-do families all [draw] a clear line between the exteriority of the community and the interiority of the home,”60 private
irreducible individualities resist collective labels such as the masses, the people, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, or the intellectuals. Rather than treating alleyway residents as typical or representative samples of their class, I argue that the strands of their lives are inextricably woven into a larger historical tapestry, giving it color, texture, and nuance often lost in sweeping grand narratives. FIGURE 0.2 Yeye tells the story of his St. John’s diploma to me in 2000 with Nainai in the
Aunt Bean, a sent-down youth, returns and moves into the back bedroom upstairs with her husband and son. Uncle Lucky remodels the front bedroom for his chic new bride. Stage left, Waigong and Waipo carry packs of foreign cigarettes to curry favor with housing officials with the hope of procuring an apartment for their son. Throughout the act, everyone coming onstage adds another piece to the set, be it a wooden partition, a piece of furniture, or an electric appliance, so that the two houses are
illness, my mother turned the house upside down to look for an imaginary bank deposit slip. She believed—and told the whole alleyway—that my father had saved up ten thousand yuan and wouldn’t give it to her. Her calculation was based on my father’s monthly wages minus the amount he handed over to her for everyday expenses, forgetting or refusing to take into account the thousands we had spent on her and my brother’s mental illness. In fact, my father had only two hundred yuan left in his account,