Urbanization was central to development in late imperial China. Yet its impact is heatedly debated, although scholars agree that it triggered neither Weberian urban autonomy nor Habermasian civil society. This book argues that this conceptual impasse derives from the fact that the seemingly continuous urban expansion was in fact punctuated by a wide variety of “dynastic urbanisms.” Historians should, the author contends, view urbanization not as an automatic by-product of commercial forces but as a process shaped by institutional frameworks and cultural trends in each dynasty.
This characteristic is particularly evident in the Ming. As the empire grew increasingly urbanized, the gap between the early Ming valorization of the rural and late Ming reality infringed upon the livelihood and identity of urban residents. This contradiction went almost unremarked in court forums and discussions among elites, leaving its resolution to local initiatives and negotiations. Using Nanjinga metropolis along the Yangzi River and onetime capital of the Mingas a central case, the author demonstrates that, prompted by this unique form of urban-rural contradiction, the actions and creations of urban residents transformed the city on multiple levels: as an urban community, as a metropolitan region, as an imagined space, and, finally, as a discursive subject.
About the Author
Si-yen Fei is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.
Table of Contents
Figures, Maps, and Table
Introduction: A New Approach to Chinese Urbanism
1. "We Must Be Taxed"
2. To Wall or Not to Wall
3. Imaging Nanjing: A Genealogy
4. Nanjing Through Contemporary Mouths and Ears
Conclusion: Toward a New Perspective on Late Imperial Urbanization
Appendix: Gu Qiyuan's Fengsu Treatise