Chinese Modern Architecture and Urbanism

Modernity as a topic is generally both a historical period and an ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in the wake of the Renaissance in the Age of Reason of 17th Century thought and the 18th Century Enlightenment, predominantly in the West. It is typically associated with individual subjectivity, scientific explanation and rationalization, the emergence of bureaucracy and industrialization along with urbanization. By the early Qing Dynasty some such modern traits had entered China, as well as developing indigenously. Certainly, during the eras of Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong both the organizational manner and administration of urbanization began to take on a modern form. Further modernizing influences, largely from the hands of foreign powers, then more forcefully entered into China and began to take root in the aftermath of the Opium War and the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842.  At first, these influences were primarily confined to Treaty Ports – concessions from the spoils of the Opium Wars – and some other foreign endeavors.  Not long after, Qing Dynasty China’s stand-offish attitude towards these incursions became replaced by concern with the foreign threat and increasingly serious questioning of their own institutional structures and place in the world.  By 1911, the Xinhai Revolution was well underway, resulting in the toppling of the Qing and the unsteady formation of a modern republic.  Years past, under deteriorated conditions of factionalism and with Japan, by then a power in East Asia, making territorial demands.  Two opposing ideological camps – the Communists and the Nationalists – also began to emerge, although with the Nationalists in the ascendancy throughout large parts of China.  With the full-scale outbreak of the War of Resistance against Japan in 1937, a United Front was joined, only to be irreversibly broken at the end of World War II with the advent of civil war.  The victorious Communists came to power in 1949 and immediately began to re-fashion China as a modern Marxist-socialist state.  After a short though propitious start, the country was then plunged into the tragic follies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, also becoming isolated once again.  Then in 1978, with the historic opening up to the outside world, economic if not social circumstances began to change drastically, as China shifted from being a welfare state into a socialist market economy.  The contemporary period now finds the nation with burgeoning modern industrialization and urbanization, as well as striving to shape its future identity.

Against this backdrop, modern architecture and urbanism has developed in fits and starts, before coming on strongly during the past decades in most regions of China.  Therefore, rather than attempting to provide a continuous cohesive narrative, this course will concentrate on specific episodes of modern architecture and urban development.