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Writing Modernity: Constructing a History of Chinese Architecture, 1920-1949

  • Author(s): Yan, Wencheng Yan
  • Advisor(s): Chattopadhyay, Swati
  • et al.

Abstract:This dissertation joins the contemporary debate on rewriting the history of Chinese architecture by critically (re-)examining the initial stage of discourse formation during the Republican period. Focusing on the ordinary house in the city, I excavate the popular voice on Chinese architecture from the newspapers and magazines, examine the municipal government’s effort in modernizing the city and life, as well as the professional community’s attempt to establish the authoritative figure of the modern architect to replace that of the traditional craftsman. I show that these different constituencies of Chinese architecture articulated and presented a more vibrant and complex scene of discourse and practice than we have recognized until now. Although each held different forms of power, and focused on different issues, these early interpreters of Chinese architecture nevertheless converged on their understanding of reforming the Chinese house and Chinese architecture. The municipal government’s modernizing projects in the city served to bolster the professional community’s claim to expertise that culminated in writing a new history of Chinese architecture. This history subsequently became the standard historiography, suppressing and subsuming the popular voice and relegating it to history’s dustbin for decades. By retrieving the popular discourse of Chinese architecture from this period, we not only gain a fuller understanding of the formative stage of Chinese architectural historiography, but are also provided with helpful indications pointing to a possible route to rewrite the history of Chinese architecture.

Key words: architectural history, Chinese architecture, historiography, popular discourse, modernity in China, modern China

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