Shanghai's Transformation and the Cultural Heritage of Shikumen Houses Analytical Essay

Shanghai's Transformation and the Cultural Heritage of Shikumen Houses
An in-depth analysis of how China's political and economic processes have impacted the current state of shikumen houses.
# 154197 | 2,849 words | 28 sources | 2015 | US
Published on May 26, 2015 in Political Science (General) , Asian Studies (General)

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From the Paper:

"Shikumen, translated in Chinese as literally "stone warehouse gate," is a traditional Shanghainese architecture style that first appeared in the 1860s. Historically, shikumen houses were row houses built in the foreign concessions of Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. These houses combine European and traditional Chinese architectural features, such as French windows and courtyards, respectively (Yang 2014). Houses are typically connected, with the gates facing the primary lane. Shikumen housing was the dominant residential form in Shanghai until the 1980s, accounting for around 65% of total built area for the city (Han 2000). Shikumen neighborhoods remained relatively unchanged throughout the 20th century until the 1980s and 1990s, when redevelopment has left only a few of these developments still completely unscathed. How China's political and economic processes have framed the shikumen houses' current state are explored. A confluence of factors, from ambiguous rhetoric from the central state to monetary incentives for local authorities and developers, have created a conflict where there are clear winners and losers. Not only are the shikumen houses themselves casualties, but so are local residents, who have been displaced with inadequate compensation. Tragically, such a dichotomy creates a situation wherein many shikumen houses have been destroyed, and the remaining ones are being disneyfied.
"In the past four decades, Chinese cities such as Shanghai have transformed themselves into major global cities, spurred by the country's transformation in the post-Mao era. In December of 1978, under Deng Xiaoping's leadership, economic growth and development became the top priority as party leadership emphasized a "reform and opening-up" policy. The private sector was first labeled as a complement to the state sector in 1988, before being labeled an important component of the "socialist market economy" (Fang 2006). More than three decades of reforms and marketization later, and China has seen a startling shift from an agricultural-rural economy to an industrial-urban one, from isolation to integration with the global economy, and from public ownership to increasingly private ownership (Brandt 2008). Concomitantly, local governments started acting more as corporations in order to obtain more resources for the national government. Xu (2011) notes that with the influx of new capital, local governments had the incentive to "intervene, invest, and profit from the market." In fact, according to some scholars, it has become increasing difficult to distinguish between public and private groups in "thinking about governing" (Zhang 2010)."

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