Historian - Professor - Digital Scholar

“A Neighborhood under the Storm: Zhabei and Shanghai Wars,”

War is not the image that first comes to mind about Shanghai. In most accounts or scholarly studies, the city stands for modernity, economic prosperity, and cultural novelty. It was China’s main financial center, commercial hub, industrial base, and cultural engine. In its modern history, however, Shanghai experienced several instances of war. One could start with the takeover of the city in 1853 by the Small Sword Society and the later attempts by the Taiping armies to approach Shanghai. Eventually, the lack of coordination between the two groups and the intervention of Western forces led to the elimination of the rebels from the walled city. The cost was severe as the whole commercial district along the Huangpu River was burnt down. This set a pattern that would repeat itself in later conflicts. Fighting and destruction took place in the Chinese-administered districts, while the foreign settlements remained immune to the violence around them. Foreign authorities actually devised systems to insulate their territories, through a combination of military reinforcements and defense constructions (especially iron gates on the roads at their boundaries). In the following decades, the specter of war almost disappeared. The 1911 revolution in Shanghai was quite uneventful. In the 1920s, even if civil wars raged in the neighboring provinces, actual violence was kept at bay. The city enjoyed a long period of peace.

European Journal of East Asian Studies, Vol. 9, no. 2 (2010), pp. 293-32