Cityscape in Change: Early Shanghai Urbanization and Mapmaking, 1850s-1920s

Zhang Xi, University of Chicago


This paper explores the interrelation between Shanghai’s transformation and its cartographic representations in the late Qing and early Republican transition. After it became a treaty port in 1843, Shanghai consisted of three demarcated sections. With its rapid economical and geographical expansion from the 1870s onwards, the name of “Shanghai” was interchangeable with the foreign Settlements in the literary and visual depictions. Instead of falling into complete obscurity, however, the Chinese city played an important role in Shanghai’s urban development until the late 1920s. From the perspectives of administration and institution, the Chinese city had been actively engaged in architectural and urban renovation since the last decades of the Qing Empire. This paper pursues following questions: how did temporal and spatial transformation taken place in Shanghai during the late nineteenth-and-early twentieth centuries, and how was the Chinese city marginalized to the “Other” in early Shanghai’s urbanization in the contemporaneous scholarly discourse? Taking the city maps as an example, I will elucidate how the urban transformation was perceived and projected onto maps and mapmaking. Maps not only presented the geographic changes of the city, they were also cultural products engendered in the city’s physical expansion and used for distinct purposes. The mapmaking, which involved with the Ming and Qing Chinese cartographic tradition, the influence of European and Japanese cartography, and the prosperity of modern publication, had become a space where different political and cultural visions of Shanghai were contested.