Shanghai Homes

Palimpsests of Private Life

Jie Li

Columbia University Press

Shanghai Homes

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Pub Date: November 2014

ISBN: 9780231167178

280 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: November 2014

ISBN: 9780231167161

280 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $90.00£75.00

Pub Date: November 2014

ISBN: 9780231538176

280 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

Shanghai Homes

Palimpsests of Private Life

Jie Li

Columbia University Press

In the dazzling global metropolis of Shanghai, what has it meant to call this city home? In this account—part microhistory, part memoir—Jie Li salvages intimate recollections by successive generations of inhabitants of two vibrant, culturally mixed Shanghai alleyways from the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras. Exploring three dimensions of private life—territories, artifacts, and gossip—Li re-creates the sounds, smells, look, and feel of home over a tumultuous century.

First built by British and Japanese companies in 1915 and 1927, the two homes at the center of this narrative were located in an industrial part of the former "International Settlement." Before their recent demolition, they were nestled in Shanghai's labyrinthine alleyways, which housed more than half of the city's population from the Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution. Through interviews with her own family members as well as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers, Li weaves a complex social tapestry reflecting the lived experiences of ordinary people struggling to absorb and adapt to major historical change. These voices include workers, intellectuals, Communists, Nationalists, foreigners, compradors, wives, concubines, and children who all fought for a foothold and haven in this city, witnessing spectacles so full of farce and pathos they could only be whispered as secret histories.

Shanghai Homes is silently stunning. It inscribes intimate details of private lives in alley neighborhoods as family memoir, urban history, a poetics of space. Its palimpsest of images, sketches, sensations, hearsay, memories, and artifacts subtly arouse the tender, tense passions of home. It leaves us with traces of embodied Shanghai, of our humanity.

Robin Visser, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

As the first book of a young scholar, this is a real gem and delightful read. At once personal and scholarly, intimate in tone but intellectually rigorous, Shanghai Homes is that unique work that effortlessly moves between and cuts across several disciplinary areas: family history, Cultural Revolution politics, urban architecture, and above all personal and collective memory and its place in post-Socialsit and globalized China. I find the human images of these 'palimpsests' especially heart-warming. Dare one consider it a present-day Chinese counterpoint to Walter Benjamin's classic, A Berlin Childhood?

Leo Ou-Fan Lee, author of Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China

Shanghai Homes recounts the lives of three generations of residents in Shanghai's alleyway neighborhoods, once vibrant communities that have all but disappeared since the late 1990s. In her detailed and wonderfully written account, Li treats her subjects with a rare combination of personal engagement and academic rigor. A remarkable work in urban cultural studies.

Hanchao Lu, author of Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century

In a personal yet perspective study of Shanghai alleyway homes, carried out with a sociological, historical, cultural, and biographical approach that covers both the past and the present, intimate, detailed, enriched with vivid, invaluable illustrations, Jie Li presents the much-needed academic yet readable work as the old Shanghai homes are fast fading into oblivion.

Qiu Xiaolong, novelist

A delightfully detailed study of the urban culture and history of Shanghai's vernacular alleyway neighborhoods.

Sue Anne Tay, The Guardian

A micro history and memoir that collects the stories of generations living in two Shanghai longtang (lane) during various periods.

Lu Feiran, Shanghai Daily

Jie Li recounts vividly and often poignantly the careers, ordeals and stories of several generations of her family, from Shanghai in the pre-Mao era, through the Communist agonies and into the reformist period.

Jonathan Mirsky, Times Higher Education

Jie Li offers a familial ethnography that is juxtaposed to Shanghai's and China'sbroader historical milestones.... It is through these details of how lives are lived that one may begin to understand how broader societal changes impact upon individual human lives.

Asian Review of Books

A beautifully written narrative and a compelling argument for studying the archaeology of daily life.

Carla Nappi, New Books in East Asian Studies

A rich auto-ethnography which analyses the confines of a small enclosed community weathering and adapting to the broader changes around it.... Wonderfully illustrated with drawings done by her parents.... This book is a remarkably engaging interdisciplinary achievement.

LSE Review of Books

[Shanghai Homes] is a major book.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, The China Quarterly

Shanghai Homes is a delightful book that is accessible and should be read by scholars from a variety of fields and a broader audience. At heart, it is a human story, both local and global, that concretely shows how life unfolds across generations, over time, and in the space of home and neighborhood, in sharp relief against a backdrop of great historical changes.

Preeti Chopra, H-Asia
List of Illustrations
Dramatis Personae
1. Foothold
Foundations and Original Residents (1910s–1940s)
After the Communist Revolution (1950s–1970s)
A New Generation Comes of Age (1970s–1990s)
Alleyway Homes as a Microhistorical Stage
2. Haven
Domestic Artifacts as Historical Witnesses
Home Searches: The Cultural Revolution in the Alleyway
Petty Urbanites: Reinventing Privacy in the Reform Era
Thrift, Bricolage, and Nostalgia for the Alleyway
3. Gossip
A Cultural Genealogy of Shanghai Gossip
Alleyway Space as a Milieu for Gossip
Several Lifetimes to a Life: Women on the Margins
A Room of Her Own: The Whispers of Aunt Duckweed
4. Demolition
Demolition Micropolitics
Ruins of the Old Neighborhood
Nail Houses and Rustless Bolts
Selected Bibliography
Web Features:

One of The Guardian's 10 Best City Books of 2014

About the Author

Jie Li is assistant professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University.