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Wu Jianren’s New Story of the Stone and interrogating turn-of-the-century urbanist ideology in China

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Chinese cities experienced both significant material and conceptual changes in the late nineteenth century, but this was not well represented in popular fiction. The influence of an emerging discourse of urbanism does however make its presence felt, and novels like New Story of the Stone turned a satirical eye towards such a discourse. This article considers how New Story comically inhabits the contrast between the ‘barbarian’ and ‘civilized’ cities that was shaping proto-urbanism in China, but in doing so engages with more complex issues of ‘inhabiting’ and ‘habitat’. By considering the polyphony inherent to the concept of urban barbarity, and contrasting this with the anodyne homogeneity of civility in the city, Wu Jianren leverages his own personal engagement with ‘writing’ cities to undermine a burgeoning functionalism and positivism surrounding the city in modernizing China.
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Keywords: Beijing; Shanghai; late Qing; modernity; neo-colonialism; urbanism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Hong Kong Baptist University

Publication date: 01 June 2016

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  • Cities have been increasingly at the forefront of debate in both humanities and social-science disciplines, but there has been relatively little dialogue across these disciplinary boundaries. Journals in social-science fields that use urban-studies methods to look at life in cities rarely explore the cultural aspects of urban life in any depth or delve into close readings of the representation of cities in individual cultural products. As a platform for interdisciplinary scholarship from any and all linguistic, cultural and geographical traditions, the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies prioritizes the urban phenomenon in order to better understand the culture(s) of cities.
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