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American planning in republican China, 1911-1937

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This paper argues that in China, between the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the onset of the fullfledged Chinese war of resistance (Kanzheng) against Japan in 1937, American planners and Chinese municipal experts trained in American universities initiated significant planning schemes in several Chinese cities. This influence marked a crucial change in Chinese city planning because from the mid-19th century to 1911 it had primarily been British, French or German planners who had exerted foreign influence on Chinese urban form, particularly in the treaty ports of eastern China. Three of the best examples that demonstrate this shift of emphasis to American-based ideals of municipal progress are the plans for Guangzhou (Canton) in the early 1920s, the new capital plan at Nanjing (Nanking) and the greater Shanghai plan in the late 1920s. Although some scholars have analysed the Shanghai and Nanjing plans, few have explored the ways city planning during the republican period reflects a pattern of North American influence in the reshaping of Chinese urban form. In identifying this pattern, this paper will argue that Guangzhou was a first testing ground where Chinese politicians, within a decade after the first American city planning conference of 1909, consciously tried to apply up-to-date American planning principles associated with the 'city functional', the 'city scientific' or the 'city efficient' to a Chinese city that they perceived as inefficient. There were two initial spheres of influence associated with this American connection: (1) an institutional one, in which Guangzhou planners experimented with a commission form of American municipal government which, since 1900, had become popular especially in the American west and midwest; and (2) an influence related to urban space and form, as planners widened several narrow streets of congested Guangzhou and demolished its city wall, thereby following the gospel of Americans such as Benjamin Marsh who, since 1907, had been proselytizing about the ill effects of urban congestion. Guangzhou's planning experiments in the 1920s were at the forefront of further American planning connections, manifested in four ways: (1) through the actions of largely American-trained Chinese municipal experts, who studied in the US using scholarships from the Boxer Indemnity Fund; (2) through American planning advisors, such as Henry K. Murphy, who were hired by Chinese politicians to provide direct planning assistance; (3) through the formation of professional organizations, such as the Association of Chinese and American Engineers; and (4) through publications in English and Chinese that disseminated information about city planning, urbanism and architecture to a professional audience. This paper will discuss these trends as they apply to Chinese cities of the Republican period, with particular attention to Nanjing and Guangzhou. A fuller recognition of these Chinese cities' planning histories, as well as those of others such as Xiamen (Amoy), Shenyang (Mukden) or Fuzhou (Foochow) that followed their lead, demonstrates that American planning efforts in the western Pacific were far more pervasive than has previously been assumed. Although the initiatives of Daniel Burnham and William Parsons in the Philippines after the American military victories there in 1898 are well-established, and although Walter Burley Griffin's Canberra plan of 1913 is even more fully documented, the work of American planners in China, or of Chinese planners deriving their concepts from American practices, is less well understood. This paper clarifies the historical perspective associated with these planning tendencies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 1996

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