In 1937, bitter and brutal fighting raged for three months in and around the city, with intense bombardment from ships and planes. Within weeks, hundred of thousands of residents were thrown on to the streets and made homeless. This paper is concerned with the massive and sudden transformation of Shanghai residents into refugees and the consequences on the resources and management of the city. In the first part, I argue that 1937 created an entirely new situation no authority was prepared to meet because of the scope of the population exodus and to the actual blockade of the city. The second part is devoted to the refugee population, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. It examines who the refugees were—those who found refuge in camps—and why they did not reflect the normal structure of the local population. The last part is concerned with the challenges refugee camps had to face in maintaining a huge destitute population with limited resources in war-torn overcrowded urban space. War caused tremendous suffering among the civilian population, especially children, despite the fairly successful organisation of support by the authorities and private organisations.
Hutments—a term used to designate “beggars’ villages,” “strawhouse illages” or more bluntly “slums”—became a standard feature of hanghai’s urban landscape in the early 1920s. Located in peripheral areas, they became a central object of concern by the authorities that governed the foreign settlements in the city. Over time, due to economic crisis and above all war, “hutments” slowly colonized the whole urban space and became a massive housing issue and a problematic historical legacy after 1949. This paper argues that hutments arose mostly from the turmoil of the Civil War period. Their nature changed little from the time of their appearance in the 1920s to the early 1950s. Yet, perceptions and policies over three major periods under study here varied significantly. They were strongly influenced by the discursive constructions and distorting lenses the local administrations formulated around issues of nuisance, public health, and city beautification. Each era carried over the concerns and prejudices of the previous period. Yet, each municipal institution also brought in new cultural and political postures that changed the overall discourse and treatment of hutment dwellers.
The takeover of the city by the People’s Liberation Army in May 1949 marked the beginning of a process of transformation of all commercial and industrial companies in Shanghai. The funeral business companies represented a small sector, yet one that had great significance in everyday life. The ccp sought to control the private funeral companies almost as soon as it took over the city. The new authorities envisioned a radical transformation of the whole funeral business. While they exhibited remarkable efficiency in conducting the process of progressive elimination of many companies and placing the whole funeral business under strict guidance, the ‘socialist transformation’ resulted in a system riddled with inefficiency, mismanagement and mistrust. The ccp built on the experience it had acquired previously, but with Shanghai it also needed to adapt to the challenge of managing a large and complex metropolis. I argue that the ccp successfully enlisted the trade associations to implement its policy through means of ideological dominance, persuasion techniques, threat and sheer coercion. The short but strong protest of the former managers of companies during the Hundred Flowers Movement made visible the powerful political machine that drove their companies into public–private joint management, then full socialisation.
War was a major aspect of Shanghai history in the first half of the twentieth century. Yet, because of the particular political and territorial divisions that segmented the city, war struck only in Chinese-administered areas. In this paper, I examine the fate of the Zhabei district, a booming industrious area that came under fire on three successive occasions. Whereas Zhabei could be construed as a success story—a rag-to-riches, swamp-to-urbanity trajectory—the three instances of military conflict had an increasingly devastating impact, from shaking, to stifling, to finally erase Zhabei from the urban landscape. This area of Shanghai experienced the first large-scale modern warfare in an urban setting. The 1927 skirmish established the pattern in which the civilian population came to be exposed to extreme forms of violence, was turned overnight into a refugee population, and lost all its goods and properties to bombing and fires.