Survival of Shanghai Urbanite Culture in the Mao Era: Bourgeois Aspirations and Practice of Longtang Everyday Life

Abstract

This essay studies an often overlooked and understudied topic – the survival of Shanghai vernacular longtang (alleyway house) urbanite culture in the Mao era (1949-1976). It discovers how bourgeois sentiments embodied by the Shanghai national bourgeoisie were aspired to and inherited by the longtang petty urbanites (xiaoshimin) and their quotidian practices of Shanghai-styled (haipai) everyday life. By delving into archives, newspapers, and urban cultural studies, the essay particularly examines how urbanite culture was revitalized by the mode of Shanghai everyday living and how it resiliently co-existed with socialist revolutionary culture through a type of distinctive material culture particularly manifested in housing and food. It investigates the dialectical and conflictual relationship between the discourse of revolution and that of everyday life. It challenges the problematic incompleteness of Socialist Transformation project and searches for a new understanding of historical viability and sustainability of Chinese socialism, as Chinese socialism did not succeed in eradicating bourgeois sensibility as an oppositional historical force in Shanghai in the Mao era. In this context, the essay argues that Shanghai maintained a privileged urban center while its urbanite culture persisted by means of self-preservation of the longtang everyday life and fetishized bourgeois materialism and aspirations under Maoist Chinese socialism.

References

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Ibid.

During the Cultural Revolution, pastry stores in Shanghai often took urgent orders from the “revolutionaries” who organized rallies in People’s Square and Cultural Revolution Square in Shanghai. Thousands of jin (500 grams) bread and biscuits were produced for the rallies, including the most popular ones such as “evergreen sweet biscuits,” “sandwich biscuits,” “cream soda biscuits”.

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