Colonists, Capitalists and Gangsters: Republican Shanghai, 1911-49

Tutor: Jon Howlett

Module type: Period Topic

Module code: HIS00049C

In the period 1911 to 1949 Shanghai became known around the world as the cosmopolitan 'Paris of the East' and as a notoriously decadent 'Paradise for Adventurers'. This was a port city where foreign imperialism met Chinese civilisation in a riotous period of social transformation and political revolution. British bankers and American tycoons lived side by side with the most influential Chinese political and literary thinkers of the age, as well as dangerous criminals, communist agitators and White Russian 'taxi-dancers'. This unit will explore the realities and myths of life in Republican-era Shanghai.

Students will gain a sound introductory understanding of Shanghai history between the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and the Communist Revolution of 1949. Through reading engaging primary sources and carefully-selected secondary literature students will learn the need for historians to carefully weigh up different interpretations of the past. The various historiographic interpretations and debates encountered in the study of Chinese history in this period provide students with an introduction to issues they will encounter throughout their academic careers at York across varying geographical and chronological contexts.

Note: no prior knowledge of Chinese history or language is required for this course.

Seminar topics may include:

  • Introduction to the history of Shanghai
  • Imperialism and foreign life
  • Beyond the neon lights: Chinese city life
  • Shanghai 'Modern'
  • Prostitution: 'wild hens' and concubines
  • Regulating and reforming Shanghai
  • Shanghai at war
  • The Communist takeover of Shanghai


To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

  • Bergère, Marie-Claire. Shanghai: China's Gateway to Modernity. Stanford, 2009.
  • Bickers, Robert. Empire Made Me: An Englishman adrift in Shanghai. London: Penguin, 2003.