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Brings to life the visual culture of the “nightless city,” late nineteenth-century Shanghai, through analyses of more than one hundred drawn depictions

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Table of Contents:

  • Part one: a brief history of the Dianshizhai Pictorial.
  • The Shenbao and the Dianshizhai
  • The Shanghai literati
  • The nature of the Dianshizhai
  • Part two: Shanghai: old city, new city.
  • Roads and transportation
  • Water supply and hygiene
  • Gas and electricity for public lighting
  • Urban life in the settlements
  • Immigrants to Shanghai
  • Conflicting legal systems
  • Law enforcements in the settlements
  • Part three: a new urban culture.
  • The Shanghai attitude towards things foreign
  • Concepts of health and the human body
  • Changes in the pattern of human relations
  • Relations between the sexes
  • Challenges to the traditional socia order
  • Vagrants and criminals
  • Part four: religious practices.
  • Official attitues
  • Attitude of the literati
  • Organizers of religious activities
  • Social environment and its effect.


While twentieth-century Shanghai has received extensive scholarly treatment, the nineteenth century has remained understudied, even though it encompasses the first half-century of Shanghai's growth as a treaty port and the early years of Chinese-foreign contact. Published in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Dianshizhai Pictorial provides a record of the new urban popular culture that emerged in Shanghai's foreign settlements during this period. In this study, Ye Xiaoqing provides a comprehensive view into the Dianshizhai's detailed illustrations of everyday life at home, in commercial establishments, and in Shanghai's public areas. Her introduction to more than one hundred drawings points to the social background, lifestyle, and intellectual outlook of the Dianshizhai's literati writers and artists, the weakness of gentry control in the foreign settlements, and the commercialization and “modern” material culture that made Shanghai distinctive. The drawings and commentaries of the Dianshizhai contrast the settlements with “traditional” culture and urban life in the adjacent Chinese city and vividly convey items of interest—from the quotidian to the bizarre—highlighting local fascination with and anxiety at the rapid changes in Shanghai's increasingly cosmopolitan society.

Ye Xiaoqing is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Macquarie University in Sydney.