China Beat Archive



Samuel Y. Liang

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January 27, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright January 27, 2009 Samuel Y. Liang. Used by permission.


2009 is a year of anniversaries for China, with the 90th birthday of the May 4th Movement coming in the spring and the 60th of the PRC arriving in the fall. With this in mind, we’ve asked Samuel Liang of the University of Manchester, a specialist in Shanghai’s built environment, to provide our readers with background on a locale that has special significance for both of the just-mentioned anniversaries. Namely, the building where an early meeting of the Communist Party was held in 1921, which stands near the recently built shopping and entertainment district known as Xintiandi.

This structure, often treated as a sacred revolutionary shrine, has a complex history, as readers will see. It is tied to the May 4th Movement because many of those who attended the Party Congress held within its wall, including Mao Zedong, had been active in those 1919 protests and the general “New Culture” intellectual fermentation of the time, and as a birthplace of the Communist Party it is tied to the founding of the PRC in even more obvious ways.

In the late nineteenth century, foreign landowners and Chinese builders jointly created lilong compounds for Chinese residents in the foreign settlements of Shanghai. Somewhere between enclosed compounds and open alleyways, thelilong houses opened up traditional walled domains, generated fluid spaces between houses, neighborhoods, and streets, and accommodated a wide range of commercial and residential functions and people from all walks of life.