Blanc SHS 3 - Blanc - SHS 3 - Cultures, arts, civilisations


The proposed project aims to highlight the determinants of the transformation of Shanghai from the angle of spatial history and to establish the decisive impact of wars, rebellions and various forms of conflicts in shaping the spatial trajectory of the city. The project is grounded in historical research, with a reliance on a wide range of sources: conventional (archives, printed materials), semi-conventional (cartographic documents and spatial data), and ‘marginal’ documents (such as photographs, including aerial photographs) of history. It plans to establish an innovative web platform built around an event-based ontology, a gazetteer- and timeline-driven HGIS, relational databases, and visualization tools.




Submission summary

Wars have a tremendous impact on territories and their populations. Many cities were, at one point in their history, subjected to the grueling consequences of warfare. Some have suffered repeated assaults, successive cycles of destruction and reconstruction, displacement of population, and as a consequence, a remolding of their environment. Yet only a few large modern metropolis have gone through such cycles of sudden and thorough destruction, followed by periods of more or less rapid reconstruction, involving a massive regeneration of their populations. In this project, we plan to demonstrate that Shanghai represents an exceptional – though unfortunate -- case of an urban space that from the mid-19th century to the late 1940s was engulfed in several conflicts. The city can also claim the sad record of having been the first city in the world to be exposed to and ravaged by the most modern weaponry and to have suffered from heretofore unknown levels of violence.

The history of Shanghai has been told from the angle of modernization, westernization, and astounding economic development. In other words, Shanghai appears in most narratives as a « success story ». A success indeed it was. And precisely, an even more astonishing success when one looks closely at the history of warfare and violence in the city. In this project, we argue that the development of Shanghai as an urban territory was conditioned by issues of defense and conflict. Shanghai thrived and prospered out of war. From the initial military foray and brief occupation by British troops in 1842 to the civil war (1945-49) and its ripples in post-war China, all through the civil rebellions (1853-55, 1860-61), revolutionary movements (1911, 1925-1927), and Sino-Japanese conflicts (1932, 1937), the city was the seat of forms of violence that affected both the spatial configuration, the distribution, composition and activities of the population, and the whole economic structure.

This project proposes to explore the history of war and civilian violence in Shanghai over a long century (1842-1952) from the perspective of the spatial history and seeks to establish the determinants and modes of transformation the city that resulted from warfare. It sits at the interface of history and geography. The methodological approach to be adopted fits in the realm of "digital humanities", in particular digital history. It requires the collection and processing of both large amounts of quantitative and qualitative data, hence a four-year proposal, and the design and implementation of innovative instruments for historical research.

Project coordination

HENRIOT Christian (Institut d'Asie Orientale) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IH Institut d'histoire
IAO - CNRS Institut d'Asie Orientale

Help of the ANR 200,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2013 - 36 Months

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