Art 459 Travels to Shanghai

From a small village and market town, Shanghai grew to become a bustling port, colonialist beachhead, hub of international commerce in the 1930s, and a major testing ground for contemporary architecture today. As a crucial interface between East and West, the city was a place where national and transnational cultures fought and flourished, and stereotypes were forged and discarded.

“Anxious Metropolis: Shanghai’s Urban Cultures, 1842–2012” focused on the evolution of Shanghai to a bustling port, colonialist beachhead, hub of international commerce in the 1930s, and today a major testing ground for contemporary architecture. Team-taught by Professor Esther da Costa Meyer and Cary Y. Liu, curator of Asian art at the Princeton University Art Museum, the seminar examined traditional Chinese architecture, aesthetics, and planning, as well as modern Shanghai’s architecture and vibrant urban culture. One goal was to break away from the increasingly obsolete division between East and West by exploring the metropolis as a crucible for cultural encounters and exchanges.

Central to the course was a week-long fall break study trip to Shanghai, which allowed 16 students to experience at first hand what they had studied in the classroom. Guided study of the city during the day was enriched by collaboration with the Shanghai Study Centre of the University of Hong Kong, whose professors provided tours and lectures. The class saw Shanghai’s old town, the old bazaar with its temples and gardens, traditional lilong-block housing, the site of Expo 2010, the French Concession with its Orthodox churches and leafy streets, and the old Jewish ghetto, where thousands of Jews found refuge from the Nazis and lived alongside the Chinese. In each of these visits, students were able to better understand topics they had discussed in seminar, like magic and feng shui, issues of globalization, urban development, and modernization. Traveling outside the city, the class journeyed to Suzhou, the “Chinese Venice,” to study its classical gardens, and to the nearby water town Tongli. On a fascinating trip to the outskirts, the students toured Songjiang and Anting, two of the new themed cities which are modeled after European towns but remain largely unpopulated. Several of the students’ papers resulting from the trip were published in a special issue of the Princeton Journal of East Asian Studies.

The seminar’s trip was made possible by generous support from the Humanities Council’s David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Fund, the Dean of the College’s 250th Anniversary Fund for Innovation in Teaching, the Department of Art and Archaeology, and the Princeton University Art Museum.


Shanghai group picture 2012