Art 459 Travels to Shanghai

July 10, 2014

“Anxious Metropolis: Shanghai’s Urban Cultures, 1842–2012” focuses 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 examines traditional Chinese architecture, aesthetics, and planning, as well as modern Shanghai’s architecture and vibrant urban culture. One goal is 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 is a week-long study trip to Shanghai, which allows students to experience at first hand what they study in the classroom. Guided study of the city during the day is enriched by collaboration with the Shanghai Study Centre of the University of Hong Kong, whose professors provide tours and lectures. The class visits 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 will be 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 will journey 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 tour Songjiang and Anting, two of the new themed cities which are modeled after European towns but remain largely unpopulated.