"The wheels that transformed the city: the historical development of public transportation systems in Shanghai, 1843-1937"

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Zhou, Fang
Lu, Hanchao
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The city of Shanghai was transformed from a treaty port of around half a million people when the British first arrived after the end of the Opium War to become the most populous, prosperous, and cosmopolitan metropolis in China by the early 20th century. The development of public transportation systems contributed significantly to the urban expansion and growth of the city, as well as in reshaping the city's identity. This dissertation examined the impact of public transportation on the urban landscape of Shanghai by focusing on three major issues: "tradition versus modernity", state and society relations, and the relationship between technology and society. As a divided city governed by three separate political jurisdictions, Shanghai offered a unique perspective in understanding the roles public transportation and urban planning played in changing a city's layout. This dissertation addressed the specific differences in the development of urban infrastructure and its impact on population growth, mobility and accessibility, and economic prosperity of the British controlled International Settlement, the French Concession, and the Chinese city. The first half of the dissertation analyzed the roles in which "traditional" man-powered vehicles such as the wheelbarrow, sedan chair, horse-drawn carriage, and rickshaw played, before delving into the arrival of "modern" machine-powered vehicles such as automobiles, trams, trolleys, and buses in the early 20th century. Each form of transportation vehicle is discussed for its specific role, and the type of clientele it catered. This dissertation argued that man-powered vehicles and machine-powered vehicles did not necessarily compete with each other for passengers, as each type of vehicle served its specific purposes and clients. Public transportation; just like food, clothing, or housing is a form of material culture where one's socioeconomic or class status is revealed by the type of transport one chooses. Because the different types of vehicles did not directly compete with each other, they all saw significant increases in ridership. The 'tradition versus modernity" theme is aimed at addressing the bigger picture of "continuity and change", where Shanghai was transformed by foreign influences yet at the same time it still retained traditional Chinese characteristics to form a complex identity. The second half of the dissertation dealt with state and society relations, and the relationship of technology and society. The issue of public versus private responsibility is addressed with historical analysis of government orchestrated urban planning and the private sector providing the services to fulfill the people's needs and demands. In focusing on these two themes, this dissertation argued that technology has inherent political agenda attached to it, as government policies specifically created areas of the city which had better public transportation infrastructure, which led to these parts of the city being more commercially prosperous and vibrant than others. Routes, lines, and stops were designated with specific political purposes in mind, and public transportation accessibility contributed to the uneven economic developments across the city. The Greater Shanghai Project of 1927-1937 was a specific attempt by the Chinese government to create a new city center that could shift the population away from the foreign concessions into the Chinese territories. This dissertation argued that this campaign would not have been feasible even without the Japanese attack due to insufficient public funds. The findings in this dissertation will hopefully add to the scholarship on the history of Shanghai and the history of technology in China.
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