China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - The City and Its Image: How Visual Culture Reframes and Reimagines 1930s Shanghai

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

From planners and architects to cartographers and surveyors, institutions prescribe the city’s shape and pattern, appointing thoroughfares and allocating resources with a cartesian methodology that privileges smooth, rational space. Yet the city exists beyond this plane of cartographic space; urban dwellers experience a city as a deeply complex and often contradictory place marked by opinions, preferences, cultural and social engagements that elude the map. My presentation examines the ways social and cultural debates reframe buildings, landscapes, and neighborhoods in 1930s Shanghai.


In this presentation I will investigate an alternate sphere of Shanghai: the city seen in popular media, demonstrating how the imagined metaphorical city asserts itself within the planned one. Through visual analysis of works like Ji Yehou’s “A Regulation Boulevard?” and Xu Ruoming’s“Floating Blossoms Fill the City in Spring” I will examine how artists from the 1930s Shanghai pictorial magazine Modern Sketch  use their work to reframe and reimagine their city. In these works, the intersection of place and cultural representation fostered new competing ideas about the city. What emerges from this investigation of 1930s Shanghai is how urban history informed by visual culture can illuminate not only the historic fabric of the city but also the political and social processes that gave meaning to it.


Urban spaces are viewed and understood in ways that their original designers, clients, and builders never envisioned. Examining 1930s Shanghai through popular visual culture demonstrates that meaning is rarely fixed, rather is created and contested at the intersection of people and place.

Kelly W.S. Ritter

University of Virginia, United States

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Send Email for The City and Its Image: How Visual Culture Reframes and Reimagines 1930s Shanghai