China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Creating the Energy-Intensive Metropolis: Peak-Load Management in 1950s Shanghai

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall West, Mezzanine

An aerial bombardment by the Nationalist Air Force on February 1950, which was meant to cripple Shanghai’s electrical power supply, led to consolidation and accelerated growth of Shanghai’s power sector. The air raid revealed Shanghai’s vulnerability, which made the Communists reluctant to expand the city’s generating capacity. This paper examines how municipal authorities altered the metabolic patterns of Shanghai to address its energy crisis. Archival materials of the Shanghai Power Bureau provide a detailed picture on how it executed “peak load management.” Shanghai’s remaining power stations ran existing generators to full capacity round the clock, while the power bureau chief adjusted the production schedules of hundreds of factories across Shanghai over the twenty-four hour period. The city consumed additional electricity generated and avoided overload during peak hours. Between 1950 and 1957, Shanghai increased its power output without massive investments in new power-generating equipment. Shanghai became a city where the workers never slept. The intensity of the micro-management brings to mind Georg Simmel’s description of the mental life of the metropolis, in which “punctuality, calculability, exactness are forced upon life by the complexity and extension of metropolitan existence.” Peak-load management went beyond alleviating Shanghai’s power shortage. For the first time since electricity was introduced to Shanghai, the municipal authorities obtained a complete understanding of the city’s power consumption patterns. Peak-load management unleashed the full potential of Shanghai’s electrical power infrastructure, which paved the way for further expansion of Shanghai’s industries in the 1960s and beyond.

Ying Jia Tan

Wesleyan University, Connecticut


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2 - Creating the Energy-Intensive Metropolis: Peak-Load Management in 1950s Shanghai

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