Greater Shanghai Plan: Social Background

The “Shanghai” which starred the Chinese contemporary modernity in the early 1900s, was a foreign power dominated Shanghai, in other words, the concession Shanghai. Since 1843 Shanghai opened as a treaty port, British and French began to set up concessions in the North one after another. In November the 1845, the Shanghai official made the announcement that the section “North to the Yangjin River, South to Lijia Factory” became the British concession[1]. In April of 1849, the French also set up French concession adjacent to British. In the year 1848, American invested properties in North Suzhou River and like other western counterparts, made the American settlements. Later the concessions also developed their own political system, almost became small nations independent of Chinese regulation.

However, outside the concessions, the Chinese part of Shanghai, hidden behind the prosperous picture of the concessions, had always been fighting a silent battle with her counterpart, to learn from, and attempted to outdo the western dwellers. The contemporary history of  Shanghai was a constant wrestling between the two.The contrast was so visible that local newspaper describe the phenomenon as “stark contrast between heaven and hell”[2]. The contrast shown in the architecture. The settlements had the Bund, a signature architecture complex with a variety of architecture styles. However, the construction from Chinese part of Shanghai was mostly organic and unplanned, therefore of bad quality and  overcrowded. One of the report to the government official wrote, “ The public architecture in town are mostly in the danger of collapse and potential disaster is everywhere. “[3].

The concessions were also constantly expanding. To stop the expansion of the settlement and to compete with it, Chinese part of Shanghai had made great efforts, even before the Greater Shanghai Plan. In 1900, some wealthy merchants in Zhabei, applied to the authority for the establishment of “Zhabei  Construction Bureau” to construct a new Zhabei district. In 1908, the Shanghai railway station made Zhabei an important commercial center for Chinese part of Shanghai[4]. To compete with the foreign power’s control on the harbour, Chinese part of Shanghai had tried to open new ports twice in Wusong area. However, both attempts failed because of either the condition of Huangpu River, or the unstable political environment. These efforts were the prelude of the later Greater Shanghai Plan.

In 27 years’ time, the political force in Shanghai had went through Qing Dynasty, the warlord governance and finally Nanking republican government. In 1927, there established Shanghai Special City, and Chinese part of Shanghai went into unity, which made massive planning project possible.The government ambition was clear in the document:  “… Shanghai will be the first well planned city in China… It will be also one of the most up-to-date cities in the world. “[5] The government also to set an example for the urban planning in modern China.

One must consider the social background to understand The Greater Shanghai Plan. 1927 was the high time for Shanghai to have a massive planning scheme, to tackle the problems the city had encountered, and help the new government to establish cultural identity.



[1] Gongsu Xu 徐公肃 and Jinzhang Qiu 丘瑾璋, Shanghai Gong Gong Zu Jie Zhi Du 上海公共租界制度, (Shanghai: Shanghai Shudian press, 1933), 26.

[2] Shanghai Shi Shi Zhongxin Qu Yu Jian She Wei Yuan Hui 上海市市中心区域建设委员会, Jian She Shanghai Shi Shi Zhong Xin Qu Yu Ji Hua Shu 建设上海市市中心区域计划书, 1930.

[3] Shanghai Shi Te Bie Gong Wu Ju上海市特别工务局, Shanghai Shi Te Bie Gong Wu Ju Bao Gao 上海市特别工务局报告(民国十六年七月至十二月),69.

[4] Lanning G. and Couling S., History of Shanghai, (Shanghai: Kelly&Walsh Ltd., 1921), 274-275.

[5] Scheme for Greater Shanghai Development, 1933.



Daewent, Charles Ewart. Shanghai: a Handbook for Travellers adn Residents. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh,1920.

Lanning. and S. Couling. History of Shanghai. Shanghai: Kelly&Walsh Ltd., 1921.

Scheme for Greater Shanghai Development. 1933.

Shanghai Shi Shi Zhongxin Qu Yu Jian She Wei Yuan Hui 上海市市中心区域建设委员会.  Jian She Shanghai Shi Shi Zhong Xin Qu Yu Ji Hua Shu 建设上海市市中心区域计划书, 1930.

Shanghai Shi Te Bie Gong Wu Ju上海市特别工务局. Shanghai Shi Te Bie Gong Wu Ju Bao Gao 上海市特别工务局报告(民国十六年七月至十二月),69.

Xu Gongsu 徐公肃 and Qiu Jinzhang 丘瑾璋. Shanghai Gong Gong Zu Jie Zhi Du 上海公共租界制度. Shanghai: Shanghai Shudian press, 1933.

1 Comment on “Greater Shanghai Plan: Social Background

  1. The constant fighting between the foreign forces and the local have always been issues of the colonial city. To make the matter worse, there are even several concession areas held by different countries in Shanghai. However, it also makes Shanghai as the cultural hub for the interaction between western countries and China. Apart from competing with foreign countries in the concession area, was there any measure of urban planing in 1927 which tried to improve the communication and interaction?

    Regarding the social background of the Chinese settlement area, the lilong culture cannot be neglected. The lilong housing in Chinese settlement area at that time was mostly housing the upper and middle class Chinese, and it has developed into a unique culture in Shanghai. It would be fascinating to know that how the 192-1937 planning incorporate the lilong community and housing prototype to the new development.

    I am also interested in different zoning of Chinese city, either within the old city hall, or in the newly developed area. As incorporating the old city grid from the Ching dynasty to the new concession area and developing area was a challenging questions to the urban planners at that time.

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