Chongqing (1937-1946) / Post-Improvisation: Spiritual Construction of the City Led by Wu Guo-zhen

Chongqing (1937-1946) / Post-Improvisation: Spiritual Construction of the City Led by Wu Guo-zhen

Dr. Wu Guo-zhen served as mayor of Chongqing from 1939 to 1941, when Chongqing suffered from the worst air bombing by Japanese. Graduated from Princeton University with a PhD degree, Wu was not only familiar with western modern urban planning theories, but also experienced with municipal administration. He used to serve as mayor of Hankou in the pre-war period and demonstrated outstanding ability during his tenure. To him, constructing civic identity and spiritual cohesion of the capital city is just as important as strengthening its military power to defend against the enemy. Over the years, Wu presided over the construction of “Spiritual Fortress”, planning of the new Duyou-jie Square, and reformed the road naming system in the city. Those instances made great contribution to the spiritual construction of Chongqing.

  • The “Spiritual Fortress”

After the loss of Guangzhou and Wuhan, situation of the anti-Japanese war became more and more passive for the Chinese National Government. Japanese warlord then attempted to further weaken the will of the Chinese people and threaten their spirit through nonstop bombing. In order unite all the forces available to smash the Japanese conspiracy, Chinese National Government established a committee for spirit mobilization. On May 1st, 1939, the committee made a national joint pledge, calling for monthly gatherings around the nation where every citizen would make a vow on fighting for their nation till the end. After the gathering, a torch parade would be held at night around the city to boost the morale. In this context, a symbolic statue was needed at the gathering place to manifest great enthusiasm, unrelenting spirit, and unbreakable cohesion of this nation.

Figure 1, Photo of Spiritual Fortress on Duyou-jie Square

The statue, named “Spiritual Fortress”, was then established at Duyou-jie Crossroad, the busiest downtown area of Chongqing (Figure 1). This area had become ruins after consecutive bombing on May 3rd and 4th in 1939. Rebuilding at the exactly same site would enhance the spirit and demonstrate the undefeatable resolution of Chinese people. The great statue stands on a wooden structure finished with cement on the exterior. It was then painted into a greyish color to avoid being targeted by Japanese bombers. The height of this “Spiritual Fortress” also had its symbolic meaning: 77 Chinese feet (around 23 meters) represents the declaration of anti-Japanese war on July 7th, 1937. The overall form is a rectangle prism, with “Spiritual Fortress” engraved in the front and patriotic slogans on the other three sides, namely “State Supremacy, Ethnic Supremacy”, “Military above All, Victory above All” and “Concentrate Will, Concentrate Force”. On top of it, there is a large pot for cotton and alcohol, which can be lit during gatherings and events. Chiang-Kai-Shek praised the committee and their work as “the most powerful weapon against the enemy, a spiritual fortress for all the citizens”.

  • Reform of Road Naming System

Street names are the symbols of a city, reflecting its history and value. By the end of Qing Dynasty, most streets in Chongqing City were named after objects, landscape, activities and family names that dominate the area. In the new road system carried out by Wu Guo-zhen, names of the roads and streets were combined and sorted in a systematic manner, representing political attitude of the government and spirit of anti-Japanese war. The principle claims that “only new carriageways that are 15 meters wide can be named road, and the name should bear meanings such as construction of the nation or victory of the war”. After this, “National Road”, “Civil Right Road” and “Defense Road” appeared, as the names we hear today.

Figure 2. List of Street Names Combined during Wu’s Reform


  1. Xie Xuan, Study on the Urban Construction and Planning of Chongqnig (1947-1949), PhD diss, South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, 2011, China Academic Journal Electronic Publishing House.
  2. Committee on History of Chongqing, History of Chinese National Government in the Provisional Capital of Chongqing, (Chongqing: Southwest Normal University Press, 1993)
  3. Chongqing Committee on Place Naming, List of Place Names in Chongqing, Sichuan, (Chongqing: Xinhua Publishing House, 1986)
  4. Zhang Tao, The Issuance and Development of Building Laws in Provisional Capital Chongqing During the War of Resistance Against Japan, Architecture & Culture (2012) Issue 11, pp.67-69

1 Comment on “Chongqing (1937-1946) / Post-Improvisation: Spiritual Construction of the City Led by Wu Guo-zhen

  1. This piece is well-organized to illustrate how Wu Guo-zhen managed to construct the spiritual cohesion and civic identity in a special historical background through two main methods — establishment of the “Spiritual Fortress” and reform of road naming system. Personally, I feel it would be even more interesting if a map at that period is available to give us a general idea about the urban context. Just like Chinese acupuncture, how did inserting the “Spiritual Fortress” into that specific spot affect the surroundings and help to enhance the spirit? Similarly, if we could read the new naming system based on a plan, it may lead to a different understanding of the existing urban fabrics.
    Moreover, I would like to know more about the post-improvisation in the title. What’s your definition of improvisation and post-improvisation in this context? Is there any reason why you would like to divide the history of Chongqing like this and what are the criteria?

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