on January 5, 2010
It is hard to summarize contextually rich and theoretically nuanced scholarship into a short book review and I don't want to try it here either. Suffice to say, if you are puzzled with some of the questions like I did, you would find this book very refreshing. Questions like: Why Marxism/Communism turned out so differently in China than it did in Europe? Or why it is said that Marxism is too materialistic to be relevant? Or why Mao, despite claiming being a true Communist, hated the knowledge class (intellectuals, professionals) and its representatives in the Party so much? Or why, despite China being the factory of the world today, there is still no union movement (neither de jure, no de facto) in the country? In the end, the question boils down to the relationship between political economy and the social (non-political) legacy it operates in.
Perry did not claim that she was answering those questions. But her narrative of the pre-1949/Republican Era Shanghai did an outstanding job of recreating the setting, of reconstructing the social dynamics within which the labor movement evolved. One has to be fairly familiar with the city, the period and the surrounding areas to follow the stories. This may limit the influence of the book. But I think that is the choice a reader has to make: whether to learn something from history or to follow a cheap revisionist route to political activism.
on September 15, 2015
This book is a delightful read. My main concern in obtaining this book, was to find out more information about the famous massacre of left wing forces in Shanghai carried out by the Kuomingtang under Chang Kai-shek on April 12, 1927. However, the book turns out to be much more than a history of the massacre of April, 1927. It is a history of the city dating from the time of the "opening" of China to western trade and the Opium Wars of 1840.
Shanghai was and is unique as the window to the west and the funnel through which much of the trade with the west arrived in China. No wonder then that Shanghai is such a commercial and business oriented city. Additionally, one should not wonder that guilds and labor unions developed here in Shanghai to the degree that they did and developed as early as they did in the over whelmingly peasant economy of China as a whole.