Shanghai Homes Palimpsests of Private Life by Jie Li

By Jie LiAssistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Named a Best 10 City Book by the Guardian

"In the dazzling global metropolis of Shanghai, what has it meant to call this city home? In this account--part microhistory, part memoir--Jie Li salvages intimate recollections by successive generations of inhabitants of two vibrant, culturally mixed Shanghai alleyways from the Republican, Maoist, and post-Mao eras. Exploring three dimensions of private life--territories, artifacts, and gossip--Li re-creates the sounds, smells, look, and feel of home over a tumultuous century.

First built by British and Japanese companies in 1915 and 1927, the two homes at the center of this narrative were located in an industrial part of the former "International Settlement." Before their recent demolition, they were nestled in Shanghai's labyrinthine alleyways, which housed more than half of the city's population from the Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution. Through interviews with her own family members as well as their neighbors, classmates, and co-workers, Li weaves a complex social tapestry reflecting the lived experiences of ordinary people struggling to absorb and adapt to major historical change. These voices include workers, intellectuals, Communists, Nationalists, foreigners, compradors, wives, concubines, and children who all fought for a foothold and haven in this city, witnessing spectacles so full of farce and pathos they could only be whispered as secret histories." -Columbia University Press

"As the first book of a young scholar, this is a real gem and delightful read. At once personal and scholarly, intimate in tone but intellectually rigorous,Shanghai Homes is that unique work that effortlessly moves between and cuts across several disciplinary areas: family history, Cultural Revolution politics, urban architecture, and above all personal and collective memory and its place in post-Socialsit and globalized China. I find the human images of these 'palimpsests' especially heart-warming. Dare one consider it a present-day Chinese counterpoint to Walter Benjamin's classic, A Berlin Childhood?" — Leo Ou-Fan Lee, author of Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China

More Reviews can be found here.

Shanghai Homes Palimpsests of Private Life by Jie Li