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Title: Making a Modern "Ancient Capital": City Wall Preservation and Urban Renewal in Twentieth-Century Xi'an, China
Authors: Guan, Zheng
Advisors: Chen, Janet
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: City Wall
Modern China
Urban planning
Subjects: History
Issue Date: 2024
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation examines how the ramparts of a former imperial garrison city in Northwest China became “historic” and preservation-worthy amid nationwide dewalling in the twentieth century. It draws on official documents in municipal, provincial, and national archives, as well as newspapers, diaries, and memoirs. Threading the five chronological chapters are two themes, historical preservation and urban renewal. Chapter 1 shows the discursive emergence of preservation in Republican-period architectural scholarship and urban planning. It reveals how these discourses, with their Euro-American origins, undergirded the conceptualization of city walls as “Chinese heritage.” Zooming in on Xi’an, Chapter 2 examines how preservation was viewed as an opportunity to revitalize this underdeveloped city by the Nationalist regime (1912-49). Meanwhile, the Chinese military continued to use city walls for national defense and decreed their protection. The chapter reveals social and human costs of the walls’ efficacy in war. Chapters 3-5 move the narrative on to the People’s Republic of China (PRC, 1949-). Xi’an’s government, like its Republican-era predecessor, sought to capitalize on the city’s national and international fame as an “ancient capital.” However, local officials faced the challenge of defending these “feudal” walls under the Socialist state. They resorted to informal tactics of persuasion like native-place ties and manipulated PRC rhetoric such as class struggle and patriotism. In terms of day-to-day maintenance, the local authorities employed methods of surveillance, punishment, and eviction to guard wall space and materials from appropriation by the populace. With the advent of tourism and marketization in the Reform era (1978-), the municipality orchestrated a city-wide campaign to restore its ramparts, laying the foundation for the present-day wall park in Xi’an. This dissertation argues that historical preservation effectuated a particular kind of urban transformation in China over a century of revolutionary and modernizing ruptures, by placing emphasis on historical continuity and through restoration of an imagined past. It interrogates the epistemic roots and social ramifications of historical preservation and heritage making in twentieth-century China. It also foregrounds a sustained effort of the local governments and people to brand and elevate the “historic” city across the regime change in 1949.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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