To view this PAPER PRESENTATION, search for the session title in the Browse by Titlelisting. (See the session title located immediately below ["In Session:"])
China and Inner Asia
In Session: Communities at Work: Reappraisals of Local Autonomy in Late Qing and Early Republican China
1: From Righteous Burial Ground (yizhong) to Public Property (gongchan): Conflicts over Collective Cemeteries in Late Qing Shanghai
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Xavier University, United States
At the turn of the twentieth century, Shanghai witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of so-called “death facilities” run by civic actors such as charities and guilds. Well-known charities including Tongren fuyuantang were responsible for the regular collection and interment of dead bodies that remained without proper burial. In addition, various guild organizations provided communal cemeteries to migrants and workers who constituted the majority of the urban population. The charitable management of dead bodies by these civic actors was a well-defined, quasi-administrative undertaking that had emerged in the city during the nineteenth century. During the first decade of the twentieth century when the New Policies were implemented, the value of these death facilities was redefined with regards to the urban space, self-governance, and public good (gongyi). In particular, when the legitimacy of collective cemeteries was challenged by the logic of urban development, charities and guilds claimed that these spaces were public properties (gongchan) owned by civic communities of Shanghai and thus represented an autonomous space that was not subject to the control by the state. This observation challenges previous understandings of the “bones of contention” (that is, disputes over the place of the dead) as a primarily nationalistic anti-foreign struggle. The redefinition of collective cemeteries as public properties reveals the way in which the civic actors of Shanghai creatively utilized the emerging discourse of local autonomy.