February 12 Christian de Pee

Friday, February 12, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

The City Organic: Writing the Commercial Streetscape in Eleventh-Century China

Christian de Pee
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Michigan

During the eleventh century, Chinese literati changed the geographic orientation of inherited literary genres and devised new literary genres in order to create a space in writing for the commercial cityscape. Within this newly created literary space, literati represented the commercial cityscape, not as an achievement of human artifice, but as an extension of nature, where traffic flows like water, money and goods circulate like the vital essences of the body, and trade flourishes like a well-tended garden. The efforts of eleventh-century literati to discern natural principles in urban traffic and in the urban economy aligns their writing of the city with other intellectual developments of the period, such as a widespread interest in natural observation, medical diagnostics, financial management, civil engineering, and criminal forensics. The writing and painting of the commercial city in eleventh-century China thus has significant parallels (and even direct connections) to the writing and painting of the industrial city in nineteenth-century Europe: the playful manipulation of boundaries between nature and artifice, the application of medical diagnostics to urban planning, an apprehensive fascination with the interchangeability of commoditized goods and labor, the anonymity of urban crowds and the related development of detective stories, and the foregrounding of the painter’s eye and the painter’s hand in the visual arts. Although the similarity between Song-dynasty cities and the metropolises of the nineteenth century should not be overstated, the commonalities do allow the disarticulation of certain “modernist” ways of seeing and thinking from linear narratives of Western modernity.

Friday, February 12, 4:30 to 6:30pm, CWAC156

Persons with concerns regarding accessibility please contact xizh@uchicago.edu

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