Theses Master's

URBAN PRESERVATION IN CHINA: The Survival of an Idea Despite Political Repression, 1950–1982

Zhang, Qi

This thesis is an intellectual history of the idea of urban preservation in China from its origins in the 1950s, through its survival despite political repression during the 1960s and 1970s, to its becoming official policy in the 1980s. This thesis addresses a history that has been overlooked, as the period between the 1950s and 1980s is generally skipped over in textbooks and articles about Chinese urban preservation. I unveil the social, academic, and professional histories that covertly nurtured and carried forward the idea of urban preservation. I tell the story of individuals who fought for preservation, often at great personal risk. The idea of the “historic city” was first advocated by Liang Sicheng (1901–1972) in 1950. Unfortunately, Liang’s proposal was at odds with Mao and the central government’s ideology of Soviet-style urban development. Liang and other intellectuals who had advocated urban preservation became the targets of political purges from 1957 to 1976 during a serious of mass movements, including the Cultural Revolution. During this time, Liang’s idea was safeguarded and developed in secret by his circle: Luo Zhewen (1924–2012), Zheng Xiaoxie (1916–2017), Shan Shiyuan (1907–1998) and Hou Renzhi (1911–2013). Liang's influence was strongest in the secret pedagogical experiments at Tongji University in Shanghai. He inspired a generation of scholars like Ruan Yisan (1934–) and Dong Jianhong (1926–). They laid the academic foundation for urban preservation projects in the 1980s. After the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Ruan and Dong joined the surviving scholars in Liang's circle. They conspired to reintroduce urban preservation into policy and education, working to create the basis for the 1982 law on urban heritage.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 6, 2017