Deodorizing China: Odour, ordure, and colonial (dis)order in Shanghai, 1840s–1940s*
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 February 2016
Smell is deeply meaningful to human beings. Often considered elusive, ephemeral, and volatile, it has long been excluded from scholarly accounts on culture and history. This article explores this ‘lower’ sense and the roles it played in the historical process of modernization in China. Through a close look at the efforts made by the Western colonial administration to deodorize Shanghai as well as diverse Chinese reactions, this article argues that smell constituted a hidden site where the dynamics of power relations were played out. Smell also opened up a window to showcase modernity's power and ambivalence. The first part of this article looks at how China smelled to the Western nose, against the historical background of the rising consciousness of smell, sanitation, and civility in Europe which began in the eighteenth century. The second part examines the ways in which the British administration applied the olfactory norms of the modern West to the end of taming Chinese stench. The final part provides a case study of ordure treatment in order to show how ambivalence arose in this modern smellscape and why.
- Research Article
- Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016
This article is part of my research project ‘The Cesspool and the Rose Garden: The Social Life of Smell in Modern China, 1840s–1960s’. The project has been supported by a Gerda Henkel Research Fellowship and an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. This article was completed under the sponsorship of the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies and IFK International Research Centre for Cultural Studies in Vienna. I am indebted to the four institutions for their generosity. I also thank Liu Wennan, Mark McLeister, Paul Pickowicz, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments and help, as well as many other scholars in Nantes, Vienna, Heidelberg, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh who provided feedback to my presentations of this article.
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71 See ‘Municipal Council Finance’ in ‘Municipal Report for the Year Ending 31st March 1864’, ed. The Shanghai Municipal Council (Shanghai, 1864, n.p.)
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100 For example, the revenue generated by the sale of nightsoil was 2987.58 taels in 1892, 3237.37 taels in 1895, and 4074.19 in 1896. See The Shanghai Municipal Council, ed., ‘Report for the Year Ended 31st December 1892 and Budget for the Year Ending 31st December 1893’ (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1893), p. 272; ‘Report for the Year Ended 31st December 1895 and Budget for the Year Ending 31st December 1896’ (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1896), p. 346; ‘Report for the Year Ended 31st December 1896 and Budget for the Year Ending 31st December 1897’ (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1897), p. 268.
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104 Eau de Cologne, ‘Scene on Wednesday’, ibid. As the foreign working population in Shanghai was predominantly male, I use male pronouns here for the sake of conciseness. But the writers of these letters could have been female.
105 Stinky, ‘An Affliction’.
106 Nauseated, ‘Support for “Stinky”’, The North-China Herald, 14 September 1938, p. 23.
107 A Sufferer, ‘In Rue Lafayette Also’, ibid.
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120 For more discussions about this phenomenon, see Li, ‘Fuwu yu angzang gan’, pp. 58–61.
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123 Jung, The Archetypes, p. 32.