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.
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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41 MSMC 1, 128/606, 19 December 1860.
42 MSMC 1, 199/623, 4 September 1861.
43 MacPherson, A Wilderness of Marshes, p. 132.
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45 This study mainly draws upon sources in MSMC, Vols 1 and 2. A more comprehensive study of this material (28 volumes in total) can only be done in book-length projects.
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52 MSMC 1, 278/641, 11 June 1862. ‘Chop’ is a term that was used at the time in the Far East to refer to an official stamp or permit. See Morris, William, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (New York, et al.: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1969), p. 238Google Scholar.
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59 This is based on my reading of MSMC 1.
60 MSMC 1, 87/593, 15 December 1856.
61 MSMC 1, 186/620, 26 June 1861.
62 MSMC 8, 359, 19 March 1886.
63 MSMC 7, 141/633, 4 March 1878.
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68 MSMC 1, 53/581, 2 April 1855.
69 The North-China Herald, 25 February 1860, p. 31.
70 MSMC 1, 168/616, 21 April 1861.
71 See ‘Municipal Council Finance’ in ‘Municipal Report for the Year Ending 31st March 1864’, ed. The Shanghai Municipal Council (Shanghai, 1864, n.p.)
72 Land Regulations and by-Laws for the Foreign Settlement of Shanghai, p. 11.
73 Robert Alexander Jamieson, ‘Dr Alexander Jamieson's Report on the Health of Shanghai for the Half-Year Ended 30th September, 1871’, Customs Gazette, no. 11 (1871): p. 33, quoted in MacPherson, A Wilderness of Marshes, p. 17.
74 Land Regulations and by-Laws for the Foreign Settlement of Shanghai, p. 16.
75 MSMC 6, 551–2/753–4, 4 September 1876.
76 MSMC 8, 359, 19 March 1886.
77 MSMC 1, 263/637, 16 April 1862.
78 See MSMC 1, 647, 10 September 1862; MSMC 1, 663, 3 December 1862.
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88 Chinese experiences and perspectives deserve further detailed studies. But this topic is beyond the scope of this article and will be discussed in detail in my book manuscript in the future. I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their kind suggestions about this point.
89 ‘Zujie jiedao qingjie shuo (On the Cleanliness of the Streets in the Settlement)’, Shenbao, 20 July 1872, p. 1.
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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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103 Stinky, ‘An Affliction: Late Ordure Carts’, The North-China Herald, 14 September 1938, p. 23.
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.
108 Poon Shuk-wah's study of waste management in Republican Guangzhou shows that the intervention of state power in waste management failed to remove the stench successfully. But interestingly, the failure of the Republican government in adopting water toilets actually helped Guangzhou avoid an environmental disaster as happened in London in ‘Great Stink’ of 1858. This is another example of ‘ambivalence of modernity’. See Poon, ‘Minguo shiqi Guangzhou de fenhui chuli yu chengshi shenghuo’, pp. 80, 84–86, 91.
109 Yu, ‘The Treatment of Night Soil and Waste in Modern China’, p. 67.
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114 Critical reflection about reason, rationality, science, and progress first appeared in the fields of philosophy, literature, and modern art in the early twentieth century. Recent academic studies have paid increasing attention to the role of sentiment, emotion, and sensuality in social and cultural life. For studies in this direction in the field of Chinese history, see Lee, Haiyan, Revolution of the Heart: A Genealogy of Love in China, 1900–1950 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2007)Google Scholar; Lean, Eugenia, Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tong, Lam, A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900–1949 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), among othersGoogle Scholar.
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120 For more discussions about this phenomenon, see Li, ‘Fuwu yu angzang gan’, pp. 58–61.
121 Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence, p. 55.
123 Jung, The Archetypes, p. 32.