DURING the early part of the twentieth century, the city of Shanghai harbored a wide variety of voluntary associations. They ranged from native-place associations, trade guilds, chambers of commerce, professional associations, Christian congregations, secret societies, the criminal underworld, labor unions, and political party organizations, to a host of educational, vocational, academic, athletic, artistic, theatrical, and literary societies, altogether numbering in the several hundreds. Designed for various economic, social, political, intellectual, and cultural purposes, the voluntary associations operated as legitimate or illegitimate, overt or covert, or public or private entities. The associations, and the diverse social groups they represented, created a vibrant urban society with complex social dynamics evident in the city and beyond, and provided much of the drama in Shanghai's political, social, and cultural history at the time. This book examines one important but under-studied type of those social groups and associations, namely, Chinese professionals and their associations.
Scholars of modern Chinese history have used the term “professional association” to refer to chambers of commerce, bankers' associations, educational societies, and lawyers' groups. This book deals with such professionals as lawyers, doctors, and journalists (touching upon accountants) who were collectively identified in Republican China as ziyou zhiye zhe (free professionals).