An Aesthetic Portrayal of Republican-era Shanghai

The exciting and discordant beauty of the metropolis in Zhang Ruogu’s Urban Symphony


  • Ambra Minoli School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK



Zhang Ruogu, Republican Shanghai, Modern Chinese Literature, Republican Studies, Shanghai literature, 1920s Shanghai


This article examines the aesthetic representation of Republican-era Shanghai in Zhang Ruogu’s 張若谷 Duhui jiaoxiangqu 都會交響曲 (‘Urban Symphony’). Guiding the construction of the city are Zhang’s aesthetic principles of cijimei and podiaomei, two concepts taken from Japanese modernism, which convey a unique vision of Shanghai modernity. On the one hand, cijimei refers to a kind of ‘exciting beauty’, which, according to Zhang Ruogu, is the apex of modern aesthetics. Zhang Ruogu locates cijimei within modern Shanghai in places such as the city’s cafés, dance halls, and cinemas. On the other hand, podiaomei can be translated as ‘discordant beauty’. This kind of beauty differs from the traditional concept of harmonic beauty, as it originates in more modern surroundings that emphasise simplicity and excitement. Zhang Ruogu characterises podiaomei as ‘simplification’ and ‘excitement’. When reading Zhang Ruogu’s works, it is possible to identify these aesthetic elements in relation to his depiction of Shanghai. Thus, these concepts enhance our understanding of Zhang Ruogu’s representation of urban culture in Republican-era Shanghai.


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Historic Shanghai