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“Cities of Jiangnan in Late Imperial China” by Linda Cooke Johnson: A Review


The basic idea of this paper is to review “Cities of Jiangnan in Late Imperial China” by Linda Cooke Johnson. The approach is analytical and is an attempt to discover the interpretations led by the author. The relevance of this particular review is to lay emphasis over the understanding of the book and to explore its social fruitfulness. The review has been forwarded as per the reader’s analytical point of view. Its relevance to history and the developmental structure of China have been noted as the core purpose of understanding the text and thereby reviewing it.

Analytical Outline

The book begins with a very wonderful introduction by William T. Rowe. The whole introduction illuminates the description about the city and the region that persist in Lower Yangzi. It gives a vivid idea about the book and the reader can well go ahead for a tranquil journey amidst historical developments of cities of Jiangnan. The first chapter gets initiates as ‘Heaven on Earth’. In this chapter the author elaborates the instances related to the process of rise of Suzhou. The chapter concentrates over the period of 1127 to 1550 and declares the aspects that lead the region towards development. As suggested by the title this chapter is highly positive in its approach and lat emphasis over every possible developmental aspect of Suzhou. The second chapter deals with the late Ming reformation structure. This further gets added by the popular uprising caused in the regions of Hangzhou. The third chapter brings out the political, economic and social aspects of urban society during the phase of late imperial Suzhou. This is a chapter that has faced much controversy related to the political elaborations. The fourth chapter of the book deals with the development and importance of Yangzhou. Since Yangzhou was the central place for the entire Qing Empire, it has undergone tremendous change during the reign of Qing. The last chapter of the book gets into the process of rediscovering Shanghai. The author elaborates this chapter as the basis to demonstrate the emerging process of Jiangnan Port. This chapter in particular elaborates the period from 1683 to 1840.

The systematic approach led in the entire text is related to the developments proceedings led by each of the cities. The author in particular adopted the chronological declarations and added every developmental element as per each evolvement. His analysis has been further laid through the process of rang of developments achieved by each particular city. The more developed they were the severe were their impacts over the generation and the history of China.

Contextual Review

The whole book is about the growth and the progress of Cities of Jiangnan during the session of late imperial China. Late Imperial China is basically the period that starts with the end of Mongol rule during 1368 and had the establishment of Republican form of governance in China in the year 1912. This is a phase that is inclusive of Ming and Qing Dynasties. This is a phase where the Imperial China had radical transformation in terms of economy, culture, social setup and historical aspects. All the developments are directly related to the standard dynastic periodization and that emphasized social, political along with economic continuities between the specific dynasties.

The author is very particular in his approach and brings in the relevant elements related to the social and cultural aspect of these cities. There is a vivid elaboration about the general proceedings of late imperial China and its contribution in the development of these cities in particular. The economic and the political functionalities are also integral to the descriptive mode of the book (SAGE Journals. 1994). The elaborations of day to day life and the growing political and economic consciousness of the people living in these cities adds much to the developmental structure of the phase that is called the late imperial period of China. Illustrations and the participation of narrations about Susumu Fuma exemplify the practical account of political determination of these cities. It is through the career of Ding Shiqing, that the authenticities to the declarations are made predominant. The issues related to the roles played by Antonia Finnane in reference to the portrait of Yangzhou culture is a well define portion of the whole book. This is a section that adds wonderful essence of evocative perspectives to the upcoming cities of Jiangnan.

However there are some contradictory aspects of the book that needs specific attention. These contradictions can be marked through all those cases that are literally complex and demanding. From the reader’s point of view there are contradictions and argumentative statements forwarded by Johnson, about the economic and the administrative issues led in these cities. There is no doubt about the writing style. They are comparatively much comprehensive and effectively forceful. The only context that leads to controversy is the elaborations related to the execution of legislative formulations followed in these cities. As a matter of fact there is no doubt about the effort led by the author; since every single argument has been well supported by diversified case studies. The contradictions related to these cases are all about counting the relevance to the declarations made in the book.

The best thing about the book is that the author made great effort in providing latest and very up to date case studies about each of the elaborations forwarded in each chapter. These cases in particular have gone through relevant literatures and absolutely maintained surveys. Elaborations related to Chinese urban history added by the comparative expeditions of urban development are some of the positive aspects that need to get counted. The book with all its effort examines all the cities of Jiangnan region that get into the periphery of south-central China. The specific period between 12th to 19th centuries are well investigated. The approach is though very wide yet the author amalgamated every important issue in the book. The reference to the late imperial China has been well explored and comprehended.

From social and political point of view “Cities of Jiangnan in Late Imperial China” has got a great relevance n clarifying the elaborative aspects of developments that were initiated in specific urban centers of late Imperial China. Elaborations related to the developments and the transitions led in the areas of Suzhou and Hangzhou, followed by Yangzhou and Shanghai under the periphery of Jiangnan region brings in the core concerns related to the political and economic transformations faced by China. The entire period from 1150 to 1840 has been very elaborately described. This description helps in understanding the transformational format of China under vivid structure. The process of exploring interconnectiveness added by the sequential demonstration of dominant relationships between the developmental structures of every particular city helps the reader in gaining enough information about the analytic aspects of Late Imperial China. There are many common themes that re made the core matter of concern. The diversifications are however collected through the elaborative case studies. Understanding of a growing culture after being released of social and cultural conflicts is the matter that attracts the reader in going through the phases of socio-political aspects of the selected regions.

From historical point of view the approach led in “Cities of Jiangnan in Late Imperial China” may get considered as a compressed proceeding, yet there cannot be any denial to the fact that every important aspect of development related to the selected cities are discussed in the paper. The discussions are vivid and are very much structured as per the demand of the topic. The case studies add authentic tags to the paper and thus are relevant for all kinds of acceptable dominance. Though there is room for controversy led by the historians, yet they cannot exactly nullify the elaborations stated in the book.


To conclude we can well establish that as a whole the book is a well speculated analytical narrative emphasizing over the specific regional explorations that lead to the phase of interconnections in both sequential as well as historical relationships discovered between every major cities. The proceedings have analyzed common themes of transport and commerce, development of handicraft industry, ethnic diversity, class structure and the process of internal immigration (SUNY, 1993). All kinds of social and political pressures that have been generated by all round developments in the domains of revenue and taxes, manufacturing units and government politics are discussed here. It is thus very appropriate to consider that the book provides valuable resource in terms of identifying commercial development added by internal economic as well as socio-political development in the phase of pre-modern China, and especially on the course of regional development and the importance of historical role of culture and tradition within Chinese cities.

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