The Invisible Turn to the Future: Commemorative Culture in Contemporary Shanghai


  • Lü Pan Harvard-Yenching Institute, USA



Commemorative culture, modernity, war memory, cosmopolitanism, post-socialist China


After decades of fierce political struggles in the Mao era, the People’s Republic of China has strived economically under the open-door policy since the end of the 1970s. However, the still firm national monuments that weathered the social vicissitudes are left open to the question of how they could be incorporated into the new national ideology. In comparison to Beijing, Shanghai’s overwhelmingly predominant image centers on its role as the economic dragonhead of China. This article argues that Shanghai, exactly because of this ostensibly apolitical profile, provides a rarely discussed but highly meaningful approach to examining the dynamics between contemporary Chinese commemorative culture and the postsocialist urban spatial order. Unlike the East European cases, the “critical juncture” of ideology in China is invisible in the official narratives of the monuments. In some circumstances, the renovation of old memorials seem to fulfill the task of glorifying a certain past but in effect, it leaves the place a self-enclosed venue that sheds the rest of the city from the ideological burden. In other cases, some monuments of the seemingly core nationalistic narratives are marginalized. What’s more, new attentions are now drawn to the memorials for the history of “others” in the name of cosmopolitanism. The invisibility of the commemorative narratives speaks directly to the perplexity of assuming national identity in contemporary China. In the light of Prasenjit Duara’s idea of “bifurcated history”, national memory culture in Shanghai suggests the multiple possibilities of deciphering the city’s past and its future.


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How to Cite

Pan, L. (2011) “The Invisible Turn to the Future: Commemorative Culture in Contemporary Shanghai”, Culture Unbound, 4(1), pp. 121–146. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.124121.



Theme: Shanghai Modern: The Future in Microcosm?