Silencing Shanghai investigates the paradoxical and counterintuitive contrast between Shanghai’s emergence as a global city and the marginalization of its native population, captured through the rapid decline of the distinctive Shanghai dialect. From this unique vantage point, Fang Xu tells a story of power relations in a cosmopolitan metropolis closely monitored and shaped by an authoritarian state through policies affecting urban redevelopment, internal migration, and language. These state policies favor the rich, the resourceful, and the highly educated, while alienate the poorer and less educated Shanghainese geographically and linguistically. When the state vigorously promotes Mandarin Chinese through legal and administrative means, Shanghainese made the conscious yet reluctant choice of shifting from the dialect to the national language. At the same time, millions of migrants have little incentive to adopt the vernacular given that their relation to the state has already firmly established their legal, financial, and social standing in the city. The recent shift in the urban linguistic scene that silences the Shanghai dialect is ultimately part of the state-led global city-building process. Through the association of the use of national language with realizing the "China Dream," the state further eliminates the unique vernacular characters of Shanghai.
Fang Xu is lecturer in the Interdisciplinary Studies Field program at University of California, Berkeley.
Chapter 1: A Cosmopolitan Past
Chapter 2: “China Dream” vs the Shanghai Dialect
Chapter 3: Geographical Displacement and Language Loss
Chapter 4: Social Integration and “New Shanghairen” as Euphemism
Chapter 5: Forever Waidiren or Honorary Shanghairen?
Silencing Shanghai is a lucid and poignant account of the precipitous decline of the distinctive Shanghai dialect, or language, that once thoroughly permeated life in this city. This unique ethnography treats this urban dialect as a lens on the struggle to maintain a distinct urban identity and culture in the face of neoliberal globalization and state-led nation-building. The book examines both insiders -- the Shanghairen -- and newcomers -- the new migrants from other parts of China -- as they try to maintain or establish their positions in this ever-changing global city.
Fang Xu’s Silencing Shanghai: Language and Identity in Urban China is a welcome addition to the limited, non-ideological scholarship about the world’s largest country that continues to suffer from ideological bias and related western exoticism. Employing a wide range of multimodal methods, quantitative and qualitative data, and linguistically-informed rich ethnography, Xu describes, discusses, and gives close up examples of the impact of a century of intensive Chinese nation-building, and subsequent neoliberal globalization of this great city.... I must note at the end of this review, that despite its modest 276-page length, Silencing Shanghai: Language and Identity in Urban China covers much more territory than I would be able to cover, even in a long review essay. In essence, it is a book that ought to be read in its entirety.