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The Urban “Cultural Nexus of Power”: Intellectual Elites in Shanghai and Beijing, 1900–1937

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In the decades before the full-scale war with Japan in 1937, a robust series of institutions connected the bourgeois with intellectuals (which included professionals and journalists, as well as academics) in Shanghai. Collectively, these institutions can be understood as forming an urban “cultural nexus of power” that allowed non-state actors to effectively control aspects of Shanghai’s political life. This bourgeois-intellectual alliance was not inevitable; no similar bonds existed between these same two groups in Beijing. It was forged in Shanghai due to the city’s unique historical position as a Treaty Port and its dynamic economy, which included an extensive structure of private higher education and a market-based publishing industry. Unlike the rural “cultural nexus of power” originally described by Prasenjit Duara, this urban nexus grew stronger during the political and economic changes of the early twentieth century. War and revolution in the 1930s and 1940s, however, destroyed the connections between the bourgeoisie and the intellectuals, ending the vibrant urban environment they had created.


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