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Christian Henriot and Zheng Zu’an, Atlas de Shanghai—Espaces et représentations de 1849 à nos jours
Shanghai, with its myths and its realities, has always been a place of great interest, in China and elsewhere. The interest has been the more intense since the post-Mao reforms launched the citys extraordinary economic revival. Yet another monograph on Shanghai, you might say. Well, yesbut what a monograph!
Whereas earlier publications attached little or no importance to the citys spatial or territorial dimensions, this atlas is intended, in the writers words, to reintroduce space into the passing of time, to narrate history through the mutations of the territory, indeed, to give spatial form to historical processes and phenomena. To do this, they have drawn the best part of their raw materials from records, and cross-referenced them with the profusion of maps handed down from the past, and with contemporary studies. References are grouped at the end of the book under two headings. There are no fewer than eight pages of Documentary and Cartographic Sources, while the Bibliography of Shanghai Studies contains 161 titles divided into two parts: A. The End of the Empire and the Republic, and B. The Peoples Republic. By making this radical departure from the classical approach, Henriot and Zheng have sought to reconcile history with geography: the enterprise is original, ambitious and, whats more, successful.
From the very start the book is extremely attractive. The format is unusual (27cms by 19cms); the pages are of glazed paper and, most strikingly, it has 121 polychrome plates which, better than words or phraseshowever well used or formedenable the reader to follow Shanghais evolution both in time and space.
Thereafter, the book is a mine of rich and varied information on absolutely every aspect of Shanghais growth. The atlas is presented in six parts, all organised in the same way. Two to four pages of introductory text are followed by a series of plates supported by short explanatory paragraphs. Chapter headings are as follows: Introduction (10 plates), The Mutation of the Territory (40 plates), Political and Social Space (18 plates), The Population Dynamic (20 plates), Economic Activity (19 plates), and lastly, Cultural Life and Health (14 plates). The atlas ends with a chronology extending from 1843 to 1998.
Despite all the qualities mentioned above, we must point out the numerous typographical errors with which the book is peppered. Some are not serious, but some are frankly embarrassing, and all of them impair the presentation, if not the readers comprehension. For while the maps are beautiful, the captions by contrast leave something to be desired. For example, a lower case e with an acute accent becomes a capital E with an egrave accent: antérieurs becomes antÈrieurs. The mistake is repeated, which leads one to think that the problem arises perhaps from the software programme used to create the cartography. This kind of computer-generated glitch proves the more troublesome when a word is rendered quite incomprehensible. An example: Position du rivage des Óles! The reader [familiar with French] will guess from the context that what is meant is Position du rivage des polders... But the worst mistakeor the besthas to be the opening phrase of the first chapter. It begins thus: In the middle of the XXIst century, before the first Westerners arrived...!
All the same, unfortunate though these misprints may be, Henriot and Zhengs atlas is, and will unquestionably remain, a standard reference work for all those involved in this now well-established field of research, Shanghai-ology.
Translated from French original by Philip Liddell