Mapping Modern Beijing: Space, Emotion, Literary Topography

Oxford University Press, 2017mapping modern beijing

Weijie Song 宋偉杰

Mapping Modern Beijing investigates five methods of representing Beijing–a warped hometown, a city of snapshots and manners, an aesthetic city, an imperial capital in comparative and cross-cultural perspective, and a displaced city on the Sinophone and diasporic postmemory–by authors travelling across mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas Sinophone and non-Chinese communities. The metamorphosis of Beijing’s everyday spaces and the structural transformation of private and public emotions unfold Manchu writer Lao She’s Beijing complex about a warped native city. Zhang Henshui’s popular snapshots of fleeting shocks and everlasting sorrows illustrate his affective mapping of urban transition and human manners in Republican Beijing. Female poet and architect Lin Huiyin captures an aesthetic and picturesque city vis-à-vis the political and ideological urban planning. The imagined imperial capital constructed in bilingual, transcultural, and comparative works by Lin Yutang, Princess Der Ling, and Victor Segalen highlights the pleasures and pitfalls of collecting local knowledge and presenting Orientalist and Cosmopolitan visions. In the shadow of World Wars and Cold War, a multilayered displaced Beijing appears in the Sinophone postmemory by diasporic Beijing native Liang Shiqiu, Taiwan sojourners Zhong Lihe and Lin Haiyin, and émigré martial arts novelist Jin Yong in Hong Kong. Weijie Song situates Beijing in a larger context of modern Chinese-language urban imaginations, and charts the emotional topography of the city against the backdrop of the downfall of the Manchu Empire, the rise of modern nation-state, the 1949 great divide, and the formation of Cold War and globalizing world.Drawing from literary canons to exotic narratives, from modernist poetry to chivalric fantasy, from popular culture to urban planning, Song explores the complex nexus of urban spaces, archives of emotions, and literary topography of Beijing in its long journey from imperial capital to Republican city and to socialist metropolis.


Mapping Modern Beijing illustrates how China’s old capital, with its seemingly ineffable vistas, flavors, and sounds, was turned into text. Imbued with literary sensibility and often as lyrical as the texts it examines, Weijie Song’s book outlines the process through which literature has taken over as a virtual topography. In a grand sweep through many and varied works from the first half of the twentieth century,Mapping Modern Beijing demonstrates how literature serves as both a record of everyday experience and a vehicle for ideology. Song teases out the implications for nationalism, colonialism, diaspora, Sinophone culture, modernity, and historical trauma. The book should be read by all interested in understanding how texts can have spatial qualities.”

–Yomi Braester, Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, University of Washington


Mapping Modern Beijing offers the most comprehensive analysis of this palimpsestic Old Capital’s literary topography. Weijie Song admirably renders visible what is often invisible, treating readers with a vivid display of competing visions, variegated spaces, turbid emotions, and layered meanings produced by Beijing natives, visitors, and foreigners. A timely addition to scholarship on modern literary and urban studies.”

–Yingjin Zhang, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Chinese Studies, University of California, San Diego


“Unlike shopworn images of Beijing as China’s political center, this book makes the ancient city a dear neighborhood and home. By masterfully combining literary studies with urban space analysis, Weijie Song paints a picture of Beijing that is forever old and young-a Beijing brimming with emotion and aura, rooted in folkways and memories, and baptized in political and cultural transformations.”

–Ban Wang, William Haas Professor in Chinese Studies, Stanford University


Mapping Modern Beijing makes a unique contribution to the study of Chinese urban culture from the first half of the twentieth century. Weijie Song is the first Anglophone scholar to present a book-length ‘literary topography’ of the modern city of Beijing. The range of voices and the range of emotions about the city resurrected by Song in his analysis is very large indeed, and as in his earlier work on Jin Yong he succeeds in applying methods of literary analysis and close reading both to canonical works of ‘high literature’ and to works considered part of ‘popular fiction.’”

–Michel Hockx, Professor and Director of the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, University of Notre Dame

Oxford University Press site (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/mapping-modern-beijing-9780190200671), Oxford Scholarship Online site (http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780190200671.001.0001/oso-9780190200671?rskey=rWIaBG&result=1), and Amazon site (https://www.amazon.com/Mapping-Modern-Beijing-Literary-Topography/dp/0190200677)