voice of the city

Hans J. Hajek’s book on architecture

There was a post about the architect Hans J. Hajek in this blog exactly two years ago. Recently, I was excited to learn that a textbook by Hajek surfaced at a flea market in the 1990s and was picked up by a curious young architect. 

Here are a few pages from Hans J. Hajek, Lectures on Architecture: Houses for Moderate Means. A Collection of Plans, Sketches, Building Details and Ideas (Shanghai, 1950). The textbook is dated by 1950, when Hajek (海吉克) was teaching at the School of Civil Engineering of St. John’s University. Among his students was Luo Xiaowei 罗小未, who graduated in 1948 to become an eminent architecture scholar. She recalled that there were no textbooks at the time, so Hajek wrote and drew everything on the blackboard for his students, for the entire two hours of the lecture. 

The absence of study materials explains the reason for the creation of this book and its artisanal quality: typed, hand-drawn and stitched, it is probably the only copy that was made.

Huge thanks to the architect Klaus Nösner for discovering and sharing this treasure! 

Cover. Hans J. Hajek, Lectures on Architecture: Houses for Moderate Means, Shanghai (1950). Courtesy of Klaus Nösner.
Cover. Hans J. Hajek, Lectures on Architecture: Houses for Moderate Means, Shanghai (1950). Courtesy of Klaus Nösner.
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voice of the city

Roar, China!

In continuation of the post on Sergey Tretyakov’s Zhongguo (1930).

Tretyakov’s Russian-language poem «Рычи, Китай» (Roar, China), was written in Peking in March 1924 and published in LEF. His play with the same title, but a narrative plot, was published in 1926 and became hugely influential among the global left. The Amerian writer Langston Hughes attended the Broadway premiere on November 3, 1930. 

Langston Hughes spent a year in the USSR, between June 1932 and June 1933. He met Tretyakov in Moscow: “Sergei Tretiakov and his wife were dynamic, talkative people and outgoing hosts, with a spick-and-span apartment, modern and bright. Tretiakov himself was very political minded, interested and excited about the Scottsboro Case and the problems of American and African Negroes in general and, of course, the problems of colonial Asia where he had been. He made me a present of an enormous poster, showing a gigantic Chinese coolie breaking his chains, and he gave me a copy of Roar China inscribed in English. When I left for the Far East, he and his wife came to see me off at the station.” (Langston Hughes, I Wonder As I Wander)

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Zhongguo. Essays on China // Чжунго (1930)

Cover art by Alexandr Rodchenko. 1930.
Cover art by Alexandr Rodchenko. 1930.

Before Soviet documentary writing degraded into the untrustworthy “socialist realist didacticism”, it was a great source of information – the fact that is now getting rediscovered and appreciated. A recent compilation of Sergey Tretyakov’s travel essays from 1925–1937, in Russian, includes his impressions of China. He visited for the first time in 1921, and later spent several years teaching Russian in Peking and traveling. 

Sergey Tretyakov (Tretiakov) in Beijing, 1924–1925. RGALI.
Sergey Tretyakov (Tretiakov) in Beijing, 1924–1925. RGALI.

More on Tretyakov’s China and some of his poetry.

voice of the city

Shanghai Document (1928)

Youtube.
Youtube.

The 50-minute movie «Шанхайский документ» – a Soviet factographic film rather than a documentary – is still a must-see testimony of Shanghai in 1927. Those who read Stella Dong’s Shanghai will recognize some of the visuals, such as babies put to sleep on the factory floor while the mothers are working.

From Eurasia Without Borders: The Dream of a Leftist Literary Commons, 1919–1943, by Katerina Clark (2021):

Shanghai Document is set, as an inter-title proclaims, in “the biggest port and biggest industrial city” of then China. The film, like many documentaries on Asia from the late 1920s and early 1930s, has a distinct ethnographic element and shows street life in Shanghai – the artisans, the food stalls and market, street performers, and a funeral. In several scenes, the film draws a pointed contrast between the backbreaking toil of the workers, laboring in execrable conditions, and the idle languor of the fat-cat foreign bourgeoisie (their Chinese counterparts enjoy the good life, too, but are treated by the Europeans as second-class citizens).

But Shanghai Document goes beyond the ethnographic, anticolonialist film and shows scenes of revolution. It includes shots of an insurgency by the Chinese and the military preparations of the foreigners to counter it. Even more dramatically, the film includes footage that shows the actual executions of the revolutionaries by a Nationalist firing squad, and scenes of streets littered with the bodies and banners of the fallen workers (this footage was actually obtained from a foreign newsreel crew and had been shot two to three days after the April uprising in Shanghai was crushed in the “debacle”. Thus it depicts revolutionary failure quite graphically. And even though the film’s scenario was conceived the year before the debacle, and even though most of it shows Shanghai before it occurred in that it was put together after the uprising was put down, like the other texts I am discussing it represents a post-debacle version of events.”

Google Books.