voice of the city

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.

voice of the city

Penglai Road

From Mapping Old Shanghai:

Little is known about this fancy shikumen residence on Penglai Road, in the old town. In the 1930s, it was part of a cluster of four similar houses, inhabited by the family of a certain 夏嘉孙. When Henan Road was widened in 1956, this house was the only one left intact. Confronted with the growing traffic channel on one side, it has survived until this year. Now, with the old town's southeast quarter vacated and walled off for the demolition, Xia Jiasun’s courtyard house probably does not have any future.

Photo exploration by Shanghai Architecture Wandering 走跳上海建築.
Photo exploration by Shanghai Architecture Wandering 走跳上海建築.


voice of the city

Shanghai architect John A. Yaron

Building Russian Shanghai now has the biography of John A. Yaron, the older son of the famous Russian architect Alexander A. Yaron

Growing up in Estonia, Russia and China, John A. Yaron took a correspondence course in architecture but did not get his degree. He worked in his father’s studio for ten years, assisting him in every project. After the father’s death in 1935, John A. Yaron spent the next fifteen years working in construction all over China, rarely spending more than two years in one place. Having settled in Shanghai in 1951, he reportedly was involved in the building of the Sino-Soviet Friendship Palace, in 1954–1955.