Startseite Cultural Studies Workers’ Culture in Formation --- An Overlooked Field of Chinese Modernity
Workers’ Culture in Formation --- An Overlooked Field of Chinese Modernity
Forschungsdatenbank - Forschungsfeld Cultural Studies


Among scholars of social history and political development, the question of modernity is a perpetual one as well as of its source and origin. Whether modernism is a unique happening rooted in the Western context, as Max Weber has shown in his comparative study of societies (Giddens 1971), it is undeniable that the actual start of modernization in Far East is able to be conceptualized as the phenomena of importation in massive scale. It has taken place not only in the wholesale transformation of financial, military, and political systems, but more importantly in the profound shift of values and social life. On such a period of great change and great struggle, previous studies on both the Western and Chinese societies have done a great deal of job in re-constructing the emergence of a bourgeois urban culture and its close linkage to the rise of modern capitalism (Gay 2002; Lee 1999).

Against the Chinese context, the re-mapping of urban culture upon its time of creation, or ‘imagination’ (Lee 1999) becomes especially influential to date. And those very insights, which have been drawn mainly from historical experiences not earlier than the 1940s, in turn reminds one of the often less questioned or even overlooked aspects of Chinese modernity, namely, the new urban culture that was closely associated with the political agenda of making a ruling class of workers upon the establishment of the Communist regime. Especially interesting to ask is that what kind of impact this particular episode had cast on the direction of urban culture in the later years of reform and opening-up policy.

In this regard, sources from the SASS collection, like periodicals The Chinese Worker (中國工人) in the 1950s and 60s can be of special usage to researchers in the field. The history of Chinese Worker began in 1924, and the magazine had become the official periodical of  All China Federation of Labor Unions (中華全國縂公會) in the PRC age. Its content covers a range of issues and topics. Although with political education as the major goal, its principal guideline line of “Becoming a Communist New People” (做共產主義新人) also lead to the wide involvement of many aspects of social life. Production, technology, and morally correct behavior are the most frequently mentioned topics, while marriage, family relationship, cultural lives and even aesthetic perspective are often dealt with in line with the aim of promoting the “new social atmosphere.” The cultural map that may be reconstructed on the basis of such sources, certainly, is supposed to be dramatically different from the early Chinese bourgeois’ in the metropolis of Shanghai and Peking. However, it is by no means wise to deny that a place in the comprehensive picture of Chinese modernity displayed in urban life, as people have witnessed today.


Primary Sources:

Zhongguo Gongren (中國工人). Beijing: Zhongguo Gongrenshe, Periodical, 1924-26; 1928-29; 1940-41; 1950-6?; 1993-today.



Giddens, Anthony (1971): Capitalism and modern social theory; an analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schurmann, Franz (1968): Ideology and Organization in Communist China. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Gay, Peter (2002): Schnitzler's Century: The Making of Middle-Class Culture 1815-1914. New York: Norton.

Lee, Leo Ou-fan (1999): Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of a New Urban Culture in China, 1930 – 1945. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.