Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror: Colonial Italy Reflects on Tianjin (1901-1947)

Transtext(e)s Transcultures
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Global Cultural Studies, 2007, 3 (1), pp. 119 - 150
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This article focuses on the sole Italian concession (zujie) that existed in China between 1901 and 1947. This is the only example of Italian colonialism in Asia. The concession was located in the Hebei district of the modern municipality of Tianjin. It was established in 1901 as a consequence of the signature of the «Boxer Protocol», since Italian troops had participated in an international military mission, called the eight-nation alliance, which on 14 August 1900 had entered and occupied Beijing, putting an end to the Boxer Rebellion. The article compares the theoretical bases which underpinned the different representations of the Italian concession, as produced by observers, diplomats, and scholars in China and Europe in different time periods. The final objective is to investigate the historical reasons behind the emphasis that was placed on specific socio-economic, institutional, and cultural aspects of the Italian concession. The analysis focuses in particular on the two major themes, which emerge as constant traits from the sources: 1. The history of the concession, its acquisition, socio-spatial organisation, and ultimately its reorganisation as a «laboratory of modernity»; and 2. The notion of shaping the Italian concession as an Italian-style neighbourhood, a miniature Disneyland-style venue of «Italianness» or «Italian spirit» (e.g. according to the rhetoric trope of «Italianità»), constructed especially in terms of spatial re-presentation and cultural superimposition.
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