Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


David Gordon

Subject Categories

Asian History | Asian Studies | Cultural History | Politics and Social Change | Social History | Sociology of Culture


China, cultural change, social development, openness, cultural competition


This study will examine and contrast two periods of xenophobia and stagnation, late Qing dynasty China, and the PRC under Mao, with a genuine market place of ideas, Shanghai and the other foreign treaty ports in the period 1849 to 1949, and explain how this period of cosmopolitan ferment has had beneficial effects on China today. Countries that have shut themselves off from the outside world have frequently suffered first stagnation, and then decay. While this might appear a commonplace in the abstract, the application of this insight in the development of particular nations has been neither as thorough or as frequent as one might suspect. A close examination of the effects of openness in the history of China is of particular importance. This is because firstly, China today plays such an important role in the economic, political and military life of the world. Secondly, because the country has been subject to such violent oscillations between periods of acceptance and rejection of foreign influence.

China has frequently cut itself off from the rest of the world. Experience with most of its neighbors had led it to a not incomprehensible contempt for those it considered barbarians. Yet it has also been profoundly affected by outside forces. Chinese spiritual life was profoundly influenced by Buddhism imported from India. The country was forcibly made aware of the outside world during the rule of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. The last period of efficient Imperial rule in the eighteenth century was under another foreign (Manchu, or Qing) dynasty. In modern times Mao’s dictatorship was deeply influenced by Stalinism as well as Marxism. However, despite assumptions about the advantages of openness to the world, most of the contacts cited above have not been beneficial. Buddhism created profound societal dislocation, the Yuan dynasty was maintained through terror, the Manchus encouraged the ossification of Chinese culture, and Mao’s rule was an unmitigated disaster.

This thesis therefore asks - where is the benefit of international contact. The answer I believe is in continuous participation in the market place of ideas. Periods of cultural exchange are believed by many to have been generally beneficial in the lives of nations, encouraging both intellectual and economic growth. The Chinese problem was that even after new foreign influences were accepted, they did not encourage continuous growth, but only additional forms of unchanging and unchallenged orthodoxies. Treaty port-era Shanghai altered this traditional social structure, ushering in a new method of social development that fostered growth.