The Power of Architectural Criticism: Reviewing the People's Daily and the Architectural Journal and their Role in Establishing the New Chinese Socialist Identity during the 1950s

Chen, Xiaohan
(2023) The Power of Architectural Criticism: Reviewing the People's Daily and the Architectural Journal and their Role in Establishing the New Chinese Socialist Identity during the 1950s. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This research investigates Chinese architectural history and criticism from the founding of New China in 1949 to the celebration of its tenth anniversary on National Day, 1959. It explores how architectural criticism shapes the national identity in architectural production and the role of the publication in forging it. In doing so it contends that the media is a powerful agent for informing public and professional opinion, as well as serving as a useful repository of construction history and ideas. Two primary sources are consulted in this research, The Architectural Journal (AJ), the authoritative professional publication, and The People's Daily (PD), the mainstream government-sanctioned newspaper. The central narrative of this dissertation focuses on a critical history of the construction process of new Chinese Socialist identity in architecture thinking and its corresponding expression through buildings. Based on comparative analyses of content analysis, keywords, diagramming and reported case studies of AJ and PD, this thesis reveals how the government policies and edicts impacted upon the creation of a new Chinese Socialist state in both mainstream and specialist publications and how architects’ response to it. It argues that under the slogan “Art is subordinate to politics (艺术从属于政治 1942–1970)”, the transformation of architectural design was closely integrated with political ideologies in establishing a socialist system in China. Statements and guidelines were issued on what was deemed acceptable and appropriate design. Materials, technology, forms, and building types were also carefully critiqued and measured against the socialist ambitions and orthodoxy. Over this ten-year period, due to the constant fluctuation of the political situation and advancements in industrialisation, the visionary picture of Chinese socialist architecture changed, the guidelines placing less importance on “beauty” but emphasising instead “applicability and economy”. Further advances towards industrialization stressed “more, quicker, better, and cheaper” means of design and construction. Correspondingly, in architectural practice, the emphasis shifted from imitating the Qing dynasty “Big-roof” motif (before 1955) in institutional projects to a more regional approach that focused on the internationally derived concept of “function-space” (1956–1957). Then changed to favour technically advanced construction and standardised residential units (1957–1959). These shifts and changes in working towards a national identity of “innovation and inheritance tradition” culminated in the “Ten Great Buildings” in Tiananmen Square, Beijing in 1959 The whole process saw the concept of "Chinese architecture" expand from the "National form" of reproducing traditional Chinese works to the "New Chinese Socialist style" aided and abetted by architectural criticism. During the process, PD was the authorized channel for political mandates and announcements, while AJ played the role of the political communicator, transmitting and translating political messages to the architecture profession. It sought to guide and organise architectural criticism to promote further thinking about architecture's role in constructing national identity. In helping the construction of the Socialist vision architecture in China, the interaction between the PD and AJ generated a unique network between political edicts, architectural criticism, and architecture practice, which presents the transformation and counterforce between the political power and architectural knowledge in the formation of the new identity of “a Socialist China.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of the Arts
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2023 15:22
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2023 15:22
DOI: 10.17638/03170931
  • Dong, Yiping
  • Jackson, Iain
  • Carlin, Peta