City in space and time : development of the urban form and space of Suzhou until 1911
The city of Suzhou boasts a history that begins in 514 B.C. The development of this city's urban form in the imperial era (221 B.C.-A.D. 1911) is regarded as a continuation of its construction as the state capital of Wu in the sixth century B.C. This thesis presents a study of two aspects of the history of this very important city. It deals firstly with the cosmological symbolism of the earliest city as systematised by authors of mainly Eastern Han (A.D. 25-220) documents to express the historical struggle for survival between Wu and the state of Yue, and secondly, with how the city of Suzhou, as a physical structure, developed both in reality and in theory in the subsequent two millennia. The main purpose of the study is not to produce a comprehensive historiography of this city. Instead, by taking Suzhou as a specific case, it aims at addressing a number of important characteristics of city building and development in pre-modern China, upon which an appropriate approach to studies of the traditional Chinese cities can be based. Two ideas have informed this study. The first is that the city was given form not only by the practices and ideas that derived from its social, economic, and political circumstances, but also by a set of changing values and beliefs that were an integral part of a world view - a characteristic way of both looking at and shaping the world. The pragmatic examination of the city in its various contexts is therefore frequently accompanied by an inquiry into the conceptual realms of the Chinese; and, for the purpose of this study, the way in which the city was perceived by the Chinese in history is taken as no less important than what the city really looked like. The second idea is that cities in pre-modern China were profoundly differentiated in space and time, and no one ideal construct can suffice to explain their varied and complex urban histories. On the other hand, it has been taken in this thesis as axiomatic that common elements existed in these cities so that they were culturally Chinese. Thus, Suzhou is treated as a Chinese city in the sense that it was firmly embedded in the urban context of pre-modern China. This study begins with a description of the historic and cultural background against which Suzhou rose and declined. The main body of the thesis is composed of three parts. First, it demonstrates in what specific way the city was believed to have been built as a cosmic centre, as perceived by Eastern Han scholars. This is a symbolic theme that may have combined elements drawn from the local traditions and the culture of Central China at the time of the building, involving the cosmological synthesis of the Han. It later came to be viewed as a source of historical authority and continued to inform the city's further development. Second, since a fundamental change in the nature of China's city system occurred from the Qin (221-206 B.C.) unification on, the thesis discusses a number of general, disputable issues concerning city building and development in the imperial era. These issues arise from three areas, namely the nature of regional and local cities, the transformation of urban space in time, and the urban-rural relationship. This part provides a larger historic and theoretical context of urban development, in which the investigation of the transformation of the city of Suzhou is placed The third part concentrates on the development of Suzhou in the imperial era, especially from the late ninth century on, when its important growth started. A number of issues are discussed in this part. It demonstrates that the form and size of the city, physically defined by the city walls that had been reconstructed many times, remained basically unchanged at least from 1229 throughout subsequent history, whereas remarkable urban expansion during the late imperial period was not confined by the city walls. It illustrates that the network of city canals functioned as a framework for the spatial organisation of city structures on the one hand, and that its partial decay and the efforts to maintain it in the first half of the Qing period (1644-1911), reflect the enormous economic and demographic pressure on the existing water system on the other. This part shows how the geometrical centre of the city was demoted from being the location of the prefectural offices to a state of dereliction, and how urban space was thereafter transformed into three major districts. It also shows how the form of public urban space was organised, and suggests that the distinctiveness of a few types of buildings in the city was essentially associated with the city walls or wall-like structures, whereas the lack of discernible difference between the forms and styles of Chinese urban and rural buildings was determined by an absence of formal bond between building types and social institutions in the tradition of Chinese architecture. Finally, this part of the thesis describes the manners in which fengshui ideas operated in urban construction. It is argued that the application of fengshui to the city was characteristic of retrospective interpretation at urban level and was probably influential on the physical outcome of building activities at the level of local corporate groups; more complex and volatile situations are likely to have affected the construction projects that fell between these two levels. Some of these features of the city were particular to its own historic development, while others were directly or indirectly determined by, and at the same time, reflected, the factors characteristic of China's urban history in general, such as the nature and traditional Chinese concept of cities, the role of the imperial government, the symbolic meanings of the city walls, and the distinctive urban-rural relationship.