The Shanghai Fish Market (1936), initiated by Republican China’s Ministry of Industry, was briefly a linchpin for producers and distributors, facilitating state intervention in the supply chain of the treaty port city. The market’s modernist design by Su, Yang & Lei Architects departed from the Beaux-Arts-inspired practices often associated with Nationalist China’s self-presentation. Influenced by foreign precedents, it incorporated rationalized trading procedures into its spatial layout. This article examines the market’s construction, which was guided by fishery expertise and aimed to harness natural resources for societal and national benefits. Technopolitical dynamics surrounding the reconfiguration of food provisioning logistics generated power struggles among stakeholders at the local and international levels. Despite the obstacles that constantly challenged the technocrats’ ambition to revolutionize the fishery industry, the Shanghai Fish Market’s historical and architectural significance lies in its efforts to integrate the built and natural environments into a national system of governance.

As a natural resource, fish not only provides sustenance for people but also converts into a marketable commodity that contributes to the economy.1 In 1933, the Chinese Ministry of Industry embarked on planning for the new Shanghai Fish Market with the aim of presiding over the supply chain; this would be accomplished through the establishment of a wholesale facility that would serve as a linchpin for producers and distributors (Figure 1). Shanghai, located at the center of China’s coastline and the mouth of the Yangtze River, was already the hub of the country’s fish trade. The pilot project was part of a broader initiative undertaken during the relatively stable Nanjing decade (1927–37) to consolidate the authority of the Nationalist government by harnessing technoscientific power. Supporting this initiative, the Greater Shanghai Municipality in 1929 began constructing a new civic center away from the downtown area in order to increase its ability to operate independently of the foreigner-administered municipal regimes of the Shanghai International Settlement and the French Concession.2 The power struggles that unfolded in this populous and lucrative treaty port city shaped its built landscape, and architecture played an active role in the formation of modern governance within the extraterritorial entity.3

Figure 1

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1934, aerial view (Jianzhu yuekan 2, nos. 11–12 [1934], 47).

Figure 1

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1934, aerial view (Jianzhu yuekan 2, nos. 11–12 [1934], 47).

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Modernist in form and function, the Shanghai Fish Market (1936), designed by Su, Yang & Lei Architects for the Nationalist government, showcased the growing technocratic inclination of architecture as an emerging profession in Republican China.4 Xu Jingzhi (Su Gin-djih), Yang Runjun (Yang Jen-ken), and Li Huibo (Lei Wei-paak), three alumni of the University of Michigan, founded the firm in 1933.5 Xu, a fellow of the Cranbrook Foundation who studied under and worked for Eliel Saarinen in 1930–31, was the chief architect.6 Inspired by a study tour to Japan initiated by leading Chinese fishery professionals, Xu’s architectural vision for the market embodied aspirations toward industrial modernization while also responding to the geopolitical imperatives that drove the intricate and contested relationship between the two countries. As fishery management experts increasingly recognized the market’s role in regulating commercial activities, they sought to undermine the dominance of local wholesalers while emphasizing operational efficiency for the greater benefit of society and national strength. The Shanghai Fish Market, though short-lived, facilitated the mandate to reconfigure urban provisioning and mediated the tensions among various stakeholders involved in China’s social and economic reforms. This understudied project deserves recognition alongside the better-known state-sponsored Beaux-Arts-inspired works of the same period, which are often associated with Nationalist China’s self-presentation.7 Despite the obstacles that constantly challenged technocrats’ ambition to revolutionize the fishery industry, the Shanghai Fish Market’s historical and architectural significance lies in its efforts to integrate the built and natural environments into a national system of governance.

Fish was one of the most indispensable sources of protein for Shanghai residents. It ranked third, after cereals and legumes, in the diet of the working class.8 Fish hong, or local wholesalers, directed the flow of capital and commodities.9 Fishermen consigned their catches to boatmen, who, in turn, conveyed them to the hong. Other merchants, including peddlers and fishmongers from retail markets, bought the fish from the hong and then resold them to consumers. Hong owners not only imposed fees on both suppliers and sellers but also provided loans to those at the beginning of the chain. Fishermen and boatmen, heavily reliant on this financial support to cover operational costs, found themselves subject to the hong’s control and influence. Meanwhile, their meager livelihood was directly affected by unpredictable harvests and the physical dangers they faced at sea. The potential of unpaid loans was a reality of the industry, exposing fish hong owners to the possibility of bankruptcy. To ensure the stability of their wholesale businesses, they formed trade associations and formulated regulations detailing members’ obligations, thus consolidating a dominant position in the trade network.

Most of the fish hong based in Shanghai were at Shiliupu, the commercial neighborhood adjacent to the old Chinese town and the French Concession and bounded by the Huangpu River. The Shiliupu wharf was the headquarters where the distribution inland of wholesale trade of all kinds took place. There was an open-air fish marketplace packed with hong stands and buckets encroaching the junction of the French Bund and Chinese-governed Nantao (Figure 2). According to the North-China Daily News, fleets laden with fish clustered around the wharf edge every day as dawn broke, when “scenes of frenzied and somewhat disorderly bidding” commenced.10 Hong brokers boarded the boats to appraise the catches and bargain for the best prices. Fish were weighed in buckets under their watchful eyes and unloaded by experienced porters who walked along the gangplanks to the shore and hong shops, where hawkers and tradesmen convened. The market day concluded by eleven in the morning, after which the site calmed down. When there was a harvest glut, trawlers and importers had to idle overnight by the wharf and postpone their trips back to the fishing grounds. Depicted in the newspaper report as filthy, smelly, overcrowded, and clamorous, the lively marketplace, even without proper supporting facilities, accounted for one-third of domestic fish sales, worth 60 million Chinese dollars annually.

Figure 2

Open-air marketplace and fish hong shops, Shanghai, 1936 (North-China Daily News, 10 May 1936).

Figure 2

Open-air marketplace and fish hong shops, Shanghai, 1936 (North-China Daily News, 10 May 1936).

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To enhance revenue and sanitation at the marketplace, also known as the Marché de l’Est, the Travaux Publics of the French Municipal Council began consulting with the hong in 1925 about their requirements for urban amenities regarding storage and transportation.11 However, according to Marcel Verdier, the directeur général, the pressing need to construct a fish market hall in the French Concession had been recognized as early as 1897, given that the current marketplace was the sole source of fish supply to Shanghai.12 Furthermore, the merchants’ practice of depositing goods on the ground disrupted the flow of traffic in the already congested area near the tram terminal. Presuming that the hong would demolish their “lamentable” warehouse huts, Verdier proposed a riverside renovation scheme that included the construction of a multistory structure that would replace the existing police station building. The Marché aux Poissons, in connection with the quay, would occupy the first two floors, and the new police station would be on the upper levels. Never realized, this project, with a budget of 194,000 silver taels, featured an art deco façade, a central atrium, and two intersecting passages dividing the commercial area into four blocks, a layout that facilitated both surveillance and mobility.13 According to the hong owners, the market’s success would rest on the improvements that could be achieved in the unloading facilities. An axonometric drawing of the proposed project illustrates the approach of boats to the shore along one side of the main building and features an observation deck cantilevered above the quayside (Figure 3). In 1929, the council reached a five-year agreement with the trade associations on license fees and renovation expenses, and the associations were granted the exclusive use of a 101.1 meter-wide waterfront, which allowed them to circumvent taxation by the Chinese government.14 Shanghai’s extraterritoriality created a mutually beneficial relationship between private capital and the French Municipal Council, which provided technical support for local businesses.

Figure 3

Marché, Poste & Quai de l’Est Avant-Projet, 1930, axonometric drawing (“Shanghai fazujie gongdongju gonggong gongchengchu guanyu yushichang dongbufang he yushichang matou sheji tuzhi,” U38-4-738, Shanghai Municipal Archives).

Figure 3

Marché, Poste & Quai de l’Est Avant-Projet, 1930, axonometric drawing (“Shanghai fazujie gongdongju gonggong gongchengchu guanyu yushichang dongbufang he yushichang matou sheji tuzhi,” U38-4-738, Shanghai Municipal Archives).

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However, for technocrats in Republican China, the construction of market facilities as part of fishery modernization served not only to improve the process of providing sustenance to the city but also to place the nation in a better position in the competition over natural resources and its defense of sovereignty, a lesson learned from the United States, Western Europe, and especially Japan, whose population was dependent on fish consumption.15 As Micah Muscolino notes, “Fisheries management was a rational, modernist body of knowledge about the environment that enabled the nation to build up its geopolitical power at the expense of others.”16 Japan enlarged its fishing grounds in the region with its invasion of the northern Chinese port city of Qingdao in 1914. Two years later, the Japanese administration implemented regulations requiring those seeking to establish fish markets to submit site maps, building schemes, and plan drawings for approval by the military command, which was in charge of supervising trade operations.17 With construction funds from the Japanese authorities, a large market hall, enclosed under a gable roof with ridge vents, was built in 1920.18 Following the Chinese government’s takeover of Qingdao in 1922, Wang Wentai, director of the Haizhou Fisheries Training Institute, proposed assuming control of the fish market and operating it as a public facility; however, the Japanese dominance persisted.19 By the 1930s, almost all Chinese professionals involved in the fishery industry who held faculty posts in educational institutions received training in Japan.20 They were aware of the fish market’s role in meeting the food and economic demands necessitated by Japanese imperial expansion, as exemplified in Dalian and Lüshun in Manchuria. They blamed the Chinese government for mismanaging and disregarding the country’s abundant marine resources, which led to an influx of imports and the Japanese dumping that “throttled” the industry.21 In February 1933, the Ministry of Industry set up the Jiangsu-Zhejiang Fishery Improvement Committee in Shanghai to reform the “declining old-fashioned” fisheries, settle central and local administration disputes, resist foreign aggression, and promote cooperation between the fishing industry and the government.22 Hou Chaohai, a standing member of the committee, proposed constructing fish markets and harbors that would be “directly subject to central government plans.”23

In October, Hou toured Nagasaki, Tobata, and Shimonoseki along with a panel that included fishery professionals Zhang Zhuzun and Wang Defa and the architect Xu Jingzhi.24 Amid the escalating political tensions between the two nations, the members of the Chinese team found themselves under close police surveillance when they were received by the Japanese market representatives. According to their report, in 1918, the Japanese government had decided to partially fund infrastructure projects in response to the rapid fishery development driven by the latest shipping technology and fishing techniques. Regarded as an ideal deep-sea fishing base, Tobata was the point of departure for ships voyaging to the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea in the north, Taiwan in the south, and Tokyo Bay in the east. Notably, it also facilitated the incursion of Japanese fleets into the China Sea in the west. Its adjacency to Kyushu’s industrial areas and coal production regimes enabled access to inexpensive electricity and gas. Constructed in 1926, the Tobata fishing port faced Dokai Bay, with its deep and quiet water safe for mooring. The Tobata Fish Market, completed in 1933, was Japan’s newest complex of this kind, and the Chinese team received a plan drawing of it (Figure 4).25 An article in Shenbao, the most influential Chinese newspaper in Shanghai at the time, noted that those who viewed the project were overwhelmed with not just “shock but admiration,” both because of its advantages for the fisheries and because of the immense scale of the building, “unknown in the Chinese architectural industry.”26

Figure 4

Tobata Fish Market, Kitakyūshū, 1933, aerial view (“Shanghai yushichang jianzhu jihua,” “Kaocha riben changqi mensi hutian xiaguan ji woguo qingdao yushichang baogao,” 1933, 17-27-026-04, Archives, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica).

Figure 4

Tobata Fish Market, Kitakyūshū, 1933, aerial view (“Shanghai yushichang jianzhu jihua,” “Kaocha riben changqi mensi hutian xiaguan ji woguo qingdao yushichang baogao,” 1933, 17-27-026-04, Archives, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica).

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When his colleagues returned to Qingdao, Xu continued his journey, traveling to Kobe and then to Tokyo, where the Tsukiji Central Market, with its row upon row of covered stalls curving around a huge open space, was almost ready (Figure 5).27 The Japanese architects responsible for this project had visited the latest examples of wholesale markets in Frankfurt and Munich to gain insights into the logistics of integrated urban food supplies.28 Starting in the early twentieth century, the Japanese drew on European municipal examples of markets as institutions indispensable to the public welfare.29 The establishment of central wholesale markets in Kobe and Tokyo complied with the Japanese government’s 1923 Market Act, which was passed to address public health and the food economy following the rice riots of 1918.30 The Tsukiji project was also part of the Tokyo reconstruction scheme that was intended to replace the dispersed markets destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 with more concentrated sites that would allow for better control.

Figure 5

Tsukiji Central Market, Tokyo, 1934, aerial view (Tōkyō shiyakusho, ed., Tōkyō-to chūō oroshiuri shijō Tsukiji honba / Kenchiku Zushū [Tokyo: Tōkyō-shiyakusho, 1934]; National Diet Library, Tokyo).

Figure 5

Tsukiji Central Market, Tokyo, 1934, aerial view (Tōkyō shiyakusho, ed., Tōkyō-to chūō oroshiuri shijō Tsukiji honba / Kenchiku Zushū [Tokyo: Tōkyō-shiyakusho, 1934]; National Diet Library, Tokyo).

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The market’s L-shaped architectural complex, built mainly of steel and reinforced concrete, was fitted into the curve of a railway siding that terminated on the shore of the Sumida River. At the time of completion, it was “the largest public market in the Orient,” with the purpose to “provide fresh food and standardize prices.”31 At the south end of the site, Wholesale Fish Hall No. 1, occupying a quarter circular plan, accommodated auction houses and shops on the ground floor along the railway lines, and municipal offices, banks, refreshment rooms, and meeting halls upstairs. Wholesale Fish Hall No. 2 opened onto the long quay, with multiple piers extending into the river, and was equipped with fishponds. Following the southwest direction from Wholesale Fish Hall No. 1, topped by a clock tower, Wholesale Vegetable and Fruit Hall No. 1 was situated perpendicular to Wholesale Vegetable and Fruit Hall No. 2. Parallel to the wholesale dealers’ sections, halls for brokers consisted of two rows of shop units. Strips of transparent panels on the elevated roofs introduced natural light, and ridge vents improved airflow. Items purchased by the brokers from wholesale dealers were temporarily stored in the loading sheds, which fanned out in the site’s center. Cold storage warehouses, maintenance amenities, and miscellaneous goods and refreshment stalls were within easy reach.

In December 1933, the Chinese team formulated the Shanghai Fish Market Draft Building Plan, basing their work on an evaluation and statistical analysis of current business conditions and incorporating the more “rationalized” trading procedures they had learned about in their fieldwork.32 The following January, the plan was approved by the Executive Yuan, the executive authority of Republican China. Given its transportation advantages and its status as a distribution hub, Shanghai was a fitting location for this project. The justification for such a market was explored at the Jiangsu-Zhejiang Fishery Construction Conference held by provincial authorities in 1928, where the Greater Shanghai Municipality emphasized the need for a market free from the interference of the French Concession police. At that time, the municipality pledged government sponsorship, with an annual budget of 20,000 Chinese dollars for the market’s completion within a few years. Zhang, one of the fishery professionals who would later be on the team that traveled to Japan, mentioned another urgent reason to establish a fish market: the need to take over the business of the fish hong and end their exploitation of fishermen.33 In September 1933, the Shanghai Bureau of Social Affairs presented a more detailed scheme to the Ministry of Industry, stating that the fish market ideally would be near the future commercial harbor in Wusong in order to supply the urban population moving northward to Jiangwan. This vision aligned closely with the overarching framework of the Greater Shanghai Plan, with a specific emphasis on the construction of Qiujiang Wharf, designed to provide modern docking facilities (Figure 6). Siting the project at Nantao was also a possibility, but only if it was expected to be completed soon. However, the bureau stated, a market with the ability to “exert effective control” should be located north of Yangshupu and close to the new civic center in order to “monitor vessels in and out of Shanghai and get rid of the old forces’ monopolization.”34

Figure 6

“Shanghai matou xingshi tu,” 1931, map showing the planned Qiujiang Wharf and Wusong Harbor in the Greater Shanghai Plan and the location of the old marketplace and the new trading venue (annotations by author; Shanghaishi shizhongxin quyu jianshe weiyuanhui, Shanghaishi jianzhu huangpujiang qiujiangkou matou jihuashu [1932]).

Figure 6

“Shanghai matou xingshi tu,” 1931, map showing the planned Qiujiang Wharf and Wusong Harbor in the Greater Shanghai Plan and the location of the old marketplace and the new trading venue (annotations by author; Shanghaishi shizhongxin quyu jianshe weiyuanhui, Shanghaishi jianzhu huangpujiang qiujiangkou matou jihuashu [1932]).

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Drawing on these recommendations, the Draft Building Plan proposed siting a main market devoted to the sea fish trade on reclaimed land near Yangshupu, with a branch at Nantao to serve the freshwater trade. Nevertheless, as the team pointed out, centralized management would be most desirable. Shortly after its formation in February 1934, the Shanghai Fish Market Preparatory Committee negotiated with the Huangpu Conservancy Board, which agreed to lease to the committee a site covering an area of 48 mow (32,000 square meters) located north of Point Island. This island was on the route of all oceangoing vessels approaching the city center, and its water frontage of 600 feet (about 183 meters) provided ample berths. Although not fully implemented, fishery amenities were planned to encompass various components, including the wharf, transaction space, cooling plant, railway, refrigerated vans and ships, employee accommodations, and retailing facilities for everyday necessities.

Influenced by the Japanese model, the programming of the Shanghai Fish Market followed the cargo flow from the piers to the point of sale (Figure 7). When the fish reached the wharf platform facing east, two dealers—one for sea fish and the other for freshwater fish—unloaded the cargo with the help of market employees and examined its quantity and quality. A German-made light rail system then transferred the cargo to the warehouse by the river and to the auction house, which was flanked on the west and south sides by the offices and shops of forty brokers. All products were to be classified and grouped before the bidding began, hosted by the dealers selling to authorized brokers consigned by buyers. The one-story hall under a flat roof supported by cantilever beams was open on all sides, providing ample natural lighting, ventilation, and accessibility for the activity within. The market charged a fixed percentage of commissions on the turnover from purveyors and then paid brokers and dealers.35 The trucks that transported the merchandise into town entered from Conservancy Road, the site’s western boundary, and parked south of the auction house. Leftover cargo went to the cold storage building in the north of the site. A drainage system across the site was carefully planned to facilitate cleaning.

Figure 7

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1934, site plan showing the building program (annotations by author; “Shiyebu Shanghai yushichang zong dipantu,” “Shanghaishi gongyongju guanyu Shanghai yushichang shuidian shebei shixiang an,” Q5-3-2319, Shanghai Municipal Archives).

Figure 7

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1934, site plan showing the building program (annotations by author; “Shiyebu Shanghai yushichang zong dipantu,” “Shanghaishi gongyongju guanyu Shanghai yushichang shuidian shebei shixiang an,” Q5-3-2319, Shanghai Municipal Archives).

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With its unloading, transaction, and storage departments systematically arranged and equipped with appropriate facilities, the new market was designed to minimize time and labor and protect perishables from damage. Because of its advanced features, the plan for building such a “huge fish market” attracted attention from as far away as Washington, D.C., where the local newspaper the Evening Star reported that while China was less industrialized than Japan, the Shanghai Fish Market demonstrated the nation’s determination to “combat Japanese competition” over natural resource exploitation.36

In describing the new mode of operation at the Shanghai Fish Market, which was intended to improve efficiency and productivity, Chinese authorities and fishery professionals pointed out that incorporating the latest technology would propel the development of China’s fishery industry for the overall benefit of society. As the Ministry of Industry directly commissioned Xu, his involvement as an architect in this project demonstrated the increasingly technocratic nature of architecture. As a relatively nascent profession in China, architecture soon became technologized, progressing alongside the advancements in modern science and engineering during the Republican China era and becoming a tool for increasing state profits through the strategic domestication of land and ocean resources. Pledging its commitment to promoting transparency in transactions, boosting sales, and improving sanitation, the new fishery agency provided a legitimate rationale for its intervention in businesses operated by the hong: to minimize intermediate costs and eliminate manipulative practices. As William C. Kirby argues, the Nationalist government, “imbued with a technocratic confidence,” took on the responsibility to “regulate, control, and finally nationalize almost all industry.”37

More than a project to streamline trading operations, Su, Yang & Lei’s design exhibited an avant-garde ambition surpassing its utilitarian precedents. The firm’s first published aerial rendering depicts a waterfront complex comprising rectilinear structures aligned either along or perpendicular to the site boundary (Figure 8).38 It is reminiscent of the Tobata Fish Market, an exterior photo of which was attached to the Draft Building Plan as a reference for architectural style. However, it was the Tsukiji project in Tokyo, heralded by the Chinese press as the “crown of fish markets worldwide,” that left a profound imprint on Xu’s vision, prompting him to design something that would rival the Japanese achievements that his contemporaries had found so remarkable.

Figure 8

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1934, aerial view (“Xingye jianzhushi Xu Jingzhi Li Huibo Yang Runjun jihua zhi Shanghai yushichang,” Shenbao, 6 Feb. 1934).

Figure 8

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1934, aerial view (“Xingye jianzhushi Xu Jingzhi Li Huibo Yang Runjun jihua zhi Shanghai yushichang,” Shenbao, 6 Feb. 1934).

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The Shanghai Fish Market’s administration building, conceptualized during a subsequent stage, garnered the most attention, with its an innovative profile delineated by sets of metal-framed glass panels reaching seven stories high (Figure 9).39 Located in a position to overlook the entire site as well as the city’s urban core while being highly visible from the water, it provided residential and research space for staff and a credit loan bank for fishery producers. The bank released the fishermen from their financial obligations to the hong, thus preserving stability of capital in the industry.40 The top three floors of the building contained radio and meteorological stations to communicate weather information and market prices to fishermen instantly. Illuminated from within at night, the tower, topped with a neon sign, shone like a lighthouse and was the first landmark glimpsed by ships steaming into Wusong Harbor. The frankly modernist architectural composition achieved a subtle balance between verticality and horizontality, in which the play of the roof slab and the well-adjusted window-wall proportion animated the mass. The “professional design following scientific methods” made a strong impression, conveying progressiveness through order and efficiency, a marked contrast to the conditions at Nantao that had lasted for almost a century.41

Figure 9

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1936, administration building (North-China Herald, 22 Jan. 1936).

Figure 9

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Shanghai Fish Market, 1936, administration building (North-China Herald, 22 Jan. 1936).

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Widely covered in the Chinese and English press, the Shanghai Fish Market received praise for the modernity of its architecture as well as its technical sophistication (Figure 10). High-profile periodicals published photos of the structure—particularly the seven-story tower of the administration building, often accompanied by collages illustrating the transactions that went on in the market and explanations of how the architecture represented industrial achievement and social reform—to showcase the Nationalist government’s capacity for modernization.42 Some of the news items reached local counties and more remote areas; one such item featured photos accompanied by text not only in Chinese but also in Arabic, Mongolian, and Tibetan, extending the influence of the central authority, whose de facto territorial dominance was limited (Figure 11). On 1 May 1936, when the market opened, the auction hall displayed hundreds of fish specimens and models of fleets and boats. The Chinese authorities, who had envisioned an exhibition of marine life alongside the market, clearly intended to draw public attention not just to the architectural wonder but to the development of native fisheries as well.43 The site soon became an educational venue that welcomed student groups.44 Complementing this vision, journals for young people published articles about the scientific management practices adopted by the market to improve public health and nutrition (Figure 12).45

Figure 10

Views of the Shanghai Fish Market showing the wharf, the cold storage, the building’s outlook, the auction hall, and some catches, 1936 (photos by Wu Baoji; “Shanghai de yushichang,” Shenghuo xingqi kan 1, no. 15 [1936], 9–10).

Figure 10

Views of the Shanghai Fish Market showing the wharf, the cold storage, the building’s outlook, the auction hall, and some catches, 1936 (photos by Wu Baoji; “Shanghai de yushichang,” Shenghuo xingqi kan 1, no. 15 [1936], 9–10).

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Figure 11

News item on the Shanghai Fish Market, 1935, featuring photos accompanied by text in Arabic, Mongolian, and Tibetan, in addition to Chinese (Mengzang Yuebao 3, no. 6 [1935]).

Figure 11

News item on the Shanghai Fish Market, 1935, featuring photos accompanied by text in Arabic, Mongolian, and Tibetan, in addition to Chinese (Mengzang Yuebao 3, no. 6 [1935]).

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Figure 12

Page from a journal for young people showing the Shanghai Fish Market’s diagrammatic plan (Song Yi, “Guanli yuchan jizhong he fenpei de shanghai yushichang,” Xinshaonian 1, no. 10 [1936], 43).

Figure 12

Page from a journal for young people showing the Shanghai Fish Market’s diagrammatic plan (Song Yi, “Guanli yuchan jizhong he fenpei de shanghai yushichang,” Xinshaonian 1, no. 10 [1936], 43).

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In tandem with the promotion of knowledge was the cultivation of modern ideas of leisure and entertainment. The administration building, with its photogenic appearance resembling a ship gracefully emerging from the serene river, became a featured attraction in newspapers and magazines (Figure 13). These media outlets recognized the curiosity of urban readers and dedicated their coverage to showcasing the building’s distinctive features and providing intricate details about its construction and functionality. For those “modern men and women” who walked through the site, the architectural splendor symbolized the ambitious aspirations of fishery modernization and served as a captivating “free show” that enchanted their hearts.46 To take advantage of the growing business, tailor and barber shops, food stores, restaurants, and fruit stalls soon sprang up nearby, housed in hastily constructed shacks. Yacht clubs, youth camps, excursion companies, and about fifty summer lodges were constructed on Point Island, which was connected by ferry to the Bund and by convenient land transportation to the International Settlement.47 Although once a wasteland that only two years earlier had been occupied by just a few industrial firms, the island was proving its commercial potential. A month after the market opened, Kong Xiangxi, a former minister of industry and vice-premier of the Executive Yuan, laid the cornerstone for Qiujiang Wharf, located two kilometers north.48

Figure 13

Photocollage of the Shanghai Fish Market on the cover of an urban literature magazine (Libailiu, no. 641 [1936]).

Figure 13

Photocollage of the Shanghai Fish Market on the cover of an urban literature magazine (Libailiu, no. 641 [1936]).

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The integration of cutting-edge technology was crucial to the market’s ability to better harness natural resources and thus achieve the state’s goal of increasing productivity and consumption. Notably, the mechanical refrigeration system comprised a water tower with a deep well, electricity-powered machinery, designated areas for ice making and storage, and specialized rooms for chilling and freezing fish. The traditional method of keeping fish fresh before sale was to mix them with ice in buckets that were shielded as much as possible from sunlight and heat. Hong shops relied on sourcing ice that was harvested from farmlands in Pudong, an area situated to the east of the Huangpu River.49 In contrast, modern cooling techniques extended preservation through precise temperature control. Aware of the potential for mechanical refrigeration equipment to stabilize fish prices by balancing supply and demand, local merchants viewed such equipment as a requirement, as was proposed to the French Municipal Council for the Marché aux Poissons.50 In the International Settlement, the Shanghai Municipal Council prescribed the installation of cold storage facilities in large retail markets to preserve perishable foodstuffs.51 At the Shanghai Fish Market, the construction of the cooling plant, the largest and most advanced in China in terms of its refrigeration capacity, accounted for one-third of the 1.2-million-dollar overall budget. It was capable of storing 1,500 tons of fish—almost the entire storage needs of the whole city at the time—at a temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and its equipment was featured in a publication by the Chinese Engineering Society (Figure 14).52 With a daily output of 50 tons, it managed to compete with the foreign-invested ice-making factories and far surpassed the other local competitors.53 The operation of the refrigeration plant greatly boosted the popularity of the market, which opened not long before the arrival of summer and the peak fishing season.

Figure 14

Photocollage of the cold storage equipment installed in the Shanghai Fish Market on the cover of a professional engineering journal (Gongcheng zhoukan 5, no. 11 [1936]).

Figure 14

Photocollage of the cold storage equipment installed in the Shanghai Fish Market on the cover of a professional engineering journal (Gongcheng zhoukan 5, no. 11 [1936]).

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The installation of large-scale modern cold storage served to centralize and institutionalize food supply, goals also embraced by the Shanghai Municipal Council’s abattoir complex, established under the joint efforts of the Public Works and Public Health Departments. The Ministry of Industry, refusing to take advantage of the redundant warehouse space offered by the Chinese companies, purchased equipment directly from York Shipley, which was also the contractor for the cold storage plant on the ground floor of the Meat Market, built in 1935, that served the International Settlement (Figure 15).54 The Meat Market provided refrigerated space of various capacities and temperature ranges according to conservation duration and meat processing requirements.55 The fully mechanized delivery systems speeded up the process of moving carcasses from the slaughtering chambers of the adjacent abattoir to the butchers’ hall on the market building’s first floor, where buyers could deal directly with butchers in comfortable surroundings thanks to the temperature control.

Figure 15

Meat Market, Shanghai, 1935, west front (Report for the Year 1935 and Budget for the Year 1936 [Shanghai: North-China Daily News & Herald, 1936], 127).

Figure 15

Meat Market, Shanghai, 1935, west front (Report for the Year 1935 and Budget for the Year 1936 [Shanghai: North-China Daily News & Herald, 1936], 127).

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The Shanghai Municipal Council was more interested in sanitation control than in restraining private businesses. Having anticipated strong resistance to the concentration of supply, the council allowed licensed Chinese butchers to manage the slaughter of their own livestock and the sale of the meat under supervision. This approach created an “unusual complication in the planning and design” of the abattoir, as most publicly authorized establishments appointed their own staff.56 When the Shanghai Municipal Council started charging a leasing fee for cold storage to balance its expenditure on hygiene, it had to justify the intervention by blaming the local merchants for inappropriate preservation and highlighting the importance of meat’s freshness.57 Above all, the authority prioritized improving the source of beef and mutton for Western diets; the pork sections were added in 1937, four years after the opening of the municipal abattoir, while the private Chinese slaughterhouses were permitted to continue to exist.58

For the Chinese administration, the establishment of cold chain infrastructure nationwide would further facilitate cargo circulation, foster the rural economy, and provide extra income for the government.59 Originally, only 6 percent of fish products reached the inland from Shanghai.60 The market authority attempted to cooperate with the Ministry of Railways, which was exploring refrigerated transportation services. The project for a cold storage warehouse at Maigen Road Yard in Shanghai was the first phase of a national plan that would provide a valid model for Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Tianjin to emulate.61 The warehouse was situated adjacent to the river and the railway station at the junction of the International Settlement and the Chinese-administrated area. The Xia brothers from Canton proposed the project during their tenure at the Ministry of Railway. Xia Anshi received a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in 1931 and specialized in refrigeration. Xia Changshi completed his doctorate in art history in Tübingen before returning to China in 1932.62 The brothers’ section drawing for the cold storage building shows that the five-story structure resembled contemporary examples, with the mechanical room at the bottom level and a water tower at the top (Figure 16).63 Notably, Xia Changshi specified his professional identity as an architect by including that title in his signature beneath that of his brother at the bottom-right corner of the drawing. Though likely aborted, this project reveals the collaboration, mostly overlooked today, between the early generation of overseas-trained Chinese architects and engineers when they embraced technological pragmatism that was in line with the national industrial agenda.

Figure 16

Xia Changshi and Xia Anshi, Maigen Road Cold Storage, Shanghai, 1933, section drawing (Xia Anshi, “Shanghai meigenlu lengcangku,” Tielu rikan, 13 Oct. 1933).

Figure 16

Xia Changshi and Xia Anshi, Maigen Road Cold Storage, Shanghai, 1933, section drawing (Xia Anshi, “Shanghai meigenlu lengcangku,” Tielu rikan, 13 Oct. 1933).

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When he started practicing in China, Xu was a young man in his late twenties devoted to modern architecture, and he shared with the Xia brothers an interest in China’s industrial development. Xu’s upbringing and education shaped him into a close observer of what was happening in his country. He was born into a prominent and elite Cantonese merchant family led by his grandfather Xu Run, a comprador and industrialist whose descendants received extensive Western education. Xu Tingjue, Xu’s uncle, studied commerce and textiles in the United States and became the director of the Tianjin (Tientsin)-Pukou (Pukow) Railway and Beijing (Peking)-Shenyang (Mukden) Railway in Tianjin, where Xu spent his high school years.64 Xu then attended the missionary-founded Shanghai College, located a kilometer northwest of the future Shanghai Fish Market, and in 1926 began studying architecture at the University of Michigan, where most Chinese undergraduates were in the engineering program.65 Beginning in September 1930, after obtaining the degree of bachelor of science in architecture, Xu studied for one year under Eliel Saarinen as a fellow of the Cranbrook Foundation, working as a draftsman. His time abroad ended with an “educational and delightful” trip to Europe, according to a letter he wrote to George and Ellen Booth, founders of Cranbrook, from whom he received a scholarship in architecture in 1931.66 After returning to China, he worked for Fan Wenzhao, a former president of the Society of Chinese Architects of Shanghai. Xu’s partners in the firm Su, Yang & Lei Architects both left Michigan in 1932. Yang was the son of Yang Meinan, the Chinese shipping manager of the trading giant Butterfield & Swire and an influential businessman related to Xu’s family. Li was a star architectural student, known for his drawing techniques, and was well connected as a member of various honorary societies.67 The wide social circle of the firm’s members paved the way for their achievements, which included building private residences for high government officials in Nanjing, the capital city of China at the time.68

For Xu, architectural design was inherently concerned with visual expression, and his studies at Cranbrook helped him to “find the fundamental form which corresponds to the new culture in China, being modern and influenced by the contemporary occidental civilization.”69 In November 1931, he wrote enthusiastically to George and Ellen Booth about his design for the clubhouse of the Peiping-Liaoning Railway (formerly known as the Peking-Mukden Railway), which the building committee called a “modern Chinese building monument.”70 The experience of participating in Saarinen’s Kingswood School project inspired his design for the Central Agricultural Laboratory of 1934, which was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry as the highest research organ for improving cotton production (Figure 17). Located near what was to have been the Central Administrative Zone according to the Capital Plan (never fully implemented) at the Purple Mountain area in Nanjing, the office building was reminiscent of Kingswood’s volumetric compositions under a low-pitched roof.71

Figure 17

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Central Agricultural Laboratory, Nanjing, 1934, north façade (Jianzhu yuekan 2, no. 5 [1934], 26).

Figure 17

Su, Yang & Lei Architects, Central Agricultural Laboratory, Nanjing, 1934, north façade (Jianzhu yuekan 2, no. 5 [1934], 26).

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Little information is available regarding the government’s stance on the architectural expression of the Shanghai Fish Market, with only a single concise remark describing it as “simple and novel.”72 As far as the state was concerned, fishery development called for a collective infrastructure built under interdepartmental cooperation; more consideration was given to fishery management as a whole than to architectural style. For example, to create the most secure production environment possible, the Ministry of Industry requested weather information from the Xujiahui Observatory and collaborated with the Ministry of Communications and the Republic of China’s navy to send typhoon warnings to fishermen through the Shanghai radio station and the coast guards.73 In conjunction with the state research institution Academia Sinica, and supported by private investment, the Zhejiang provincial authority constructed an observatory in the fishing port of Shenjiamen.74 Furthermore, the fishery agency sought assistance from the Customs House to oversee imports and exports, ensuring that all declared fish were approved by the fish market.75

In their pursuit of a sustainable fishery economy, the Chinese technocrats involved in the Shanghai Fish Market drew inspiration from Japan’s successful implementation of a policy of control, in which well-developed market facilities played a crucial role.76 The looming threat of Japanese invasion sparked an interparty debate within the Nationalist government regarding the path to modern nationhood, resulting in confrontations between Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the Nationalist party, who favored militaristic authoritarianism, and Wang Jingwei’s group, which advocated for an autarkic and controlled economy.77 Embracing Sun Yat-sen’s International Development Plan (1920), Chen Gongbo (Chen Kung-Po), who held a master’s degree in economics from Columbia University and was a follower of Wang, published his four-year Industrial Plan for 1932 to 1936. Chen pointed out that “the fishery question is most difficult” and condemned the corruption of provincial officials, often perceived by the Nanjing government as the stumbling block in its centralization efforts.78 He proposed building a state-owned market in cooperation with the Greater Shanghai Municipality and advocated for the establishment of similar facilities in coastal cities as part of the four-year fishery plan.79

Meanwhile, financial pressure and limited resources prompted the Chinese authorities to prioritize remunerative investment in infrastructure.80 In 1933, the Fishery Improvement Committee levied a construction fee for the hong based in the Jiangsu-Zhejiang area, triggering an outcry; the fee collection was quickly abandoned.81 The Shanghai Fish Market, which was expected to make quick returns, provided an alternative solution for raising funds. After the resignation of Wang and Chen in 1935, Wu Dingchang, an entrepreneur and banker absorbed into the state apparatus, turned the market into a joint public-private enterprise despite the opposition of some of the merchants.82 In addition to Wu, the fish market’s manager, its supervisor, and its director (Wang Xiaolai, Qian Xinzhi, and Yu Qiaqing, respectively) were members of the industrial and financial elites mobilized by Wang Jingwei’s group and joined its economic planning agency, the National Economic Council.83

Aware that support from society was crucial for the market’s success, the Shanghai Fish Market authority took advantage of the local factional conflicts to minimize resistance to the project by supporting the forces willing to cooperate. Directing massive social networks intertwined with daily life in Shanghai, gangsters stood behind the most powerful hong. Du Yuesheng, who chaired the sea fish merchants’ association, was appointed chairman of the market’s board of directors. He presented the architectural drawings to the hong and lobbied for their support by assuring them that their rights as market brokers would be respected in a more efficient and productive institution.84 Du forged an alliance with the Nationalist government to sideline his rivals, including Huang Zhenshi, protégé of Huang Jinrong, a dominant figure in the French Concession.85 However, Huang Zhenshi used his social ties as a bargaining chip to obtain a transportation franchise from Du and secured privileged positions for ten hong owners who, in return, consented to join the market and selected him as the dealer.86 Rounds of tense negotiations postponed the Shanghai Fish Market’s inauguration. Emphasizing the Chinese government’s concern for public welfare, propaganda in the form of ceremonies and speeches justified the project as a cooperative undertaking that promoted modernization under the Nationalist banner (Figure 18).87

Figure 18

Views of the Shanghai Fish Market on opening day, 1936, showing Du Yuesheng giving a speech as well as assembled attendees (Hanxue zhoukan 6, no. 20 [1936], 1).

Figure 18

Views of the Shanghai Fish Market on opening day, 1936, showing Du Yuesheng giving a speech as well as assembled attendees (Hanxue zhoukan 6, no. 20 [1936], 1).

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The hong were nevertheless far from a united community, as years of conflicting interests had increased their division. Reluctant to be cut off from clients, the other thirteen hong refused to work under Huang and firmly held on to the original site. A clash between officers of the Peace Preservation Corps and hong employees resulted in a casualty.88 The hong suspended all their business and maintained that “from Shizuoka in Japan to Marseille in France, there was no place in the world where there existed such a monopolized market.”89 They received support from the French embassy in Nanjing and the French consul in Shanghai, who also heard from the president of the Chambre de Commerce Française de Chine and lodged a protest with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accusing the Chinese of breaching the Tianjin Convention.90 The Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury, observing the accelerating dispute between fish hong and Chinese officials, published a “special article” on its front page noting that the dependence of the foreign areas on an external Chinese-controlled market for their fish supply would be “intolerable” and warning about the potential monopolization of other foodstuffs.91 Meanwhile, when the designated trucking company started charging, hawkers launched a citywide strike that stripped all fish dishes from Shanghai dinner tables.92 Business resumed under police and military protection after the market authority agreed to compromises.93 In a “long and strongly worded statement,” Wang, the market’s manager, refuted the “malicious or unreasonable inferences” of the English press and insisted that the Shanghai Fish Market would promote businesses in the International Settlement and reinvigorate its economy.94 Minister Wu denied the accusation of government control of the fish trade and highlighted the new market’s contribution to fishery development.95 In his position as chairman as the Ningbo Residents’ Association, Director Yu acted as a crucial mediator in resolving differences.96 When their demands were met, the once disaffected hong consented to move to Point Island.97 In September, a retail sector for freshwater, dried, and salted fish opened, though its pavilion under an iron roof cost only 30,000 dollars to construct and was nothing if not pragmatic (Figure 19).98

Figure 19

Views of boats carrying sea and freshwater fish to the Shanghai Fish Market, and their separate transaction venues, 1937 (photos by Zhan Jun’an; “Yushi fengguang,” Shuichan yuekan 3, nos. 2–3 [1937]).

Figure 19

Views of boats carrying sea and freshwater fish to the Shanghai Fish Market, and their separate transaction venues, 1937 (photos by Zhan Jun’an; “Yushi fengguang,” Shuichan yuekan 3, nos. 2–3 [1937]).

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Despite the growing prosperity, the government’s goal of concentrating supply backfired. By May 1937, the Shanghai Fish Market, entrenched in disputes from its beginnings, fell short of expectations, achieving a turnover of only 14 million dollars.99 The public auction was never implemented as required in the trade regulations, commissions were higher than promised, and business hours were too short.100 Broker qualification restrictions and security deposit requirements excluded the merchants running more modest businesses.101 Some regarded price information as less accessible and less timely under market control; previously, press surveyors for the daily publications could visit Nantao for updates.102 The plan to install a radio station on top of the administration building was suspended because the operators of most oceangoing vessels found the cost of wireless equipment prohibitive.103 Despite being carefully designed to accommodate commercial activities, the Shanghai Fish Market complex may have been ahead of its time, considering the incomplete development of the new Chinese municipality in Jiangwan and the overall lack of progress in fishery industrialization.

Meanwhile, the market’s business was difficult to sustain. In April 1937, more than two-thirds of the original staff of two hundred—many of whom had been absorbed from the fish hong to dispel their unemployment concerns—faced layoffs and transfers.104 In a letter to the Ministry of Industry, Du acknowledged that the board of directors was stuck in a quagmire as demands for setting up a branch in Nantao were increasing.105 Fishing boats were vulnerable to turbulent waves near Point Island, and accidents occurred. Water with high salt content ruined live freshwater fish carried in specific devices by cargo ships. Peddlers carrying shoulder poles had to endure long-distance trips to the city center. There were added costs for vessels that had to transfer at Shiliupu, and transportation delays hindered sales. While the current market was facing enormous difficulties, a new branch would require further funding and would make all previously invested efforts appear pointless. The French Municipal Council documented sellers sending their merchandise back to the Marché de l’Est. The dried and salted fish trade guilds, who had cited their distinct storage methods as the reason they had refused to comply with the market’s relocation directive the previous August, received authorization to continue their operations at Nantao.106 The crisis culminated in a strike on 16 May, when some twenty thousand fishmongers from around eighty retail marketplaces petitioned for the annulment of brokerage fees and better treatment.107

In August 1937, the market’s hustle and bustle ended with the sudden landing of Japanese troops. The battle raged in Wusong and Jiangwan, where the Greater Shanghai Municipality was under construction. Japanese seized Point Island and turned it into a military base. The market complex was severely damaged. Former minister Chen became the collaborationist mayor of Shanghai, and fishery expert Zhang served as head of the Department of Fisheries and Animal Husbandry of the Reformed Government. Japanese authorities established a new market at Chemulpo Road in Yangshupu, located 5 kilometers southwest of the original one on Point Island; fishing boats that refused to join flew French, German, and Italian flags to continue operations.108 In response, the Japanese military intercepted them forcefully, despite the protests of Western authorities.109 Business that had resumed at the French Concession was on the verge of breaking down.110 Assisted by the imperial navy and the puppet government, the Central China Marine Products Company opened a similar fish market in Nanjing.111

After World War II, the Fisheries Rehabilitation Administration (FRA) was assigned by the Executive Yuan to work with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration on a fishery reconstruction program. This program, which accounted for one-third of the UN agency’s operational budget for agricultural rehabilitation, aimed to “rehabilitate the fishing industry as an added source of protein food for China.”112 Thousands of pounds of fish, caught by mechanized vessels originally from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, were distributed to refugees and charitable institutions. The boats docked at the original site of the Shanghai Fish Market because the Chemulpo Road market was unable to provide sufficient space (Figure 20). While the FRA director was pressing the new market for faster and more efficient handling and distribution of the fish to take full advantage of the vessels, the Shanghai Commercial Fisheries Association claimed that the dumping of catches created a “disturbance” and threatened to “destruct” the industry by minimizing margin profits for Chinese companies.113 Confronting supply shortages, Chiang Ching-kuo, the son and eventual successor of Generalissimo Chiang, declared in 1948 that the wholesale market was on the brink of closure; by announcing his plan to abolish the broker system criticized for arbitrary pricing, he disclosed the intention to undermine gang power in Shanghai.114

Figure 20

United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration fishing vessels docked in front of the administration building of the former Shanghai Fish Market, ca. 1947–49 (photo by Harrison Forman; American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Libraries).

Figure 20

United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration fishing vessels docked in front of the administration building of the former Shanghai Fish Market, ca. 1947–49 (photo by Harrison Forman; American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Libraries).

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Haunted by nepotism, corruption, and inflation, the Nationalist government failed to restore the prewar efficiency realized by the predecessor market at the original site. Point Island, renamed Fuxing, meaning “renaissance,” housed the new fishery base with Guangzhou, Qingdao, and Taiwan providing professional training and equipment. A refrigeration plant designed to have the capacity to produce 75 tons of ice a day was not completed until the Communist takeover.115 In charge of handling all fish in Shanghai, the state-controlled market located at Chemulpo Road and organized by Communists and former Nationalists was under the watchful eye of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.116 The hong-broker system discontinued in the early 1950s, though not without pushback.117 The site at Chemulpo Road served the city for almost sixty years, until recent urban renewal. However, in the course of these radical changes, the momentary splendor of the 1936 project faded from public memory.

By reliably providing a source of protein while alleviating supply uncertainty and price fluctuations, the Shanghai Fish Market temporarily played a crucial role in the establishment of new levels of government supervision of the economy.118 With all fishing vessels entering Shanghai having to dock at its piers, the market, equipped with a cooling plant superior to the installations in most privately owned warehouses serving fishery businesses, was by definition interventionist, even if it failed to be monopolistic. With a promising vision of scientific and technological development, the state-initiated modernization allowed the Nationalist authority to rearrange the logistical mechanism of an essential supply chain. The cold storage facilities for concentrating commodities at a focal point were distinct from the interconnected ones that, as Michael Osman points out, operated through “cooperative networks” in which the state played a regulatory role in shaping market forces led by the corporations that were expanding nationwide in the United States.119 Jonathan H. Rees attributes the downfall of the Fulton Fish Market in New York, once the predominant fish provisioning location in the United States, to the market’s inability to keep pace with the adoption of freezing technology and improvements in cold storage by the 1920s, when other markets around the country were capitalizing on these technological advancements.120 The Shanghai Fish Market project also represented a significant improvement on colonial practices, which were chiefly concerned with the welfare of the Western population, although their benefits extended to the local elites.121 The hygienic and high-performance wholesale venue, indispensable to Shanghai’s status as a modern metropolis, served the urban community as a whole.

Aligned with the increasing professionalization and bureaucratization of Chinese fisheries management, the establishment of the Shanghai Fish Market as a centralized institution empowered the Nationalist authority to mobilize natural resources to support economic growth, however briefly. Learning from foreign experience, it restructured the trade process through the rational organization of space, thus improving production and distribution efficiency. Nevertheless, at its early stage, the project failed to provide a dependable revenue stream and was less practical than expected. While the government cautiously pulled the strings to navigate the precarious relationship with social forces, it lost the initiative to oversee the market, the actual functioning of which proved to be highly resistant to state-mandated changes. The immediate backlash against the attempt to dismantle conventional business ties demonstrated that the provision of modern facilities alone would not settle conflicts of interest. This echoes Theodore C. Bestor’s ethnographic description of the contemporary Tsukiji Market as a site where the institutional structure of trade became entangled with a resilient social network.122 Despite encountering ongoing challenges, the construction of the Shanghai Fish Market exemplified the technocrats’ endeavors to implement an infrastructural approach that would integrate the built and natural environments into a national system of governance, establishing crucial control and stability, and thus addressing the complexities posed by foreign powers, industrial development demands, and private business manipulation.

The project’s formation, a process that dynamically interacted with, rather than broke from, accustomed structures and practices, has had a revealing and lasting influence. In the Communist era, the state’s penetration into quotidian affairs would go even further. Instead of providing a romanticized grand narrative of state building, and more than an overlooked example of Chinese modernist architectural expression, the Shanghai Fish Market highlights the nuanced relationships among various local stakeholders within a global framework. It tells the story of how a piece of infrastructure unprecedented in China became embedded within its social and material milieu and performed political and economic actions that regulated the city’s everyday life.


This article stems from my doctoral dissertation completed at University College Dublin. I am grateful to my PhD supervisor, Kathleen James-Chakraborty, and Samantha L. Martin and Conor Lucey from the research panel for their guidance. Furthermore, I sincerely appreciate the insights provided by the anonymous reviewers and the JSAH editorial team.


Kerrie L. MacPherson, “Designing China’s Urban Future: The Greater Shanghai Plan, 1927–1937,” Planning Perspectives 5, no. 1 (Jan. 1990), 39–62; Christian Henriot, Shanghai, 1927–1937: Municipal Power, Locality, and Modernization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).


Cole Roskam, Improvised City: Architecture and Governance in Shanghai, 1843–1937 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019). By 1936, Shanghai had a population of more than three million and was the world’s seventh-largest city. See Jo Beall and Sean Fox, Cities and Development (London: Routledge, 2009), 89.


On the architectural practices of Su, Yang & Lei Architects, see Delin Lai, “Idealizing a Chinese Style: Rethinking Early Writings on Chinese Architecture and the Design of the National Central Museum in Nanjing,” JSAH 73, no. 1 (Mar. 2014), 61–90; Cole Roskam, “Situating Chinese Architecture within ‘A Century of Progress’: The Chinese Pavilion, the Bendix Golden Temple, and the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair,” JSAH 73, no. 3 (Sept. 2014), 347–71.


In this article, I use primarily Pinyin as the romanization system for the Chinese language, while also occasionally employing commonly recognized English versions of names derived from historical spellings. Where necessary, I provide multiple spellings for clarity of identification. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.


Su Gin Djih, Cranbrook Academy of Art Registrar Records (1990-19), Cranbrook Archives, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; “New Firm of Architects Formed Here,” China Press, 30 Mar. 1933.


Jeffrey W. Cody, Nancy S. Steinhardt, and Tony Atkin, eds., Chinese Architecture and the Beaux-Arts (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011). The only discussion of the Shanghai Fish Market project that has been published since the market’s destruction is found in Edward Denison, Modernism in China: Architectural Visions and Revolutions (Chichester: John Wiley, 2008). Denison mentions that the market was “a notable exception to the Chinese Renaissance buildings, not technically part of the Civic Center proper” (140).


Standard of Living of Shanghai Laborers (Shanghai: Bureau of Social Affairs, City Government of Greater Shanghai, 1934), 171–73.


“Shanghai Bingxian yuhang zhi xianzhuang” [Current conditions of sea fish hong], Shuichan yuekan 1, no. 1 (1934), 8–10.


“The Old Nantao Fish Market,” North-China Daily News, 10 May 1936.


H. de Boissezon, ingénieur en chef, to Monsieur le Secrétaire, 8 June 1926, U38-4-697, Shanghai Municipal Archives (hereafter SMA).


Rapport No. 442, 11 Sept. 1929, U38-1-1170, SMA.


Transformation du Marché de l’Est, 11 Jan. 1930, U38-1-1170, SMA; for the architectural drawings, see U38-4-738, SMA.


Contrat, 19 Nov. 1929, U38-1-1170, SMA.


“Oumei yushichang neirong jielu” [Excerpts on European and American fish markets], Shuichan yuekan 1, no. 5 (1934), 41–42.


Micah Muscolino, “Fisheries Build Up the Nation: Maritime Environmental Encounters between Japan and China,” in Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power, ed. Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, and Brett L. Walker (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013), 57.


“Haizhou yuye jishu chuanxisuo wei baosong Qingdao yuye diaocha baogaoshu chenggao” [Draft of Qingdao fishery survey report submitted by the Haizhou Fisheries Training Institute], 7 Apr. 1922, in Zhonghua minguo shi dang’an ziliao huibian [Collection of archival materials on the history of the Republic of China], no. 14, ed. Second Historical Archives of China (Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1991), 704–7.


On fishery development in Qingdao, see Dong Bingjun, “Qingdao yushichang zhi yange” [History of Qingdao fish market], Dongfang yuye, no. 1 (1948), 4–6.


“Wang Wentai mibao riren jingying Qingdao yuye youai woguo haiquan yuye ji jieshou shi sheshi jieluegao” [Abridged draft of the confidential report from Wang Wentai on the hindrance of my country’s sea rights and fishing interests by the Japanese fishing enterprise in Qingdao and the facilities received after the retrocession], in Zhonghua minguo shi dang’an ziliao huibian, 721–23.


Muscolino, “Fisheries Build Up the Nation,” 57.


“Nanking Aids Fisheries on Many Fronts,” China Press, 13 Sept. 1935; Shihao Li, Zhongguo haiyang yuye xianzhuang jiqi jianshe [The current situation and construction of China’s marine fishery] (Shanghai: Shangwu Yinshuguan, 1936), 189–208.


“Yuye gaijin weiyuanhui fangwen ji” [A visit to the Fishery Improvement Committee], Xinwenbao, 19 June 1933.


Micah S. Muscolino, Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009), 145.


“Kaocha riben changqi mensi hutian xiaguan ji woguo qingdao yushichang baogao” [Report on the fish markets in Nagasaki, Tobata and Shimonoseki in Japan and Qingdao in China], 17-27-026-04, Archives, Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica, Taipei (hereafter IMH Archives).


The compound covered 3,320 ping (around 118,000 square feet or 11,000 square meters) and had 4,500 ping of vacant land. It featured two piers, one 300 feet (91.4 meters) long for trawlers and the other 350 feet (106.7 meters) for boats using hand-operated nets. The complex encompassed an ice-making plant, cold storage, a fishery manufacturing factory, a box factory, and a fishery research institute. Lai, “Riben hutian yugang yushichang” [Fish market at Tobata fishing port in Japan], Shenbao, 12 Dec. 1933.


Weitang, “Yushichang zhi jianzhu sheji” [Architectural design of the fish market], Shenbao, 12 Dec. 1933.


“Jianzhujie duanxun” [Briefs on architecture], Shenbao, 7 Nov. 1933.


Theodore C. Bestor, Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 339–40.


Masami Harada, “Japanese Modern Municipal Retail and Wholesale Markets in Comparison with European Markets,” Urban History 43, no. 3 (Aug. 2016), 476–92.


For Chinese observations on the Japanese central wholesale markets, including the examples in Osaka and Kyoto, see the articles in Shuichan yuekan 2, nos. 1–2 (1935), 10–47.


Toratarō Ushizuka, “The Mayor’s Message,” in Tōkyō-to chūō oroshiuri shijō Tsukiji honba / Kenchiku Zushū, ed. Tōkyō-shiyakusho (Tokyo: Tōkyō-shiyakusho, 1934), 2.


“Shanghai yushichang jianzhu jihua caoan” [Draft building plan for the Shanghai Fish Market], Dec. 1933, 17-27-026-04, IMH Archives.


“Yuye jianshe huiyi zhuankan” [Special issue on fishery construction conference], Nonggongshan zhoukan, no. 37 (1928), 7–8.


“Yushichang jihua cao’an” [Draft fish market plan], Xinwenbao, 4 Sept. 1933.


“Shiyebu Shanghai yushichang yingye guicheng” [Trade regulations of the Ministry of Industry’s Shanghai Fish Market], special issue, Gongshang banyuekan (1936), 116–20.


“China Found Fish Market,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), 8 Nov. 1934.


William C. Kirby, “Engineering China: Birth of the Developmental State, 1928–1937,” in Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond, ed. Wen-hsin Yeh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 138, 153.


“Shanghai yushichang jianzhu dayao” [General construction of the Shanghai Fish Market], Shenbao, 6 Feb. 1934.


The tower appears in a drawing signed on 27 February 1934; see 17-27-026-04, IMH Archives.


Chen Qingsun, “Shanghai yushichang yu yuhang hezuo zhi jianyi” [Suggestions on cooperation between the Shanghai Fish Market and the fish hong], Shenbao, 29 Apr. 1935.


Many observers highlighted the necessity of a new fish market by describing the disadvantages of the old marketplace. See, for instance, Xu Tinghu, “Shiyebu choushe shanghai yushichang zhi zhiqu” [The purpose of the Ministry of Industry to establish the Shanghai Fish Market], Zhongguo shiye 1, no. 1 (1935), 79–87.


See, for instance, “Republic of China Today Will Commemorate Twenty-Fourth Anniversary,” China Press, 10 Oct. 1935; “Zai yanzhong zhi guonan zhong nuli jianshe, yu xinshenghuo yundong xia gaizao guoyun” [Struggles in the national calamity, transformations under the New Life Movement], Tuwen, no. 1 (1936), 16.


Xiaosheng, “Yushichang de pingmian liti yu lunkuo” [The plan, building massing, outline of the Shanghai Fish Market], Shenbao, 10 May 1936.


Visitors also included fishery professionals and government officials from cities like Qingdao. See “Yushichang dashiji” [Memorabilia of the fish market], Q464-1-122, SMA.


See, for instance, Tang Huiqing, “Shiyebu yushichang de yipie” [A glimpse at the fish market], Ertong shijie 37, no. 10 (1936), 69–76; Song Yi, “Guanli yuchan jizhong he fenpei de Shanghai yushichang” [Shanghai Fish Market managing the concentration and distribution of fishery products], Xinshaonian 1, no. 10 (1936), 42–45.


Yafei, “Yushichang yipie” [Fish market at a glance], Shenbao, 9 June 1936.


“Point Island Lures with Peace and Quiet,” Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury, 16 Nov. 1936; “Emedenites Continue Merry Round,” North-China Daily News, 7 Feb. 1937.


“(Qiujiang) Wharf,” North-China Herald, 24 June 1936.


“Shanghai tianranbing chanxiao gaikuang” [Production and sales of natural ice in Shanghai], Shuichan yuekan 1, nos. 7–8 (1935), 36–44.


De Boissezon to Monsieur le Secrétaire, 8 June 1926.


Shanghai Municipal Council, Report for the Year 1930 and Budget for the Year 1931 (Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1931), 188.


The publication states that among the average imports to Shanghai of 130 tons per day, there was an excess of 20 to 30 tons. “Shiyebu shanghai yushichang lengcangku gongcheng sheji gailue” [Outline of the engineering design of the Ministry of Industry’s Shanghai Fish Market], Shuichan yuekan 1, no. 6 (1934), 45–46.


“Benshi zhibingye gaikuang” [Overview of ice-making industry in this city], Xinwenbao, 22 July 1935.


“Shanghai yushichang lengcangku an” [Files on cold storage of the Shanghai Fish Market], 17-27-042-03, IMH Archives.


“New Market and Plant,” North-China Daily News, 26 Sept. 1935.


“Shanghai’s New Abattoir,” North-China Herald, 3 Jan. 1934.


“Traditional Toughness of Shanghai Beef Often Evokes Slander on Cows,” Shanghai Times, 31 Aug. 1936.


“New Additions Will Increase Efficiency of Abattoir,” Shanghai Times, 4 Feb. 1937.


“Tiebu chouban gelu lengcang shebei” [The Ministry of Railway preparing refrigeration equipment for various lines], Shenbao, 18 Mar. 1934.


Ruoqian, “Shanghai yushichang chengli hou de xianyu fenpei wenti” [Distribution of fresh fish after the establishment of the Shanghai Fish Market], Shuichan yuekan 1, no. 5 (1934), 22–24.


“Refrigerating Cars Are Ordered: Ministry of Railways Planning Four Cold Storage Plants,” Shanghai Sunday Times, 27 May 1934.


Despite having few completed works in his early career, Xia Changshi accumulated rich experience by investigating traditional buildings and gardens before becoming a representative figure of the “Lingnan architects,” noted for climate-adaptive design.


Connected to the underground cellar, the ice-making plant and large storage space for just-arrived goods were on the ground floor, while separate refrigerated rooms and normal-temperature warehouses were on the upper levels. Xia Anshi, “Shanghai maigenlu lengcangku” [Shanghai Maigen Road Cold Storage], Tielu rikan, 13 Oct. 1933.


Who Is Who of American Returned Students (Peking: Tsing Hua College, 1917), 78.


“Report of the Registrar of the University 1926–1927,” University of Michigan Official Publication 29 (14 Jan. 1926), 13.


Su Gin Djih to Mr. and Mrs. Booth, 11 Oct. 1931, George Gough Booth Papers (1981-01), Cranbrook Archives, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (hereafter Booth Papers, Cranbrook).


One of Li’s watercolor drawings was published by the university yearbook, which introduced him as “a promising artist.” “From Architects,” Michiganensian 35 (1931), 163.


“Michigan Grads Win Design Award in China,” Michigan Alumnus, 18 Jan. 1936; “China Building at World Fair Proves Popular,” China Press, 28 June 1934.


Su Gin Djih to Mr. George G. Booth, 29 May 1931, Booth Papers, Cranbrook.


Su Gin Djih to Mr. and Mrs. Booth, 14 Nov. 1931, Booth Papers, Cranbrook.


Su, Yang & Lei Architects, “Central Agricultural Laboratory, Nanking,” Jianzhu yuekan 2, no. 5 (1934), 21–27.


For the Ministry of Industry’s approval of Su’s design, see “Shanghai yushichang jianzhu tuyang” [Drawings of the Shanghai Fish Market], 1934, 17-27-042-01, IMH Archives.


“Typhoon Warnings for Fishermen: Government Arranges with the (Xujiahui) Observatory,” North-China Daily News, 11 June 1935.


“Dinghai cehou suo gongcheng gaojun” [Completion of the construction of the Dinghai observatory], Shuichan yuekan 3, no. 11 (1936), 83.


“Shanghai yushichang kaiye” [The opening of the Shanghai Fish Market], 1936–37, 17-27-040-02, IMH Archives.


For the prevailing discussions, see, for instance, Sha Rongcun, “Yushichang zai shuichan jingji shang zhi xiaoli” [The fish market’s role in the fishery economy], Shangye congkan 1, no. 2 (1934), 85–88.


Margherita Zanasi, Saving the Nation: Economic Modernity in Republican China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).


Kung-Po Chen, “Four-Year-Plan for China Is Revealed,” China Press, 13 Aug. 1933.


“Shiyebu niding sinian yuye jihua” [Ministry of Industry drew up four-year fisheries plan], Gongshang banyuekan 6, no. 8 (1934), 101–4. Chen’s plan was similar to the fishery revitalization plan revealed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce in 1921. “Nongbu zhenxing yuye zhi jihua” [Ministry of Agriculture’s plans to revitalize the fisheries sector], Shenbao, 14 July 1921.


Charles D. Musgrove, China’s Contested Capital: Architecture, Ritual, and Response in Nanjing (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013), 104–19.


Liubao Ding, Shanghai yushichang yanjiu [Study on the Shanghai Fish Market] (Nanchang: Jiangxi renmin chubanshe, 2019), 96–110.


.“Bingxian yushang cheng shibu qing weichi shichang guoying” [Petitions from the sea fish merchants to the Ministry of Industry to maintain the state ownership of the fish market], Shenbao, 6 Mar. 1936; “Qing weichi yushichang guoying cai jingjiren zhidu” [Please keep the fish market state-run and adopt the broker system], 17-27-051-06, IMH Archives.


“Yushichang zuo juxing gudong dahui” [The fish market held shareholders meeting yesterday], Xinwenbao, 11 Apr. 1936; Parks M. Coble Jr., The Shanghai Capitalists and the Nationalist Government, 1927–1937 (Cambridge, Mass.: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1980), 140–50; Marie-Claire Bergère, The Golden Age of the Chinese Bourgeoisie, 1911–1937, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 280–84; Zanasi, Saving the Nation, 95–101.


Huang Zhenxing, “Jiushanghai de yushi” [Fish market in old Shanghai], in Shanghai wenshi ziliao cungao huibian [Collection of Shanghai’s historical accounts], no. 6, ed. Cultural and Historical Records Committee, Shanghai CPPCC (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2001), 235–36.


Brian G. Martin, The Shanghai Green Gang: Politics and Organized Crime, 1919–1937 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 208–12.


Gu Shenglin, “Huang Zhenxing yu Du Yuesheng yujie zhengba” [Huang Zhenxing and Du Yuesheng competed for dominance in the fishing industry], Zongheng, no. 6 (1996), 56–62.


More than four thousand people attended the market’s opening ceremony. “Shanghai yushichang zuo kaimu” [Shanghai Fish Market opened yesterday], Minbao, 12 May 1936.


“Fish Hongs Still Firmly Buck Monopoly,” China Press, 20 May 1936.


“Shanghai yushichang kaiye jiufen” [Disputes over the opening of the Shanghai Fish Market], 17-27-044-01, IMH Archives.


Ambassade de la République Française en Chine to Wai Kiao Pou (Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Nanking, 19 May 1936, 020-991100-0059, Academia Historica, Taipei; Le Président, Chambre de Commerce Française de Chine, to Monsieur M. Badez, consul général de France, Shanghai, 11 May 1936, U38-1-1170, SMA.


H. G. W. Woodhead, “The Fish Market: A Dangerous Monopoly,” Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury, 22 May 1936.


“Fish Strike Rules over Truck Tiff,” China Press, 27 May 1936.


“Military Will Intervene in Fish Market Strife Today,” China Press, 28 May 1936.


“Yushichang zuochen zhaochang yingye” [Fish market opened as usual yesterday morning], Shenbao, 29 May 1936; “Fish Supply Now Back to Normal,” Shanghai Times, 30 May 1936.


“Minister Denies State Controls Fish Business,” China Press, 29 May 1936.


“Recalcitrant Fish Hong Weakening,” China Press, 3 June 1936. Many Shanghai-based fish hong owners originated from Ningbo, a city in Zhejiang Province. Ningbo was a significant source of the sea fish imported to Shanghai. “A Fishy Story of Fish in the Shanghai Market,” China Press, 1 Feb. 1925.


“Fish Hong Due to Join New Market,” China Press, 7 June 1936.


“Central Fish Market Will Expand Plant,” China Press, 24 July 1936.


Contemporaries estimated that in order to sustain itself, the market would need to generate an annual turnover of at least 15 million dollars. “Yushichang kaiyehou qiantu zhanwang” [Prospects for the fish market after its opening], Shijie chenbao, 15 May 1936. For monthly turnover statistics, see Shuichan yuekan.


“Shanghai yushichang zhu bihai” [Disadvantages of the Shanghai Fish Market], 17-24-046-02, IMH Archives.


“Qiuqiu yushichang” [Petitions to the fish market], Shehui ribao, 4 July 1936.


“Yushichang yinshen bu fabiao anri yushi xiaoxi” [Fish market not publishing daily news], Shehui ribao, 2 Aug. 1936.


“Hu yushichang she wuxian diantai” [Installation of a radio station at the Shanghai Fish Market], Wuxiandian 2, no. 6 (1935), 59; “Shanghai yushichang chengqing jianshe yuye wuxiandian yi bao yuchuan haishang anquan” [Petition to the Shanghai Fish Market to build fishery radio for safety at sea], 17-27-119-03, IMH Archives.


“Yushichang caiyuan de yuanyuan benben” [Reasons for the fish market layoffs], Dongfang ribao, 16 Apr. 1937.


“Shanghai yushichang Qingshang yushichang zai shenjiamen xiaodongmen sheli fenchang” [Petitions to the Shanghai Fish Market to set up a branch at Shenjiamen and Xiaodongmen], 17-27-051-11, IMH Archives.


“Salt Fish Dealers Object to Market,” Shanghai Sunday Times, 2 Aug. 1936.


“Shanghai Deprived of Fish Supply,” China Press, 17 May 1937, U38-2-1370, SMA.


“16 Island Fish Hongs Fear Ruin as Japanese Divert Supply Boats,” China Press, 24 Sept. 1938.


“Benshi yuye quanbei riwei tongzhi” [Japanese puppets in control of the city’s fisheries], Shenbao, 9 Dec. 1938; “Japanese Reach ‘Fish Course’ in Monopolization Scheme,” China Weekly Review, 22 Oct. 1938.


Some hong formed a joint company with the French Council on the condition that the Chinese would never abandon this marketplace. E. Frauraz, le directeur administratif, “Marché aux Poissons: Demand d’affermage des pontons et du marché de Quai de l’Est a une Société Franco-Chinoise en Formation,” U38-4-697, SMA.


“New Fish Firm to Be Formed Here,” North-China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 9 Nov. 1938.


United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, “China Office Reports,” Oct. 1946, S-1121-0000-0237-00001, Archives and Records Management Section, United Nations.


“China’s Fisheries,” North-China Daily News, 11 Apr. 1947; Robert L. Cook, public information officer of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration China Office, to David W. Conde, Apr. 1947, RBSC-ARC-1135-31-8, Rare Books and Special Collections, University of British Columbia Library, Vancouver.


“Closing of Wholesale Fish Market Planned,” China Press, 3 Oct. 1948; “Yushichang jiang quxiao jingjiren” [Fish market to cancel brokers], Qianxian ribao, 7 Oct. 1948; “Economy of Scarcity,” China Weekly Review, 9 Oct. 1948.


“FRA Build Ice Plant at Point Island,” North-China Daily News, 13 Aug. 1948.


“Shanghai Fish Market,” 16 Apr. 1951, CIA-RDP82-00457R007300350011-5, General Central Intelligence Agency Records.


Ya-juan Liu, “Between the New and Old: A Reform of Broker System in Shanghai State-Owned Fish Market in the Early of PRC,” Shilin, no. 2 (2016), 181–89.


For the retail prices of fish from 1932 to 1937, see “Shanghai linshou wujiabiao” [Shanghai retail price list], Guoji laogong tongxun 5, no. 7 (1938), 23–30.


Michael Osman, Modernism’s Visible Hand: Architecture and Regulation in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 45–80.


Jonathan H. Rees, The Fulton Fish Market: A History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2023), 103–17.


Chor Boon Goh, Technology and Entrepôt Colonialism in Singapore, 1819–1940 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013), 168–95.


Given the brief life span of the 1936 Shanghai Fish Market, it is impossible to know whether food culture would have shaped the transaction logic in the long term, an important aspect that Bestor points out in analyzing the Tsukiji project. See Bestor, Tsukiji.