The Haunting “Style”: Shifting Understanding of an Aesthetic Category in Twentieth-century China

The Haunting “Style”: Shifting Understanding of an Aesthetic Category in Twentieth-century China

The Haunting “Style”: Shifting Understanding of an Aesthetic Category in Twentieth-century China

“Architecture” as a modern discipline was established in China in the early twentieth century. Afterwards, for almost the whole century, Chinese architects had been facing the conundrum: “In what style should we build?”, an issue which had been encountered by many European countries in the past. Moreover, in China, this question occupied the core of architectural discussion and stimulated three waves of debates on the choice of style, which fundamentally influenced the development of the discipline.

Why had the choice of style been a lingering puzzle for Chinese architects? What caused the dominance of this issue in the discipline of architecture? In studies of modern Chinese architecture, the efforts to choose a proper style and its relation to nationalism have always formed part of the discussion, but the acceptance and unique perception of the notion of “style” are seldom revealed.

The thesis selects three events in three distinct periods, all of which which had a profound impact on the understanding of style in China. The first period is the initial introduction and translation of style in the 1920s-30s; the second is the controversy of “Socialist Content” and “National Form” in the 1950s; and the third is the prevalence of Postmodernism and “historical styles” in the 1980s. The thesis will show how this shifting understanding of style in the cross-cultural context was influenced not only the West or the Soviet Union, but also impacted by contextual local practices which contributed to forming a unique way of understanding of architecture in China.

PhD student working on the project: Ying Wang

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