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Colonial nostalgia, growth coalitions and urban planning in China

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Andrew LawORCiD, Dr Loes VeldpausORCiD



This is the final published version of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by INU Edizioni Srl, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


In recent years writers have drawn attention to the way that certain forms of Chinese nostalgia are tied up with complex social and economic consumer movements. Notably, in this process of consuming nostalgia, sometimes the local state has also utilised local consumer movements to market and brand places; here as well as historical imaginaries, actual practices of cultural and physical conservation become critical to the marketing of nostalgia. Whilst the nostalgia bought and sold in these marketing processes is generally uncontentious, in recent years commentators have reflected on the rise of colonial and particularly European colonial nostalgia as a site of consumption and place branding. Understandably European colonial nostalgia raises interesting questions about Chinese identity and history, given that colonialism has been universally condemned by the Chinese state, academics and public commentators (particularly through the lens of humiliation history). Whilst the reasons for the existence of this nostalgia are multifaceted, it is argued here that European colonial nostalgia belongs to a realm of consumption in contemporary China that is ‘tolerated’. Thus, as I shall demonstrate, whilst European colonial nostalgia does carry well understood oppressive symbolic connotations, in the contemporary moment this nostalgia seems to have been stripped of its darker sides for the purposes of creating a new realm of decadent, romantic and exotic consumption. To support these claims then, this paper, explores three forms of nostalgic European colonial consumerism; 1) firstly, at the level of general consumer networks, this paper explores the rise of European colonial consumption and looks at the way local government has also regenerated historic quarters in Chinese cities to reinforce the links between elite consumption and colonial space; 2) secondly, at the level of the local state this paper explores the role of European colonial nostalgia in the marketing and branding of cities; and 3) finally, this paper draws upon a short number of participant observation studies which have explored the way Chinese tourists react and interact with European (and sometimes, more controversially Japanese) colonial imaginaries and colonial heritage in particular; specifically it is suggested here that at the level of the everyday Chinese subject, European (and some Japanese) colonial tourist sites are viewed less as spaces of oppression and trauma, and more as ‘stripped down’ sites of consumption, exoticism, decadence and romance.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Law A, Veldpaus L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Urbanistica Informazioni

Year: 2017

Volume: 272

Issue: Special issue, part 4

Pages: 400-408

Print publication date: 01/01/2017

Acceptance date: 11/12/2015

Date deposited: 06/02/2018

ISSN (print): 0042-1022

ISSN (electronic): 2239-4222

Publisher: INU Edizioni Srl