Smellscapes of Nanjing Road: Cognitive and affective mapping

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Built in the mid-1840s by the earliest British colonizers shortly after the Opium War, Nanjing Road in Shanghai can be conceived as a slice of Chinese modernity. This chapter offers a sensorial reading of Nanjing Road as a geocultural text, specifically focusing on the sense of smell and its engagement with environmental, affective, and political histories of this archetypal high street in modern China. Through the theoretical prism of cognitive and affective mapping, I examine three historical junctures crucial in the making and remaking of the mental images of Nanjing Road: the initial phase of olfactory identity building in the 1850s and 1860s by means of deodorization, a key effort in urban modernization worldwide; a 1930s olfactory/affective map of desire and decadence suggested in urban modernist writing; and the Mao-era transformation of Nanjing Road’s olfactory symbolism as a socialist pedagogical project. All in all, this close scrutiny of Nanjing Road’s changing smellscapes in the course of the long span of a century’s time sheds light on the undervalued roles of the senses in the cultural history of Chinese modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSensing China
Subtitle of host publicationModern Transformations of Sensory Culture
EditorsShengqing Wu, Xuelei Huang
ISBN (Print)9781032008776
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Sep 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge Contemporary China


  • smellscape
  • Shanghai
  • sensory history


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