Colonialism, Cosmopolitanism, and Nationalism: The Performativity of Western Music Endeavours in Interwar Shanghai

Hon Lun Helan Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the meaning of Western music performances in interwar Shanghai through the theoretical framework of performativity that originated in John Austin's speech act and Judith Butler's notion of identity as performed. The early concerts of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra (SMO), I suggest, were an assertion of settler sovereignty in a treaty port such as Shanghai. Therefore, Chinese musicians performing Western music - propagated through the establishment of the National Conservatory of Music by Chinese elites in Shanghai's French Settlement in 1927 - was the embodiment of three contradictory ideals: colonialism, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism. Zooming in on four SMO concerts that featured Chinese musicians in 1929, I argue that they were sites of identity and power negotiation, the SMO and the Chinese musicians asserting quite distinct performative utterances. On the one hand, the performing Chinese body enacted the cosmopolitan outlook that the Municipal Council was eager to project, not only for the sake of ideology but also to increase SMO's concert revenue by appealing to the increasing number of Chinese concert attendees. On the other hand, it meant national glory to Chinese residents in Shanghai, marking Chinese musicians participating in a global musical network. Lastly, this study draws attention to the diverse geographies of Western music in the twentieth century and its coeval development beyond the West, testifying to the timely need for a global music history in which the musicking of Western music in so many Asian cities should be interwoven into its narrative.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-393
Number of pages31
JournalTwentieth-Century Music
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Music


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