An Enchanted Modern: Urban Cultivation in Shanghai

  • Anna Greenspan (Author)
  • Francesca Tarocco (Author)


China is in the midst of the fastest and largest process of urbanisation in history. Alongside the dynamism of the region’s hyperdense cities, however, are alarming levels of air pollution, recurrent stories of toxic food, contaminated waterways and intensifying popular protests concerning polluting factories and plants. Issues surrounding a sustainable urban ecology have thus become paramount in the construction of Asia’s metropolitan future. This paper, which focuses particularly on the Shanghai region, suggests that the ideas and practices of “cultivation” might be of value in the creation and imagination of a future ecological metropolis. We examine self-cultivation concretely, as a set of situated embodied practices in specific places and specific historical conditions. We also explore the abstract conceptual idea, by looking at how the modern philosopher Mou Zongsan articulated the idea of “cultivation” as a guide for life. Ultimately, we are interested in how the embodied cultural practices of cultivation can be harnessed as a strategy of re-enchantment, with the power to reconfigure urban nature in the Chinese megacity of the 21st century.


cultivation, Shanghai, modernity, practice, urbanism