The Triumph of the Uncanny: Italians and Italian Architecture in Tianjin

Maurizio Marinelli


Between 1860 and 1945, the Chinese port city of Tianjin became the site of up to nine foreign-controlled concessions, including one controlled by Italy, as well as, temporarily, a multi-national military government (1900–02), and a series of evolving municipal administrations. Tianjin became the second largest industrial and commercial city in China after Shanghai, the largest financial and trade centre in the north, and one of the most vibrant commercial centres in Asia.

This article focuses on the identity politics of ‘Italy’ in Tianjin. It analyses both the discursive formations and the practices of governance that characterised the Italian concession area, in the past and in the present. Using Freud’s paradigm of ‘uncanny’ (unheimlich) the article explores the context in which forms and representations that are considered ‘homely’ and ‘familiar’ by the Italians are exposed, proposed and imposed on the perceived otherness of Tianjin’s space.


Italy, China, Tianjin, uncanny, urban aesthetics, architecture, design, politics.

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