Two Fronts in the Socialist Construction: Independent Exploration and Mobilities of the Chinese Modern Architecture during the Cold War, 1960-1980


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date2 Nov 2023


The Cold War (1947-1991), profoundly impacted global politics, economics, science, and cultural domains, shaping the latter half of the 20th century. Within the backdrop of the Cold War, China's path of socialist construction carried both local and global characteristics within the context of national and international frameworks. China, on one hand, prepared for potential geopolitical conflicts and wars, while on the other hand, engaged with the outside world through foreign aid initiatives to rally international allies. This resulted in two parallel fronts: the Third Front Construction for deep defense and Foreign Aid construction for external support. Amidst these dynamics, ideological shifts, economic policies, technological advancements, and new ways of daily life, spatial expansion, and mobilities of knowledge. Modern Chinese architecture under the Cold War context involves the dynamic interplay among politics, power, and knowledge.

This research investigates the socialist construction under the Cold War's state of preparedness, global socialist architectural diplomacy, and planned economic system. It focuses on the Third-Front construction and foreign aid construction as parallel socialist construction fronts. Employing on-site investigations, archival research, and combining methods from political sociology, spatial theory, industrial archaeology, and oral history, this research conducts a systematic analysis of space, technology, and standards within these construction projects. The aim is to uncover the process of independent exploration in China's modern architecture during the wartime system of the Cold War era. The study discusses the political, regional, territorial, and modern aspects of Chinese modern architecture during this period.

China was relatively isolated from the external world during the Cold War, marked by the movement of individuals under political mobilization, which facilitated the production and mobilities of knowledge in early Chinese architectural engineering and scientific networks. Using Architectural Journal and related publications from the 1960s to 1980s as a clue, the research maps the trajectory of China's early exploration in areas such as mountainous and tropical architecture within the context of Chinese architectural engineering and scientific networks. During this period, responding to political mobilization, experts, technicians, and builders experienced cross-regional and cross-border movements, resulting in mobilities of knowledge between coastal and inland regions, as well as between domestic and international realms.

The international political landscape and social changes of the Cold War era significantly influenced the development of modern Chinese architecture, offering crucial insights into the history of Chinese modern architecture. This study presents a new perspective on the less-explored facets of China's modern architectural development, contributing to the global architectural history narrative and theoretical understanding of the Cold War while providing insights for the current context of the ‘new Cold War’ and the Belt and Road Initiative.

    Research areas

  • Chinese modern architecture, Third Front construction, foreign aid construction, Cold War architecture, mobilities of architecture