Pianos find resonance in Shanghai’s treaty port history through their constant and changing inflections of coloniality, here understood as a deep-rooted historical condition replaying itself in strange, latent ways. Accordingly, this article explores the piano’s role as subject, enmeshed as it is within the treaty port as a peculiar plural setting, within the treaty port’s workings of music, power and place, and within the treaty port’s multiple entanglements with coloniality – in situ and over time. The piano, in a sense, lives vicariously through its allusions to colonialism’s hangover codes and structures. In turn, I conceptualise and investigate the piano (as) subject by cross-examining colonialities in and across French Shanghai of the 1930s and Chinese Nationalist Shanghai of the 1940s. Significantly, this discussion extends through temporal significations of place, revealing inner paradoxes of enclosure and experience, for one thing, and their regulatory manifestations across Shanghai’s treatyport and post-treaty-port years, for another. Indeed, Shanghai’s French Concession in the 1930s, along with its incorporation back into the city’s Chinese Nationalist municipality from the mid to the late 1940s, are especially pertinent moments of inquiry, for these identified areas expose an underlying process of continuity-inchange, amid and despite the post-war resumption of sovereignty. Further such particularities help to eschew the rigidity of a foreign/indigenous dichotomy. Through observations of social order and ordering, as derived from the piano subject and its place signification, I explore the coiled workings of coloniality in Shanghai’s treaty port history, as well as interlocked meanings of power and perplexity, territory and ambience across licensed and taxable venues in the French Concession and the Chinese Nationalist municipality. Finally, from the treaty port setting, wider reflections follow on what I term ‘colonialities without recourse’, by which colonialities in the plural beget non-conclusive colonialities – in themselves awkward, yet telling, narratives of musical lives.
Yvonne Liao is Assistant Professor in Musicology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her interests include China’s treaty port history and colonial formations during the twentieth century, music and global historiography, discourses of the musical canon in the twenty-first century, and untapped intersections between music history scholarship and performing arts practice. Her Musical Quarterly article on musical cafés and ‘Little Vienna’ in 1940s Japanese-occupied Shanghai was awarded the Royal Musical Association’s Jerome Roche Prize in 2017. She has since published in Cambridge Opera Journal and several edited volumes. Her forthcoming publications will appear in a special issue of Postcolonial Studies (co-convened with Philip Burnett and Erin Johnson-Williams) and in The Oxford Handbook of Music Colonialism (co-edited with Erin Johnson-Williams and Roe-Min Kok). Her monograph Imperfect Global: Thinking European Music Cultures in Shanghai and Hong Kong, 1897–1997 is under contract with University of Chicago Press and the series New Material Histories of Music.