Current Urban Studies
2013. Vol.1, No.4, 175-184
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 175
The Development of the Street—Historical Investigation
of Hankow Street before 1861
Gang Wang1, Qi p eng Liao2
1Urban Planning Bureau of Tangshan City, T angshan, China
2Geosciences University of China, Wuhan City, China
Received June 14th, 20 13 ; revised July 15th, 2013; a c cepted July 30th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Gang Wang, Qipeng Liao. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
For a long period of time, space has only been regarded as an adjunct or background of other things. As
Henri Lefebvre believes that space is not a pure physical space, but is the production of social change, so-
cial transition and social experience. It is also the production of the complex social relations together with
which space together are involved in the historical process. Therefore only incorporating the street into
the framework of social history, and regarding it as a part of the same process of social history, can we
grasp its true essence. This paper is based on this to give an account of how Hankow street shaped and
developed before 1861 and its role in historical process. This paper also reveals the role of the natural en-
vironment in the evolution of social history.
Keywords: Hankow; Local Autonomy; Benign Interaction; Community; Public Sphere
Henri Lefebvre argues that space is neither a pure physical
space nor a production of concept, but is mainly the production
of society and its productive mode as well as the production of
social change, social transition and social experience, the best
understanding of which is the spatialisation of social order.
Since space is produced by past actions, it is compatible with
actions newly generated, at the same time it can contribute to
certain behaviors and prohibit some other behaviors. In the
complex process of society-space, space is objectively pro-
duced to affect social relationships and participate in the his-
torical process, so Henri Lefebvre proposes to convert “pro-
duction in space” to “production of space”.
As a type of space, streets can never be separated from the
social production and social practice and maintain an autono-
mous status in its morphological changes. Logic of street itself
is originated from the process of city. Different economic struc-
ture, social structure, the natural environment, people's life style,
and the general structure of social psychology constitute the
morphological characteristics of the city’s streets in a particular
period, which is a dynamic process of multiple historical factors
behind the characterization.
The form of Hankow streets is completely different from that
of neighboring Wuchang and Hanyang (Figures 1 and 2),
which break through the traditional symmetrical axis pattern.
There are 4 main streets, that is, Center Street (also known as
Hanzheng Street), Middle Street, Back Street and Dike Street
(street on a dike), paralleled to the Han River and the Yangtze
River, in which Center Street and Dike Street are much longer
than the other two (Figure 1). There are many “lanes” perpen-
dicular to the Han River and the Yangtze River so that the
streets of Hankow are basically fishbone-structured. The main
streets spread along from west to east with the north-south nu-
merous lanes densely distributed, showing an unique uniform
character of the city. This paper aims to incorporate process of
evolution of Hankow Streets before 1861 into the framework of
social history, regard it as a part of the same process of social
history and try to expound how the street historically emerged
and is involved in the historical process producing new social
relationships, which is the trinity research method of History-
Space-Society raised by Lef ebvre.
The Formation of Hankow City
The formation of Hankow city originates from a Han River
diversion in the early period of Emperor ChengHua, Ming dy-
nasty (1465-1470). The main diversion of Han River rushes
down into the Yangtze River through the northern mountain
foot of Guishan Mountain (Figure 3), thus Hankow dries out of
the ground leaving the three-cities (Hankow, Hanyang, Wu-
chang) pattern peeping clue.
Before the Han River was diverted, Hankow region is just a
reed beach outside the city of Hanyang with few human beings.
Located in where the Yangtze River and Han River join with
flat water, Hankow forms a natural harbor in which trade mer-
chants along the Yangtze River berth in the northern shore of
Han River in order to avoid treacherous currents of the river.
Neighboring rural residents had moved to Hankow gradually,
then concentrated more and more population and accumulated a
large number of goods. Benefiting from the diversion, the pros-
perity of waterway of Hankow promotes the flourishment of its
commerce and spreads its name over the world.
But drying out of the ground and forming the “surrounded by
water” pattern after the diversion, the early history of Hankow
is doomed to suffer many a setback in its life and actually it is a
Figure 1.
The map of Hankow city in 1868, black co lor for Center Street and Dike Street. Source: the historical atlas of Wuhan, Chi-
na Cartographic Publishing House.
Figure 2.
The map of Hanyang city in 1868, Source: the historical atlas of Wuhan, China Cartographic Publishing House.
Open Access
Figure 3.
The diagram of Han River diversion, where the dotted portion is
the location entering the river before diversion. The pattern of
Hankow surrounded by water after the diversion can be seen.
history full of struggles with floods whose influence embedded
in the evolutional procedure of morphological features of its
streets. There are many events in history of Hankow for the
management of flooding whose traces are preserved in the
streets’ pattern, such as Yuan TongPan, a local official in charge
of grain transportation, field, water conservancy and litigation
and other matters, built a long causeway; Zhong Qianjun, as the
highest local official, repaired forts; Zhang Zhidong restored
bank. Waterlogging in Hankow also has a complicated relation-
ship with the evolution of the streets which is deeply imprinted
with flood fighting.
Not only that, the change of rivers and lakes is closely con-
nected the prosperity and recession of the life of Hankow city.
The alternative rise and fall and the constant changing of geo-
graphical environment of regions along rivers made areas with
lighter flood first taken by class with high social status and
wealth while those with serious floods are occupied by the poor
who living in humble abode, which leads to spatial variation
and completely different streetscapes.
Natural conditions cast a long shadow on the formation of
Hankow’s streets both in its physical form and social space. Of
course the street can’t be fully explained as a result of “natural”
factors, which is probable as a consequence of superstition in
“material determinism”.
As Mead G. H. (George Herbert Mead, 1937) states in The
Nature of Mental Processes, every object in the nature can be
understood as a “collapsed action” of participating in the his-
torical process. The street is actually the comprehensive proce-
dure and outcome of rivers, geological movement, soil and
water loss, rainfall, climate as well as the intervention of human.
These factors have become an integrated one which is difficult
to make a careful and detailed analysis and distinguish between
each other. Therefore, such as the British anthropologist Tim
Ingold (Tim Ingold, 2000) suggests that natural elements should
be understood as a kind of embedded “taskscape” and embed-
ded themselves within the generative process of the streets
whose forms were always directly or indirectly influenced by
Market and Local Society
Driven by transportation and business, all kinds of aquatic
products of Hubei province, Hunan tea, cotton, cloth and sea-
sonal fresh fruit planted in Han River basin, silk and seafood of
Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the cattle and sheep fur from
Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, tea, oil, and four treasures of the
study produced in Anhui province, Yunnan, and Guizhou’s edi-
ble fungus as well as raw lacquer, tung oil, and medicinal mate-
rials of Sichuan province, China and fruit coming from Jiangxi
province and Fujian province, and Guangdong and Guangxi’s
groceries, etc., are all transported via Hankow. The eight trading
sectors of the salt, tea, grain, oil, medicinal materials, dry cargo,
cotton, cowhide spread all over Hankow town due to its pros-
perous wharf water transportation; in the period of Emperor
WanLi, Ming Dynasty, Hankow was provided as total port
where merchants from provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi
and Guangdong exchanged grains and paid tax and Hubei mer-
chants sold salts. Surrounded by the economic atmosphere of
“particularly favorable water conditions”, Hankow gradually
became the business center with gathered businessmen.
But such “crucial” place is insufficient in authority for a long
time. According to the investigation of William T. Rowe in the
HANKOW: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City, 1796-
1889, “There is no temple of the City god and the drum tower
in Hankow. Its position can even not compare with a small
town…” To investigate its reason, the original island pattern of
Hankow was supposed to be responsible for its traffic incon-
venience which maintained for a long time, even after Hankow
had already become a opening port leading to the dilemma of
encountering that “unexpected emergency can not be informed
and disposed immediately” when managing the day-to-day
Long-term relaxation of governmental management lead to
Hankow’s escape of harsh control of bureaucrats, which is dif-
ferent from Max Webber’s perspective that local city is the
product of the political process and local system is built and
constructed by the state in China.
So, Hankow is not created as an elaborate design of the state
but an outcome of continuous self organization during which
the commercial activities have built households, labor sites and
market and interconnected them with each other. Since Han-
kow’s emergence benefits from water, the track of residents’
daily behavior automatically has a close relationship with water
which is apparently reflected in the logic of the street. The cre-
ation of Hankow streets principally depends on the rational
choices of individual on the places of living which is also in-
fluenced by the natural conditions, market forces and cultural
Local Autonomy
The prosperity of business in Hankow attracted a large num-
ber of foreign merchants, which accounts for about 80% to 90%
of the total registered permanent residence till the 19th century
while the native households of Hanyang are only about 10% to
Foreign merchants sojourning in an alien land receive
friendly sentiments at the first meeting like old friends from
those who hold a same dialect with them, though they have
never seen each other before. Thus whenever confronted with
difficulties especially facing operating deficit and monetary
loss, these businessmen will always first consider about the
possible aids from trustworthy town fellows, even in recom-
mending business assistants and entrusting tasks. Merchants
with same registered permanent residence are close to one an-
Open Access 177
other; hence the natives association will spontaneously take
shape and come into fashion forming hundreds of the associa-
tions in such a tiny place.
Fellow members of natives associations elect President and
members to operate the management. The functions of the as-
sociations mainly contain from praying to god (usually the local
idols, sages, and patron saints known by local businessmen),
compatriots’ celebration to protecting businessmen abroad from
being bullied by local men and working together against busi-
ness risk. All of the associations in Hankow build their own
With a large number of associations were established, the
category of the relief to fellows is expanding to local public
welfare including epidemic prevention, fire protection, public
health, facilities construction, investments in schools charging
no tuitions and assistant of education of fellows’ children. The
scope of maintaining the public welfare also consists of in-
vestment into charity and positive aids to the men besides fel-
lows and counterparts as well as the weak and the poor and
those who have suffered social disasters.
Suppose the associations based on blood or geopolitical rela-
tions pursuit interests to seek settlement and spiritual entrust-
ment in an alien land, then it is obvious that the profits of the
market usually accounts for the destruction of both associations.
For example ROM. William records in HANKOW: Commerce
and Society in a Chinese City, 1796-1889 that Jiangxi hall,
Huaiqing hall and Hanzhong hall have come to a deadlock for
interests in medicinal trade. Jiangxi Faction and Yellow Faction
(composed by businessmen who have Jiangxi’s origin and later
move to the Huangzhou administration in the east of Hubei
province) have finally made frictions upgrade for the fight in
timber trade. To avoid this case, the guilds and clubs have built
based on industry between the same occupations and set their
purposes as uniting businessmen and standardizing operation,
solving conflicts between counterparts and gangs and mediating
disputes to make the industry develop in order.
So the clansmen associations and trade associations are built
as loose social groups to provide mutual help, self-defense and
negotiate with each other. ROM. William thinks that business
groups achieve its own community interests by considering the
interests of the other side, making out the common law of com-
munities, establishing quality management based on the firm
belief of reasonable orderly market, boycotting outside pressure
from damaging themselves (including local government) and
jointly undertaking the shared responsibility of the local social
public utilities to realize the purpose of publicity through the
unofficial coordination. In such way, business groups actually
make progress to the extent of autonomous political groups,
thus forming a kind of business community with autonomous
nature and at the same time nation assigns rights and interests
to social public domain.
Symbolic Community
In fact, temples, which are called as “symbolic community”
by anthropologist Feuchtwang, play the part of maintaining
community stability and sequence and serve as an important
connectional link and adhesive binder.
Hankow is a world of gods that nunneries and temples can be
found everywhere, such as Xinglong Nunnery, Guansheng
Temple, Guanyin Temple, Tai Qing Palace, Baoshu Temple,
Dawang Temple, Siguan House, Leizu Temple, Shennung Tem-
ple, Huilong Temple, Mawangye Temple, Longwang Temple,
Yuhuang Pavilion, Tianbao Nunnery, Yaoshi Nunnery, Tiandu
Nunnery, Zhunti Nunnery, Xiguandi Temple, Jiuhua Nunnery,
Wuxian Temple etc. There are more than 170 temples in varied
There is a relationship between the origins of these temples
and local customs, belief and legend. For example, some tem-
ples are built to pray for good weather for the crops, such as
Pavilion of the Supreme Deity, Dragon King Temple and Four
Gods House; some are constructed for both fear and reverence
of fire, for instance, the Thunder God Temple. Guanyu temple
is much more popular than the others in Hankow, the Three
Kingdoms period’s hero in which has turned into a commercial
credit guarantee and orthodox image in commercial society for
his loyalty; Others are clubs, such as Western Guanyu temple is
a hall of Shanxi and Shaanxi, Shennong Temple is a medicinal
materials clubhouse, Taiqing Palace is the club for jewellery
shops and mill gangs, and San Huang Temple is medicinal hall,
etc. The courtyards of these temples are usually where trade
organization, businessman organizations, neighborhood self-
help organizations, and scholars and poetry clubs get together
to hold meetings. Not only are they symbolic but also practical,
for they both bear the religious worship as well as public or
half-public activities such as temple fair, election, party of
guilds, holiday celebrations and some others.
Anthropologists Feuchtwang (1974), DeGlopper (1974) and
Schipper (1974) regard temple worship and prayers as self-
expressions of masses on their community identity and solidity.
The prayer ceremony’s being put forward, namely the collec-
tive “holy” travel, strengthened the local stability sense. Al-
though most of the labor organizations were set up on account
of trade or clansman relations, common beliefs, such as brick-
layers’ guild and brickyard lords’ guild all believe in a common
god (local guardian god), which weakened the class confronta-
tions and soften the boundaries between gangs.
Gods deeply rooted among people in Hankow are closely
bound up with all sorts of groups by covering all trades and
professions and providing shelter to city life and business af-
fairs and other secular activities. People’s sincere faith in gods
offers the occasions and space of solution for social conflicts
thus strengthens community solidarity and condenses the sub-
culture forces. It seems that these space nodes function as the
go-between is to combine and communicate among the subcul-
ture forces. The improvement of homogeneous plaques of the
space has avoided the social exclusion in the process of soften-
ing of cultural tradition.
Benign Interaction
It is a false statement that Hankow is a local society com-
pletely without official power. On the one hand, the status of
Hankow is increasingly becoming more and more significant
therefore it is not difficult to see the official efforts made to take
control of the city. In the early Qing Dynasty, Hankow city was
added two independent primary-level organizations of inspec-
tion under local administration to manage city affairs respec-
tively on the basis of original inspection department, garrisoned
by different magistrates of Hanyang and actively supervised by
county chief from Hanyang. Although the run-on style of man-
agement creates the situation of prevaricating responsibility
between each other due to the unknown ownership, the official
influence still couldn’t be underestimated; On the other hand,
Open Access
the order maintenance of locality often heavily depends on the
power of the official, such as real estate ownership disputes see
the need to official decision. In addition that, high quality busi-
nessmen in the local place also require supports from the offi-
cial force to build authority, such as merchants in Huizhou
Province borrow official power to maintain their own streets
clean. As a result, water porters shall not walk and exchange
goods in the streets which may block traveling.
So official forces and local power have created a balance,
there does not exist complete command and convey of orders
between them because folk’s administration often doesn’t fol-
low orders in consideration of their own interests while it also
need strength and majesty of the government to coordinate
some things such as the definition of property right, real estate
dispute mediation, etc, so it is more a benign interaction be-
tween folk and official.
Spatial Structure and Construction Activities
Land Rent and Spatial St ructure
The city spatial structure is in essence the land use structure
which is mainly subject to differential rents under the condition
of market. Land market’s demand and demand price of different
land form different kinds of land rent, namely the differential
rents because of distinct land positions.
Various land prices caused by different rents result in the dif-
ferent ways in which lands are used. Usually there is a normal
curve of land prices from “peak point” down to both sides in
the city, so as to form the circling structures of city land space.
But not only economic factors but various factors are responsi-
ble for the differential rents including natural condition factors,
market and economic reasons and social causes such as cultural
system, habitus and so on.
Hankow is not simple circling structures whose land rent dis-
tribution achieves the highest rent point in shops near Center
Street (also known as Hanzheng Street). It is the essence of
business in the whole city that is described as an inch of land is
worth a large amount of money by Zhuzhici on Hankow (Zhuz-
hici: occasional poems in the classical style devoted to local
topics). The rent distribution of this street is not homogeneous
from the most cheap housing such as shops, stores and houses
at the old bank of middle Hanzheng Street “between Ji Lane
and Yongning Lane” with size of “7.6 meters wide, 25.08 me-
ters deep” “rent as 292 taels of silver a year, 24.3 taels of silver
per month and 0.13 taels of silver every square meter” to the
most expensive one such as “a room with shop in front and
house behind between the right of Baojia Lane and left of the
bank” whose area is “3.33 meters wide, 8.75 meters deep” “rent
as 140 taels of silver a year on average, 11.7 taels of silver per
month and more than 4.33 taels of silver every square meter a
month”. There are three main factors for the situation:
Mixed Land Use
Ye Diaoyuan (Mid-Qing Dynasty scholar, wrote many Zhuz-
hici poems on Hankow) once wrote in 1851: “every inch of
land in Hankow is worth a lot”. Ten years later, missionary
Josiah Cox wrote to his church in London when he went to
Hankow to buy land in order to build churches that Hankow is
unimaginably crowed and congested. The intensive and multi-
ple use of land because of scarce land resources and high popu-
lation density, together with local autonomy and symbolic com-
munity make the social segregation and seclusion unobvious in
the blocks at the same time it creates the social heterogeneous
pattern in which neighborhoods have a mixed population. Un-
der this condition, as land use originally cannot make a distinct
with each other, circling structures can be difficult to be clear at
a glance. ROM. William in the Hankow: Conflict and Commu-
nity in a Chinese City, 1796-1895. Stanford, 1989 also pointed
out that the architectural form of the shop (commercial and
residential integration, a room with shop in front and house
behind) restricts that there couldn’t have a high degree residen-
tial and commercial distinction at the time.
Began in Natural Rhythm
According to the author’s research, the highest point of
Hankow originally surrounded by water is Center Street (also
known as Hanzheng Street) from east of Qiaokou (name of a
habitable block) to west of Jijiazui (another name of a habitable
block) whose elevation is 26 meters or so. The elevation of
southern River Street and northern Middle Street and Dike
Street (Zhongshan road now) are all about 23 metres. The flood
is quite normal for the people in Hankow which is recorded in
Zhuzhici on Hankow that the sudden rise of the waters often
flooded many building. As there are only a few east-west streets
in Hankow such as River Street, Center Street, Middle Street,
Back Street and Dike Street), the frequent waters made the
streets with higher elevation a higher land value. These hori-
zontal streets lay as ridge and purlins of a roof with Center
Street as the ridge. On both sides of the east-west communica-
tional streets, land price is higher let alone the land price in
Center Street benefiting its favorable geographic position.
ROM. William reminded us of not underestimating the social
importance of this spatial differentiation. In the Hankow: Con-
flict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796-1895, ROM Wil-
liam sketches for us the spatial pattern of old Hankow: Hanz-
heng Street was the main street and officer street where shops
were mainly big business warehouses and outlets and halls;
Along the River Street were cargo terminals, the highly con-
centrated temples and markets in a clear labor division; This
Dike Street area were gathered with workers, whitesmith and
mass teahouses. Either in the embankment and the Wasteland or
on the beach is full of temporary shacks. In the history of the
development of the city, the natural elevation of a piece of land
gradually has been converted into the elevation of a class or
privilege through some kind way. The land in Hankow is nei-
ther homogeneous nor be homogeneously used. Natural texture
eventually will present or turn into social real estate in the use
of the society.
Gathering Node
Rent and gathering effect are closely related in that the dif-
ferences of gathering effect are the main sources of different
rent. Those docks closely connected with production, temples
intensively linked with living and markets highly bounded up
with market transaction etc are naturally become people gath-
ering places with a peak land price. Hence the land price of
Hankow also shows a kind of characteristics of “Multi-spots”,
business area with prosperous people reaches the highest rent,
such as an example taken above “a room with shop in front and
house behind in Hanzheng Street between right of Baojia Lane
and left of the bank” just profiting from its closeness to the
Jijiazui dock and main street corner which are both business
Open Access 179
prosperous areas.
Although Hankow’s land is not very obvious circling struc-
tures, there is still gradient hierarchical use of land which is
enforced and advanced by the booming real estate market.
ROM. William in HANKOW: Commerce and Society in a
Chinese City, 1796-1889 expressed that the functional hierar-
chy of land use can be seen to some extent in Hankow. The
long Hanzheng Street is not able to be called western CBD, but
it is certainly the central zone. At the same time, the gathering
effect of nodes causes land price sudden change, which presents
the pattern of a mainline and multiple subcenters no lacking
gradient hierarchical use of land. The land use pattern of Han-
kow shows the “process of rationalization” under the market
rules, which is also characterized by natural elements and the
embedded Chinese cultural system.
The significance of this kind of spatial structure lies in that
construction activities in the higher rent areas are often well-
organized in a relatively orderly planning and construction way;
And construction activities in the relative low rent regions, even
some unexplored land without rent such as beach and the steep
slope along river, are in a state of disorder and indulgence.
Folk Construction A ctivities
There is neither direct nor indirect materials showing official
comprehensive plannings once existed in Hankow; also it has
already been analyzed in the former part that government man-
agement in Hankow is frail. In addition, Hankow was originally
a wasteland, so official comprehensive plannings did not exist
But it does not mean construction activities of Hankow are
completely away from the official control because markets and
streets, bridges and roads as well as city walls and so on are
official duties after Hankow was brought into the management
of Hanyang city. But this official control can not always be here
and even if it represses the local needs, construction activities
of Hankow are still produced by the local demand, in other
words, local construction activities are the reflection of needs
based on the production and living.
It does not mean that certain partial plans and constructions
of Hankow are unorganized and disordered either. The local
social autonomy has formed regionally organized constructions
led by the native and trade associations meanwhile the official
mainly provide public goods and necessary control, such as in
the eighth year of emperor Chong Zhen’s period, Ming Dynasty
(1635), TongPan Yuan (an local official named Yuan mastering
food shipped, field, water conservancy and litigation) presided
over the repair work of the causeway and in the third years of
emperor Tong Zhi’s period, Qing Dynasty (1844), Zhong Qia-
jun presided over the building of new terminals, for instance,
Wanan lane terminal.
Ziyang academy brief history gives an account of a serious of
construction activities of Huizhou merchants in Hankow. This
paper will describe important parts of them to make readers get
a rough idea of local construction activities of Hankow.
In the thirty-forth year of Emperor KangXi’s period, Qing
Dynasty (1695), Huizhou merchants jointly created Ziyang
Academy (also called Huizhou hall). According to records: in
the thirty-third year of Emperor KangXi’s period, Qing Dynasty
(1694), a man surnamed Yu wanted to sell his own homestead
and Huizhou men wanted to buy because of its central position.
But this place was too small to use. After learning about it, all
of land owners neighboring Yu expected to sell their lands at a
high price at that time. So, Huizhou men purchased all the lands
in a high price and expanded the area, which laid a solid foun-
dation of building the hall. Huizhou men first reported the offi-
cial after acquiring land then measured the land and recruited
artisans and architects to build the academy following the in-
heritable ancestral temple regulations of Huizhou. After that,
They purchased lands in succession from the thirty-forth year
of Emperor Kang Xi’s period, Qing Dynasty (1694) to the ninth
years of Jia Qing, Qing Dynasty (1804) to get more bounteous
To prevent fire and convenient pedestrian, in the twelfth year
of Emperor Yong Zheng’s period, Qing Dynasty (1734), Hui-
zhou men also opened up the righteous port (i.e. Xinan termi-
nal), 9.57 meters wide, with forty-one stone stairs and Kuixing
(a god blessing literati) Pavilion built on above. The Kuixing
Pavillion was built to provide Huizhou fellowmen with a place
where fathers and elders can admonish sons and youngers and
friends can mutually exhort each other and learn from one an-
other by exchanging views on good books and beautiful melo-
dies and so on. The Kuixing Pavilion became an important
landscape of Hankow city. Then, systematical renovation was
made among the lanes and streets near the hall. Taking an ex-
ample, Xinan Street, which was formerly known as Xinan lane
before Zhaoqiang (a shielding wall facing the gate of a house to
block outside sights and prevent loss of family wealth in Feng-
Shui theory) of the academy and was rather narrow, was opened
up into an avenue in the fortieth year of Emperor Qian Long’s
period, Qing Dynasty (1775), more than 3.3 meters wide, 105.6
meters long. The houses on both sides of the street were prop-
erty of academy whose gains belonged to the academy every
year. There is another example, East Water lane, also named
Taipingli, was to the east of Xinan Street. In the ninth year of
Emperor Jia Qing’s period, Qing Dynasty (1804), the Huizhou
men bought houses to expand the lane which later was as long
as Xinan Street.
In addition, Huizhou merchants also made strict regulations
through the government to maintain orders of their own streets.
As recorded in Imperial Instructions of New Street on the 25
February, fifth year of Emperor Jia Qing’s period, Qing Dy-
nasty (1800): as a street of Ziyang Academy, the Xinan street
often became wet and unclean because of scattered and spla-
shed water by pass-by carriers who were unwilling to take the
narrow water alley often went before. The Huizhou men think,
as the main street, in front of Zhaoqiang, shall be open, bright
and clean. For this, they prohibited stall-selling and water
drawing activities via the government in the Xinan Street and
places such as Xinan dock which would be checked all the time
by local officials. Shops in both sides of the street were ruled to
be clean and to live no families at that time. Who had not ob-
eyed the regulations would be made to retreat house and be
replaced by new owners.
It can be seen from this example that the constructional ac-
tivities of Huizhou merchants were spontaneously organized
behaviors with purposes and the whole process of getting land
was rather long, which reflects the strict property rights system
at that time and makes constructional activities themselves a
gradual adjustment process. Street building had already grasped
the cultural connotations far beyond simple considerations of
transportation. These constructional behaviors self-consciously
complied with peripheral environments even made certain chi-
valrous deeds to display their own magnificence for its con-
Open Access
sidered far from business profits. The generation of the streets
is immersed in the local culture, and at that time these spatial
structures also promote the breeding and inheritance of the
local culture.
As a result of competitions with each other in advantages, the
partial constructional activities, which are led by gangs but can
accommodate with surrounding environments, were quite fre-
quent and widespread. Of course the scale and level of con-
structions or modifications were determined by multiple factors
including financial forces, natural factors, historical conditions
and so on. So although it was hard to build a comprehensive
constructional model, there existed a self-organizing and or-
derly mode. This kind of self-organization constructions had
their own goals: the first was to show the great strength of this
gang itself; the second was to preserve the interests and the
safety of their own gang; the third was to maintain local order.
In fact, merchants had far more impact on Hankow’s space in
that merchants gathered in Hankow and rooted here, which was
a collision and integration process of their native cultures with
local culture, obviously including form and specification of
building. Businessmen’s coming into Hankow provided a large
amount of capital which made housing reconstruction and im-
provements regular activities while the strong land demand of
flooded staff made housing transformation and land use re-
finement become inevitable. In the frequent construction and
transformation processes of building, the form and specification
completed a resetting process and craftsmen also gradually
establish a set of regulations and procedures and formed adept
and fixed techniques, so the street configuration of equal dis-
tances came from this.
So what were the forms of Hankow’s buildings? Figures 4-6
are planar graphs and aerial views of club house, county de-
partment and the Confucian temple. These three types of build-
ing were the most important building types in Hankow, from
which basic shapes of buildings could be roughly seen. The
long and narrow layout of axisymmetric form composes of
several courtyards from forward street to back street, which lie
in north with southern exposure and are enclosed by bungalows
and buildings.
We can boldly speculate according above that one type of
architectural form in Hankow is the axial symmetry type ap-
pearing as long and narrow courtyard shape perpendicular to
Han River and Yangtze River. On the one hand roads perpen-
dicular to the river are densely distributed, which is more suit-
able for the shape with narrow face width; On the other hand
the courtyard houses with profound origins corresponds with
traditional Chinese cultures and the feudal rules which have
strong applicability to make it relatively easy for businessmen
from all over the country to employ.
Moreover, it was mentioned that because the most inhabi-
tants of Hankow were merchants, there were more shop-type
residential houses along the streets, some of which are houses
with shops front and workshops back. These houses also appear
as long and narrow layout because of the precious face width.
Shop-type residential houses almost took up both sides of main
streets with large streams of people, which is another major
architectural type in Hankow.
Long and narrow building shape is the basic characteristics
of Hankow buildings. Normalization and standardization of
buildings indeed have a great impact on street forms, but it can
not be arbitrarily asserted that it is the building shape which
produces the fishbone-structured streets in Hankow for the
Figure 4.
The planar graph and aerial view of the Confucius temple, source from:
Xia Kou County Annals.
Figure 5.
The planar graph of county department, source from: Xia Kou County
Open Access 181
Figure 6.
The aerial view of Shaanxi club house, source from: The First One
Street—Hanzheng Street of Wuhan.
relationship between the streets and buildings are like chickens
to eggs, which is extremely difficult to come to a conclusion of
priority. Certainly, the outcome is the result of long-term con-
tinuous adjustment of many aspects and is the optimal solution
for the production and living of that time.
Real Estate Transactions
Hankow has a very active real estate market in which some
real estate almost change owners in a few years and real estate
business contract is an important proof in the city real estate
business which is divided into official contract and civilian
The basic unit of property rights is plot, which is not usually
defined by area but by the boundary (commonly known as the
“the four boundaries of a piece of land” which clearly define
the borders around). Property rights are at the same time sup-
posed to get both Bao-Jia system (Bao-Jia: an old administra-
tive system organized on the basis of households, each Jia be-
ing made up of 10 households, and each Bao of 10 Jia) and the
neighbor’s confirmation and have records in government which
could be checked in case contracts for house or land lost in
unexpected natural disasters. If unfortunately the whole fami-
lies all died, the contracts can be passed to relatives and friends.
But if relatives can be found nowhere, the friends and neigh-
bors then have a preemptive right to buy, which largely settles
disputes and maintains peace between neighbors in the streets.
The contract can be very simple, and also can be rather long
which should indicate the real estate details and the reason and
process of trade.
There is a strictly defined property rights system in Hankow
and the private property rights owners fanatically defend his
land to legalize its existence, which largely maintain the stabil-
ity of spatial patterns. Clear property rights benefits the stability
of spatial patterns and also objectively promotes the prosperity
of real estate, making the land use change dynamically. The
streets are in a stable and dynamic adjustment that in favor of
optimizing the using patterns of streets.
The Evolution of Street
After Han River’s diversion, the ships often anchor in the
north shore of Han River’s upstream to avoid dangerous wind
and waves of Yangtze River. The cradle of Hankow is located at
the upstream of Han River, so the beginning of the streets is.
Original residents chose to live along the river where produc-
tion and living are both convenient. Organizations of streets are
based on building houses as a result of lacking planning.
As people increased frequently, houses became intensive.
Water transportation trade took absolute priority benefiting
from intersection between Han River and Yangtz River and
docks were born in turn from the west to the east along the river,
which determined people’s living style and track. Houses or-
ganizations guided by docks and natural conditions extended
along the river and developed in a linear way, so the roads also
naturally winded down like shadows paralleled to the river and
formed river streets. Houses chose to develop into the hinter-
land due to the concentrated population from terminal to River
Street, and then from the River Street went as far as Main Street
and Middle Street in the end. It is determined that production
and living mode can not be separated with rivers, so longitudi-
nal lanes perpendicular to rivers arose at the historic moment to
facilitate further communication. The streets of Hankow were
born to be characterized by the closely relation with Han River,
so later even though they changed a lot but never cast away its
essence. As a terminal city, it was doomed that Hankow’s mis-
sions were to finish transportation, transfer and evacuation of
cargoes and establish the service systems they formed. Obvi-
ously, the intensive degree of longitudinal streets was closely
linked with the evacuation ability. Originating from Han Rriver,
Hankow had a direct relationship with it in production and liv-
ing, which was a symbiosis world of “river and body” in the
water margin space.
Hankow had become a considerable scaled city till the mid-
dle period of Ming dynasty. Hanyang county set up inspection
department in Hankow city and four fangs (administrative areas
below the inspection department) named JuRen, YouYi, XunLi
and DaZhi to manage Hankow. Bao-Jia system had long been
established at that time, but Hankow streets generally changed
in line with the spontaneous adjustments of market, folk self-
organizations and limited official control because the official in
charge was in Hanyang which was separated from Hankow by
the river as well as the street pattern had already been set at that
Because Hankow was struck by water from both front and
back and invaded by the frequent flood, in the eighth year of
Emperor Chongzhen, Ming dynasty (1635), Yuan TongPan of
Hanyang presided over the building of a causeway in Hankow
from Qiao Mouth to the east until the Dike Mouth (now the
Wangjia Lane) reaching to the shore of the Yangtze river around
north part of Hankow city presenting a shape of half lunar,
about more than ten Li (equal to 500 meters). At first it was
called Yuangong Dike, the residents lived for years along the
Yuangong Dike whose bank gradually turned into a road and
became a causeway street. Flood struggles employed a far-
reaching influence on streets and these historical traces even are
plain to see today. After building the dike, floods eased, city
development became relatively stable, and urban expansions
also became deeply trapped for a long period of time since then.
In the middle period of 17 century, all kinds of organizations
begun to roll in, each gang based on hall became stronger and
stronger and competed with each other fiercely which produced
market segmentation. All gangs were closely guarded, thus
forming the Hunan gang, Ningbo gang, Sichuan gang, Guang-
dong gang, Jiangxi gang, Fujian gang, Shaanxi province, Shan-
dong gang, Huizhou gang, Henan gang and Tianjin gang etc.
People in Hankow gathered based on ethnic groups and formed
Open Access
spatial patches, which was also reflected on the streets that
were often turned into spatial boundaries and were usually
shaped different from each in the neighbors. But people who
had the common production and living styles both shared lots
of nodes of frequent contacts and cultural steep of belief com-
munity, which slowly soften the heavily fortified barriers espe-
cially serious standoffs between social classes. The space pla-
ques also approached to homogeneity and the streets dis-
played a unified character, too.
During the competitions among gangs, dynamic social net-
works with equal forces came into existence to maintain the
social order operation of Hankow and kept benign interactions
with the official. The balanced social network was a result of
long-term accumulation and was also a process of establishing
regulations during which Hankow’s constructions gradually
adjusted themselves, and constructional shapes and construc-
tional behaviors were gradually standardized. Residents and
craftsmen shared certain environmental knowledge out of com-
mon faith and public opinions. Although there is no express
provision, these conventional rules could be obeyed freely. In
other words, the similar structures of streets were the inevitable
result of the practice of production and living.
Local forces took advantages of the specialization of spatial
position such as halls, temples, streets to show authority and
order and used the organizational way of space to ensure some
purposes (power, etiquette, enlightenment) unimpeded both in
the whole social body and in a smallest social and organiza-
tional part, which consolidated the social order system of Han-
kow. The street was generated not under a single target but in
demand of multiple purposes, which is not only adopted to a
variety of needs but also brought the redistribution of needs and
Long confined in the narrow space with scarce land re-
sources, the rapid development of real estate resulted in high-
strength and level land use under the guidance of market me-
chanism. The incarceration strengthened the urban space and
intensified streets. Market regulations hadn’t formed the com-
mon circle structures. To search for reasons, first of all was the
flood threat because natural terrain of Hankow roughly pre-
sented as a roof shape with Center Street (also called Hanzheng
Street) being the highest and two sides gradually becoming low.
The long-term flood hits made land price of Center Street soar-
ing thus natural terrain transferred to social terrain and there-
fore there were all clubs, big shops, government offices and
temples in the street. Next were the influence of cultural tradi-
tions and production and living styles: in a large number of
temples, market, wharf and some other gathering centers, the
land price soared so the highest land price distribution of Han-
kow presented an axis and scatter dots status. These key parts
were usually controlled by the official or by local forces, so the
patterns of the Main street, Middle street and other major
streets and lanes remained unchanged through hundreds of
It does not mean that other narrow lanes and streets have al-
ways been prone to change. The first reason was the stability
and clarity of property rights system, which made the pattern be
roughly inherited. The second was the balance of folk powers,
and the street morphological changes were limited in the neigh-
borhood mutual restraint, and the result was the basic stability
of the patterns.
Of course it does not rule out the case that major turning-
point events took place on the forms of narrow streets and lanes
especially when emergencies happened such as floods and fires,
there would be some larger local adjustments in the reconstruc-
tions. However, frequent intrusions of floods and fires and the
booming real estate business objectively achieved the function
of optimizing the layout of streets. This pattern was thought
suitable for the social background of that time, in other words,
such streets were the social production of that time.
In short, the winding changes of streets mainly led by local
powers, deeply affected by natural conditions, limitedly con-
trolled by official, rationally adapted to people’s living and pro-
duction, routinely adjusted during the noisy disputes between
neighborhoods, profoundly steeped in cultural traditions, long
regulated by feudal patriarchal. Streets had become a part of
life and history and participated in the historical process instead
of staying out as a single scene. At the same time the existing
shape would must influence the latter, or affect the successor’s
choice, or habitually led the original pattern to be inherited.
Although silent, streets exer te d a del ic at e a n d daily infl uence on
the life here.
Till the time of Emperor QianLong’s period and Emperor Jia
Qing’s period, Hankow’s streets were more complex and more
difficult to memory. In 1822, Fankai (He is an operating salt
merchant, born in 1818, long-term residence in Hankow) gave
an account in the Hankow Collected Writings that from the
Ming Dynasty till now, Hankow had become a trade center
where roads were so complicated that the streets can not be
noted even with a map. The whole city of Hankow was like a
broom lying on the ground, slightly smaller above and bigger
below, in which big parts of the streets were even more com-
plicated and difficult to remember. He roughly described the
configuration of the streets: Center Street, River Street, Back
Street, Middle Street and Dike Street are all main horizontal
roads, which people’s walking along would avoid getting lost.
Center Street and Dike Street are longer than the others. These
several key roads were mainly in parallel and other streets lon-
gitudinally crossed them, presenting a comb shape of spatial
As William described in HANKOW: Commerce and Society
in a Chinese City, 1796-1889 that Hankow is far from neat grid
administrative city after planning whose natural layout is nei-
ther neat nor regular. The streets of Hankow were mainly the
self-organization products out of combination of the nature and
commercial trade.
The streets of Hankow were the city’s most important public
space and served as the autonomous social community. They
were not only responsible for the transportation of the city but
also were the carrier of economic behaviors and daily life. They
not only met the various requirements of city living, but also
promoted and cultivated social community. Hankow’s quite
heterogeneous streets were the carrier of collective actions,
which strengthened the consciousness of the city community of
the people, bred the complex social-ecological activities and
created the urban spatial derivatives what we now call “pop
culture” (Figure 7). Thus the relationships between people and
environment and the relationships between people had reached
more organic harmony and established various mutual rela-
tionships. Streets environments were providing some sort of
possible behaviors and suggesting that the occurrence of certain
In addition, the streets of Hankow also functioned as “public
sphere” which was originally mentioned by the German Haber-
mas in the The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.
Open Access 183
Open Access
Figure 7.
A wide range of citizens in the streets of Hankow, source: In 2004, an
international cultural exchange activity, Mr. YuXi found a set of 8
Hankow’s etchings in the city of Arnhem, of which this is one, reflect-
ing the prosperous scene of Center Street.
ROM. William (1984) also thought that Hankow of 19th cen-
tury had already formed the land use patterns and land value
distributions suitable for a capitalist city. The development of
long-distance trade, the rise of larger-scale commercial firms
and financial systems, the generation of organized commercial
networks, the consistent advance of the local urbanization, the
rapid development of the printing industry, and the rise of se-
cular culture provided a social space and atmosphere condu-
cive to the running of the public sphere.
Streets are productions of history, which no doubt participate
in the process of social history. Therefore, it is not appropriate
to treating them as “containers” outside social development any
It should be said, the patterns of the streets are not formed in
a short time as a result of multiple factors including both natu-
ral and human factors. They are not only the definition of living
and production styles, but also a spatial reflection of social
structure. There is an inevitable development tendency of the
street’s formation, but also often disturbed by unexpected fac-
tors, so it is difficult to make a detailed analysis of what causes
it attributed to. Why and how streets were formed is hard to
clearly distinguish, for various factors intertwining with and
restricting each other. There is no absolute conclusion due to
the twisted reasons and indefinite relations between causes and
Surely, the patterns of streets are created by history which in
turn makes history. They have continued for a hundred years
and in fact they have become a totally-in-one deep into the
hearts of people as a kind of cultural gene and a kind of collec-
tive memory. The streets breed culture and culture influences
the streets. Perhaps, there are some unspeakable internal rela-
tions among city’s characters, streets’ characters and even per-
son’s characters.
Henri, L. (1991). The production of spac e . Oxford: Blackwell.
Rom, W. (1984). HANKOW: Commerce and Society in a Chinese City,
1796-1889. Stanford University Press.
Rowe, W. (1989). Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City
1796-1895. Stanford University P ress.
Hankow, F. K. (1999). Collected writings. Wuhan: Hubei Province
People’s Publishing House.
Ye, D. Y. (1985). Hankow ZhuZhiCi. Wuhan: Hubei People’s Publish-
ing House.
Liu, F. D. (2001). The first one street-Wuhan Hanzeng Street. Beijing:
People’s Liberation Army Literature and Art Publishing Hous e.