China's 'No Dogs or Chinese' Sign

Debunking Another Historical Fable

For many years it has endured as a particularly striking example of the demeaning, racist way that Chinese were treated in their own country during the early decades of this century. At a time when Europeans, and especially the British, dominated much of China, a sign at the entrance to the Huangpu Park in Shanghai supposedly announced: "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed."

For decades this story has been widely repeated. It is cited in numerous books, including the writings of China's first republican president, Sun Yat-Sen. Harvard University historian John K. Fairbank refers in his 1986 study, The Great Chinese Revolution (p. 147) to the "oft-mentioned (but never photographed?) sign at the Public Garden on the Shanghai bund (waterfront), 'No Dogs or Chinese Allowed'." Oddly, it seems that no one has ever reported actually seeing the infamous sign, and the story's precise origin has always been obscure.

Last year a Chinese journalist set off a furor when he announced that his research indicated that the sign never existed. To impress the Chinese masses with the wickedness of European imperialists, he reported, the park sign story was popularized as official history during the 1950s in Shanghai's "Museum for History and Reconstruction."

As the German monthly Nation und Europa (Sept. 1994) reports, this bit of revisionist debunking has touched off heated discussion in China about the social-pedagogical utility of history. The official Guangming daily paper, for example, told readers that any expression of doubt about the existence of the Shanghai park sign will retard the proper education of the people.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Sept.-Oct. 1995 (vol. 15, No. 5), p. 31.