Is Wuhan China’s Chicago?

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Introductory art etches architectural opening to Wuhan video. CCTV is left of center. (CGTN)

Wuhan, the Chinese city where the Wuhan virus originated, is sometimes called “The Chicago of China” for its size (pop. 11.8 million), its central location, its setting on the Yangtze River and its historic buildings and its modern architecture. Here is a 28-minute video made in 2018 called “Is this the Chicago of China?” The video doesn’t answer that question. Chicago is 250 years old. Wuhan is 2,500 years old. The CGTN video is, at least in part, a product of the Chinese government, and admits it, so this video is certainly not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Yet who would not wonder about this place now so damned in the annals of history? What does it look like? We’ve seen the wet market and the virology lab, but we’ve seen little else. For those who are curious about its classical architecture and traditional places, the first 14 minutes of the video should suffice.

In its second half, we learn about its opera, its nightlife, its Han embroidery and its 1911 Revolution Museum, commemorating Sun Yat-sen’s creation of the Chinese Republic. Little is said of what came after, but note, amid the video’s introductory art, in creeps the vile CCTV tower (China’s propaganda ministry, designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas). Why is the CCTV tower even there? It is not in Wuhan but in Beijing. It’s the building that seems to be stomping on the poor Chinese people. The pandemic of recent months certainly cannot be blamed on the city or the people of Wuhan, even though it started there. But what about Beijing, five hours by train to the northeast? We won’t get into who can be blamed for this disaster, except to say that the CCTV tower may be responsible for part of that regrettable story.

To answer the question posed by the video’s title, I’d say no, Wuhan is not China’s Chicago, though both have been sullied by modern architecture.

Below, from the video, backdropped by what could be Corbusier’s proposed Plan Voisin for Paris, is some of what remains of Wuhan’s historical cityscape.

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About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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7 Responses to Is Wuhan China’s Chicago?

  1. John the First says:

    The Spirit of Wuhan is obviously ‘mob spirit’, food, and more food, zombie phones (consumerist technology) and entertainment are the interests of the mob. These city dwelling mobs then live as consumerists work-slaves, flow controlled in what is actually a big machine.
    Probably not much different from Chicago, as in the globalized modern world the mob is roughly the same everywhere, their main occupations concern the pleasures of the stomach, the pleasures of socializing (chattering), and whatever cheap sensualism may rock their boat, when they are not doing the work-slavery, that is. All this in a background of obsessive commercialism.
    The spirit of spiritual poverty. A distasteful outlook.


  2. LazyReader says:

    Funny you say Chicago is sullied by modern architecture, yet it’s two most famous buildings
    Bruce Graham/Fazlur Khan’s Sears Tower and Hancock building.


    • That’s not funny, Lazy, it’s tragic. I think the Tribune Tower is the most famous building in Chicago, and its best building. That you and others think the Sears and Hancock are “more famous” is fine, perhaps reflecting the sad taste that prevails among trend-setters, but that does not make them great. If Chicago’s architectural history had progressed along the path set by the Tribune tower, Chicago itself would be a far greater city.


  3. ericritter65 says:

    Nice post David, sorry about the crazy rant from the radical Right. I have never been to Wuhan, but I have travelled to many parts of China – all for business. The culture does run deep, but it is a shining example of how communism just doesn’t work. It will be nice when all the nations of the world work together to solve the vaccination issue of COVID-19.


    • Unfortunately, Eric, the communists are doing a good job wiping out as much of China’s indigenous placemaking as possible (sorry for the tedious argot!). In Beijing they wiped out much of what I think I recall were called hudong communities to (I suppose) make way for Olympic Games sites. But you can’t wipe out a culture of a couple thousand years or more that easily, at least I hope not. Our culture is a couple thousand years old too, and it is being wiped out by the modernists.


  4. LazyReader says:

    No Chicago is Mao’s China and vice versa. For the Last 50 years the Political left has crafted it’s power movement off the literature of Marx, Mao and Chomsky. People will scream at the sky for salvation……..when the government assumes that role watch out. You think the government would care about taking care of you remember how they took care of….
    – American Indians
    – Blacks
    – The Irish
    – The Japanese Americans

    Chicago the last century is a corrupt institution crafted by a very power motivated political class.
    China much the same. Cities live/die by the consequences of the decisions of it’s leadership.
    The ruling class exhibits totalitarian tendencies. Wannabe autocrats who’ve spent the last 10-20 years in America; messing with peoples lives; surfaced in New Jersey, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California and 25 other states, issuing contradictory then illegal orders; Dare I say; Royal proclamations under the threat of jail or fines. These unilateral proclamations, without benefit of any legislative or judicial action, drastically curtailed essential civil rights. You think they’re gonna just give it back to you without stipulations. No government is EVER Charitable, never benevolent and seldom compassionate, because ALL government giving in this day and age; involves government taking.

    Beyond corruption, outright negligence. States on the west coast were already battling a health and sanitation crisis; one they ignored even as the spread of medieval diseases ravaged the Pacific Northwest. Pelosi and her flock….Ignored it for years. WHAT did you think was gonna happen when the China syndrome made it’s way into the homeless population the left Permitted to do as they please.

    You don’t have to visit China or North Korea to see totalitarians or communist style controls; visit the Rust Belt; Particularly Chicago, Detroit, leftist dominated cities. THEY CONTROL everything. The schools, the taxes, the public infrastructure, the police, the public housing. Unlike other places their ideological opponents are no where to be found. With no opposition in the form of Republicans left, they have no excuse for why their cities are the way they are presently be it, disease ridden, crime ridden, poverty stricken, infrastructure collapsing.

    Just remember; 80-90% of the democratic voter base is made up of people who’ve been promised free S***. We’ve seen the youtube videos of fights at the welfare/food stamp office when the money was depleted. When the money runs out and they don’t take IOU’s or Worse when the huddled assembly come to heads (as they cannot withstand each other) have the fire hoses ready. Politicians on both sides cultivate entitlement mentality; the mindset typically reserved for children, a pattern of behavior where anger and tantrums…… we’re supposed to grow out of, the earlier the better. A child who doesn’t get what they want will trash their bedroom, an adult…with the same mindset will trash everything in their vicinity (Maturity is shaped by addiction; if you become a drunk at 16 you’re gonna behave as a sixteen year old til you give up drinking) and they have access to automobiles, alcohol and firearms.

    The one positive benefit of the Wuhan virus has been it’s exposure of the will to impose authoritarian experiments on the US public. More so, we are now aware of the Ruling class transgressions of selling out the country to China. China owes its faster than expected rise as a world power to the transfer of American jobs, technology, capital, and business acumen to China. While libertarian journalists like Stossel have defended outsourcing for years, What justification have they if that location to instill so much investment in a country we know
    – is an authoritarian regime
    – has an ATTROCIOUS modern day human rights record
    – Is largely exempt from economy crushing environmental laws
    – is working with firms on surveillance technology
    – Militarily expanding international waters


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