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Dead medium: Public Fire Alarms In Colonial Shanghai
From: (Bruce Sterling)

Source(s): SHANGHAI: CRUCIBLE OF MODERN CHINA by Betty Peh-T'i Wei Oxford University Press, 1987
ISBN 0-19-583831-9

page 99

"While the wealthier residents enjoyed spacious accommodation, the majority of the population lived in crowded structures. Since most of the houses were built of wood, fire became a serious problem. (...) Alarms were sounded by the ringing of church bells. Then, guns from the largest warship in port would respond with three volleys, followed by all other ships blowing their whistles. This system of warning, dramatic but not necessarily pin-pointing the exact location of the fire accurately, was used until 1880, when a more efficient system was devised."

(((bruces remarks: the firefighters of 19th-century Shanghai were unpaid volunteer brigades using hand-cranked pumps. Alerting and assembling them posed a serious challenge. There was a considerable language barrier between the German, Japanese, British, French and American emigre contingents and the Chinese locals. But fire was a general threat to all parties in Shanghai. Given these circumstances, we can see that a media solution evolved: everyone with the capacity to make public noise pitched in, with an almighty racket. However, they conveyed the alarm in order and with protocol: first the religious community, then the military, and finally, a general steam-powered shriek from private enterprise.)))