Filed under: Media Studies
China in the time period of 1900-1949 underwent many changes politically
and socially. Chinese traditions that were established over hundreds of
years were being called into question. This in addition to outside influences
due to Shanghai’s status as a treaty port and the forced occupation of
the Japanese. In this time period a style emerged that is distinctly modern
and distinctly Chinese. This time period was also one of much change in the
social dynamics between men and women. Women were able to be educated, and
work in factory jobs the same as men. Sexual relations and sexual dynamics
changed significantly as it was no longer considered a capitol crime for a
widow or an unmarried woman to engage in willing sexual relations. Through
the study of the representation of women in Shanghai during this time period
in still and moving images I believe there is much we can learn. The
roles of worker, temptress, mother and revolutionary. The way women were
used as a means of relating to outsiders to and through their skills in entertainment.
The amalgamation of cultures coupled with nationalism and globalization
creates a very interesting time period for critical study. The
dividing of the culture into levels of “social” morality and that of personal
morality. This as well as all the factors of nationalism and national
identity. The construction of the Modern Chinese identity and class structure
were not only formed in relationship to the Chinese themselves in the
forms of traditionalists V. progressives, or nationalists V. communists but
also in relationship to China V. foreign powers. The foreign powers being
European, Japanese and American, each with their own set of complexities
with their relationship. This new world that has emerged from all of these
factors is not so different from our contemporary situation. The contemporary
scholarship on this time period is outlined below. Much of it has to
deal with these relationships and the use of media to adjust relationships
with the hopes to adjust them to help increase patriotism or commercialism
within the culture. I would like to see more development of these inquiries into how global media influences transverse socio-political boundries.
Kong, B., Lee, A., Schamus, J., Wang, H., Zhang, A., Leung, T. C. W., et
al. (2008). Se, jie Lust, caution. Focus Features spotlight series. Universal
City, Calif: Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Lust Caution is a period drama by Ang Lee which starts in the late 30’s in
Hong Kong and ends in WWII Shanghai. Lee went through painstaking efforts
to ensure historical accuracy on his set and with his actors. The film set
was reconstructed from personal accounts, pictures of the time period and
written histories. The film weaves in and out using flashbacks and first person
narrative of the young woman Mai Tai Tai as she, a half white half Chinese
girl from Shanghai joins a patriotic drama troupe and ends up becoming
involved in an assassination plot of the Chinese high level Japanese
official named Mr. Yee. The first attempt fails and the head of the acting
troupe is recruited by the resistance. Mai Tai Tai is recruited some years
later after she has moved back to Shanghai which is still occupied by the
Japanese during WWII at this point. She must face many choices about what
it means to be a woman and how to carry herself as part of the Shanghai
gentry, which is very different from her own. The dynamics that develop as
she develops an affair with Mr. Yee, and he relationship between her female
counterparts hold much interesting commentary as to what it means to be a
woman in the changing landscape of Shanghai during this period.
Chang, I.-m., & Bi, F. (1996). Shanghai triad Yao a yao yao dao waipo qiao.
Culver City, Calif: Columbia TriStar Home Video.
In Zhang Yimou’s film Shanghai Triad, Gong Li plays Xiao Jingbao the mistress
of the head of the most powerful Shanghai triad during the ‘30s. The
film is told mostly from the perspective of a young country boy who is a
distant cousin of the family and whom is assigned to be Xiao’s helper. He
is introduced to the decadent world of ‘30s Shanghai’s organized crime.
Xiao is the head singer at the boss’ night club, where she is queen of her
domain. Much of the film is spent setting up Xiao’s as she struggles for
power being a kept woman. One way she exercises this power is to cheat on
her master while he leaves her to go out on business. Not long after the
gang is attacked and they all must move to a small island outside of the
city. Here there is a young woman and her daughter whom care for the party.
When Xiao see’s the master reaching out to the young woman and her daughter
she makes an effort to display her superiority as well as to curry favor
with the young girl. Several more times she does this sometimes with tragic
consequences (showing her a woman’s power can only go so far). In the end
she herself meets a tragic end and the young girl is being taken back to
Shanghai to be raised to replace her, and her young servant can only watch
from being strung up upside down.
Danzker, J.-A. B., Lum, K., & Zheng, S. T. (2004). Shanghai modern, 1919-
1945. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz.
A great collection of artistic works from artists working during the 1920-
40s Shanghai many of which have never been seen by a large audience before.
The book itself is very detailed in the history of each artistic movement
as they are linked not only within China to the GMD, or the Communists
but also to the Japanese resistance and new woman movements. The book has
many historical insights as well as to the artistic influences from Europe
and America and how they clashed with traditional Chinese mores. At the
end there are source documents from the time period written by the artists
themselves declaring their intentions and how they saw themselves in context.
The work focuses mostly on “fine art” not fashion or cartooning. The
work also sheds much insight on how the university, and art schooling in
China were changing in response to western influences.
Gong, L., Zhang, Y., Ni, Z., & Su, T. (2005). Raise the red lantern Da hong
deng long gao gao gua. Studio City, CA: Razor Digital Entertainment.
Zhong Yimou and Gong Li’s epic Raise The Red Lantern displays 50 year old
marries Chen Zuoqian 19 year old Songlian after her father passes away.
Songlain is Chen’s fourth wife, each whom live on his estate with their own
households. The film examines the dynamics between the women as they via for
Chen’s affection. Songlain tries her best to exercise any agency she has in
the situation. There becomes a clear distinction between the reforms that
she was part of before she was married, and which continue to go on outside
the compound’s walls, and her reality as it exists within. In the end she
loses everything despite her many efforts and the cycle starts over again
with an even younger girl.
Lee, L. O.-f. (2001). Shanghai modern: The flowering of a new urban culture
in China, 1930 – 1945. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: Harvard Univ. Press.
Harvard Professor Ou-fan Lee explores what modernity means to China through
exploring literature, architecture, cinema, and music. Laying the groundwork
of the history of modernity Lee analyzes cultural trends through
changes in media representation. For the first time in Chinese history the
woman’s body is being used to sell products. This shift, as well as that
in the concept of what it means to be a woman in general (nuxing and funu)
new archetypes forming within the context and ideas of modernity. Issues
of body and femininity in a modern global context are addressed but could
be expounded upon. Lee does a good job of tieing these ideas and ideas of
modernity to one another and classical Chinese thought in an expositional
fashion. The information about Shanghai’s film industry and literary traditions
is very detailed and useful.
Pan, L. (2008). Shanghai style: Art and design between the wars. San Francisco:
Long River Press.
A dynamic historical overview with much original scholarship delving into
how Shanghai as a treaty port gave rise to a style uniquely Chinese. Going
into the history from 1920-1940s China Pan deftly explains how Chinese
thought was influenced by western thought and vice versa. She also goes
through many examples of the period talking about them in context, both
historically, artistically and culturally. She includes examples from the
growing commercial culture, both domestic and imported as well as the indigenous
artistic community. One of the best resources on the subject as to
how a distinctly Chinese style with such appeal and influences.
Hung, C.-t. (1994). War and popular culture: Resistance in modern China,
1937-1945. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Examining the period during what the Chinese call the War against Japanese
Aggression, Hung goes through how mass media, in the form of newspapers
and caricatures and cartooning, as well as traditional theatrical cultural
forms were reinvented during the occupation. The text focuses on the GMD
government of Chang Kai-Shek as he led the fight against the Japanese. The
book is focused more on urban Beijing but has some good information about
Shanghai and other big cities as well. It also goes extensively into how
both communists and nationalists used drama and other art forms to mobilize
villagers in the resistance.
Pan, L., Hsüeh, L.-y., & Qian, Z. (1993). Shanghai: A century of change in
photographs, 1843-1949. Hong Kong: Hai Feng Pub.
Documentary photographs, mostly portraiture, documenting changes through
the city and the people that inhabited Shanghai during this time period.
The photos show a variety of changes in appearances, fashion and the way
people allowed themselves to be represented.
Cochran, S. (1999). Inventing Nanjing Road: Commercial culture in Shanghai,
1900-1945. Cornell East Asia series, 103. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program,
A collection of 7 essays on the origins of the commercial culture in china.
3 of the essays deal specifically with representation and commercial culture
during this formative period in Shanghai’s history. Discussion of how economic
structures lead to certain advertising campaigns and representations
as well as how physical places of commerce came into being. Specific attention
given to the hows in regards to economic development and commercial
advertising practices coming to fruition during this time period.
Laing, E. J. (2004). Selling happiness: Calendar posters and visual culture
in early twentieth-century Shanghai. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press
A history of how images of fantasy and desire closely akin to western pinup
girls was created and propagated during the time period. The images distinctly
Chinese developed out of many attempts to try to infuse Chinese motifs
with western motifs and activities. Some examples being sporty young
girls wearing fashionable Shanghai dresses and playing tennis.
Liu, H., Huang, S., Gong, L., Er, D., Da, S., Lü, Y., et al. (2003). Hua
hun A soul haunted by painting. Celebration of Chinese cinema. [New York,
N.Y.]: China Century Entertainment.
Shuqin Huang’s Hua hun A soul haunted by painting is the story of the young
Yu-liang played by Gong Li as she navigates several epochs of Chinese history
as a woman and as an artist. Yu-liang is a young prostitute who finds
her mistress “the red girl” murdered one day. That same night her virginity
is auctioned off and she is forced to start her life as a prostitute in
the whore house. She is able to catch the eye of a young official through
her voice and her ability to entertain. He falls and love, and takes her as
a second wife. The young couple in love, wants to try to live as a modern
couple, but are bound by tradition. Yu-liang while waiting for her husband
and he is away on business takes up painting and becomes an internationally
acclaimed artist. She finds that she can’t conceive due to an herb given to
her while she was still at the brothel. In shame that she can’t provide a
male heir for her husband, she begs him to leave and go be with his first
wife, and she goes to Paris. In Paris she is exposed to new ideas and wins
acclaim for her work. She comes home to China to meet her husband who now
has a 5 year old son, and to a teaching position at Shanghai’s premiere art
School. She tries to teach the way she has learned, using nude models, but
there is public outrage. There is also much controversy as she is woman and
a professor. She brings shame upon her family, burns her art work and flees
again to Paris where she grows to be an acclaimed old artist.
Alison Sau-Chu Yeung. (2003). Fornication in the late qing legal reforms:
Moral teachings and legal principles. Modern China, 29(3), 297-328.
This article goes through the crucial reforms that were enacted during
the late Qing period. The debates which went on regarding the two different
kinds of law-one based on legal principles (fali), the other on moral
teachings (lijiao). The debates focused around if widows and unmarried women
who willingly engaged in sexual acts should be punished as severely as
those that committed adultery. The debates were did not take into account
how this would effects women’s rights as much as how it showed Chinese society’s
relationship to other foreign society which it came into contact
with. The influence of western practices, business.
Edwards, L. (2000). Policing the modern woman in republican china. Modern
China, 26(2), 115-147.
With women taking on new social roles in society and those roles quickly
changing and developing the issue of how to maintain this image and the
women who made up image and how they needed to be regulated. The discussions
of what makes a “modern woman” what does she believe, what does she
wear and what does she represent were issues of heated debate. The article
goes through how women were systematically used as and created into icons
of the new revolution. It also details the history of gender roles in China.
The expectations of being a chaste widow or a foul temptress that will
corrupt everything. The article goes into how western influence through
media fashion and culture had a significant effect in complicating the image
of the modern woman. Women were to be forward looking, and traditional,
chaste but not ruled by outdated standards. Media from advertisements and
newspapers both foreign and domestic helped fuel these ideas.
Honig, E. (1983). The contract labor system and women workers: Pre-liberation
cotton mills of shanghai. Modern China, 9(4, Symposium: The Making of
the Chinese Working Class), 421-454.
In the changing times that were facing china during the first half of the
20th century one of them was how women played into the urban workforce.
Many worked in factories as what would be equivalent to indentured servants.
Women in all professions but especially factory workers were often
taken from their homes many times against their will and forced into labor.
These women made up a significant portion of the population and are relevant
to the overall picture of the treatment of women of the time period.
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