Liangyou: Kaleidoscopic Modernity and the Shanghai Metropolis, 1926-1945. Edited by Paul G. Pickowicz, Kuiyi Shen, and Yingjin Zhang (Leiden: Brill, 2013) xi, 287 pp. ISBN 9789004245341 [Modern Asian Art and Visual Culture, v. 1]
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As one of the most iconic pictorial magazines published in Shanghai during China’s Republican period (1912-1949), Liangyou 良友 pictorial, also titled The Young Companion, has long been used as a visual shortcut for “old Shanghai” (lao shanghai) since the late 1990s. Popular media in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China have recycled images from Liangyou, particularly from its front covers—-which often were adorned by pictures of famous actresses or socialites—- to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the “glamour” of old Shanghai and semi-colonial China. Meanwhile, Sinophone scholars interested in the social and cultural history of Republican Shanghai have studied the rich texture of urban life by combing through the magazine’s hundreds of issues. However, Anglophone academics, perhaps with the exception of Leo Ou-fan Lee and a few other historians studying Republican Shanghai, paid little attention to the seminal role Liangyou had played in modern Chinese visual culture. Consisting of ten original essays with different focuses, this edited volume marks a welcome change to the earlier neglect and will undoubtedly stimulate further research into popular print media in modern China and East Asia.
This book opens with an introduction and concludes with an appendix. In the introduction, the three editors, Paul G. Pickowicz, Kuiyi Shen, and Yingjin Zhang, characterize Liangyou as “a visual emporium” through which researchers can “explore a variety of issues related to cosmopolitanism, modernity, and above all visuality” (p. 10). Furthermore, by locating Liangyou in “mediasphere Shanghai,” the introduction highlights how its “kaleidoscopic effect” made the magazine “a popular vehicle of cross-platform saturation of affective immediacy and intermediality” (p. 11). I will return to this notion towards the end of this review. A carefully-researched study of Liangyou’s distribution network during the Nanjing decade (1928-1937) and wartime, the appendix by Wang Chuchu provides us with a general picture of the business practices of the Liangyou publishing company. Although slightly underdeveloped, the appendix suggests that we cannot understand Liangyou’s success fully unless we take into consideration the development of transportation, the pattern of migration, and the transnational business networks between treaty port cities in China and overseas Chinese communities in the first half of the twentieth century.
The rest of the volume is divided into four thematic clusters: “Designing Modernity,” “Embodying the Modern,” “Negotiating Genders,” and “Modernizing Tradition.” In the first cluster, Paul W. Ricketts explores what he calls “Kaleidoscopic Modernisms” by juxtaposing Liangyou with the Japanese pictorial magazine Asahi Gurafu (Asahi Graph), while Timothy Shea investigates how, under the editorial direction of Liang Desuo, Liangyou elevated the status of art photography in the late 1920s. Capturing the intriguing global development of photojournalism in illustrated magazines in the 1920s and 1930s, Ricketts delineates the gradual shift of Chinese and Japanese modernist pictorials “from a panoramic aesthetic of continuity to a montage aesthetic that entailed fragmentation and juxtaposition” (p. 40). Furthermore, this transnational moment of modernist visual culture, as Ricketts refers to it in this essay, coincides with the efforts made by pictorials like Liangyou to engage with an audience that was increasingly aware of the fragmented and restless nature of modern urban life. Timothy Shea’s innovative treatment of early Chinese art photography presented in Liangyou leads us to a series of interesting inquiries into the role modern pictorials played in the presentation and viewing of photography as an art form. By reprinting, resizing, and reframing the original images of art photography, editors and graphic designers of Liangyou also reappropriated the original images as their functions and meanings were reassigned through this process. Therefore, rather than simply a channel through which art photography could be introduced to a broader audience, pictorial magazines like Liangyou played a pivotal role in distinguishing art photography from photojournalism and establishing it as a modern art form.
The second cluster, “Embodying the Modern,” features three articles discussing how the visions of modernity were conveyed through specific visual and textual representations of the human body. Moving beyond the well-known images of “new-style women” on the front covers of Liangyou, each chapter in this cluster has chosen a unique entry point—from the advertisements of popular patent medicine (Chapter 3), healthy female bodies represented by Chinese women in sports (Chapter 4), to the scientific discourses and portrayals of the female body in popular pictorial journals (Chapter 5). In her study of the magazine’s advertising for the Dr. Williams’ Medicine Company (maker of the popular Pink Pills for Pale People), Emily Baum explores how pictorial magazines helped link medicine to consumerist culture by producing images of physical health in a Chinese context. Maura Cunningham’s essay on the representations of women’s sports in Liangyou is an addition to the vibrant discussion of the “modern girl” images in Republican China. Through an analysis of the representation of feminine beauty in Liangyou and its sister magazine Furen Huabao 婦人畫報 (Women’s Pictorial), Jun Lei highlights the role of science in the regulation of the female body and sexuality and argues that, by circulating information on popular sociology, those images and texts “inspired, but at the same time constrained the new imaginations of feminine beauty, female sexuality, and female-male relationship dynamics” (p. 113).
“Negotiating Genders,” the third cluster of the volume, turns attention to the question of how gender roles were visualized through Liangyou. In Chapter 6, Amy O’Keefe looks at the coverage of two male aviators, Zhang Huichang and Sun Tonggang, whose soars into stardom in the period before WWII were celebrated by the magazine to stimulate sales and instill a sense of national unity among its urban readers. By focusing on the photographic representations of “modern men” in Liangyou, Hongjian Wang offers a much-needed analysis of early twentieth-century Chinese conceptualizations of masculinity. Unlike the stories by New Perceptionist (xin ganjue pai 新感覺派 ) writers, which often underlined the disempowerment of male urbanites as a symptom of modernity, or the Republican-era feminist magazine Linglong, which depicted men in a negative light, photographs of Chinese men in Liangyou portrayed masculinity as a symbol of integrity, leadership, and spirituality that ought to be admired from a distance.
Even though Wang’s assertion that the male nudes in Liangyou tended to deny their connection to sexuality could benefit from a more nuanced visual analysis, the conclusion that Liangyou, as the leading pictorial magazine in Republican China, upheld the gender norm in which men were still “the pillar of the nation” is persuasively argued. In the last essay of this cluster, Ha Yoon Jung adopts a transnational approach to investigate the similar images of the “Modern Wife” in Liangyou and the popular Korean magazine Samcheolli (Three Thousand Li). Finding a parallel trajectory between these two publications, Ha Yoon Jung pinpoints some differences in the images of the modern wife in China and Korea, which, as she hints at in her essay, can be attributed to the social and cultural variations between semi-colonial Shanghai and colonial Seoul.
In the final thematic cluster, both Lesley Ma and Tongyun Yin explore the place and function of “tradition” in the representation of modernity in Liangyou. In Chapter 9, Ma follows the magazine’s coverage of women painters, particularly those involved in the Chinese Women’s Calligraphy and Painting Society 中國女子書畫會 , and explores what she calls “female painterly modernities.” Showcasing how women painters were presented as artists, women, and Chinese citizens at the same time, this chapter demonstrates how there could be multiple and sometimes contradictory ways for professional women to “be modern.” By examining how Liangyou and other media presented the traditional-style guohua 國畫 paintings and painters, Tongyun Yin presents a seemingly paradoxical process to appropriate a so-called “traditional art” in a modern society. As an art genre highly visible in Liangyou, traditional ink paintings morphed into new urban commodities while becoming symbols of traditional Chinese values. Although still connected to China’s cultural past through their artistic work, traditional painters, with the publicity provided by the mass media in Republican China, found themselves performing as a highly visible public presence both modern and Chinese.
While Liangyou may be most recalled in popular and mass media memory today for its representations of beautiful new-style women, this book, broadening the scope of inquiry, examines visual culture of modern China through ten fascinating contributions and explores how this popular pictorial journal represented and directed ideas and attitudes about body, gender roles, modernity, and tradition in Republican Shanghai and throughout China. I particularly applaud the efforts made by several authors to set Liangyou against the backdrop of a global expansion of print media. For example, Ricketts’s chapter on graphic designs in Chinese and Japanese popular pictorials also locates the development of East Asian popular print media alongside similar developments in Germany, the Soviet Union, Korea, and elsewhere. Moreover, various essays also situate Liangyou in the domestic evolution of print media from the late Qing period to the Republican era. Whereas late Qing illustrated urban publications, such as Dianshizhai Huabao 點石齋畫報
are cited to indicate the connection between Liangyou and earlier popular pictorials, various contributors also link Liangyou to important contemporaneous periodicals—such as Dongfang Zazhi 東方雜誌 (Eastern Miscellany), Furen Huabao 婦人 畫報 (Women’s Pictorial), Linglong 玲瓏, Guohua Yuekan 國畫月刊 (Chinese Painting Monthly)—to sketch a more comprehensive image of mass media and visual culture in Republican China. Embracing an interdisciplinary approach, this edited volume also showcases how historians, art historians, and literary scholars approach visual and textual contents from distinctive perspectives.
While this book provides a fuller assessment of Liangyou’s aesthetics and its influence, it also opens the magazine to other arguments and analysis. As an edited volume based on conference papers, the book is slightly uneven, especially in terms of the discussion of visuality. Although most essays utilize Liangyou’s rich visual content, not every author pays attention to how the various image-making techniques—such as art photography, photojournalism, cartoons, X-ray images, and graphic designs—provided the audience with different ways to gather information and generate narratives. At the same time, the current volume only briefly address some significant aspects of Liangyou, such as its bilingual captions attached to the photographs and other images, the juxtaposition of and interaction between the visual and textual contents, and the shifts in its editorial styles at different periods. The theoretical rumination presented towards the end of the Introduction, which I quoted earlier, could also use further clarification. While the kaleidoscopic nature of Liangyou is evident throughout the four clusters of this volume, the notion that the magazine was “a popular vehicle of cross-platform saturation of affective immediacy and intermediality” needs to be substantiated by concrete examples. In fact, since most essays deal with a single topic and often take individual examples from different issues of Liangyou, it is challenging to piece together the reading experience of Republican consumers who had read issues from cover to cover. How did they make sense of visual “modernity” as they took in images of avant-garde graphic designs together with traditional guohua paintings? What kind of gender roles would they have adopted after seeing photographs of women in sports, idealized modern wives, and male aviators in the same issue? These questions are hardly touched upon.
While these are some of the issues for further speculation as we look more closely at Liangyou and other popular print media, this book provides us with a point of departure for rethinking visual culture in Republican China.
Yajun Mo is Assistant Professor in the History Department of Long Island University-Post. Among her publications are “Boundaries and Crossings: Mobility, Travel, and Society in China, 1500-1953—A Survey of the Field,” Mobility in History, Vol. 6 (2015), pp. 150-157 and “The New Frontier, Zhuang Xueben and Xikang Province,” in Yongtao Du and Jeff Kyong-McClain, eds., Chinese History in Geographical Perspective (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2013), pp. 121-139.