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  • Women and the Periodical Press in China's Long Twentieth Century
  • A Space of their Own?
  • Online publication date: May 2018
  • pp 19-98



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Part I Methodologies: Framing, Constituting, and Regulating the Space of the Women's Journal

This section offers examples of three key methods of reading women's journals, or any other genre of periodicals. Julia F. Andrews reads the covers particularly of The Ladies’ Journal over the span of two decades. Rather than simply employing a vertical reading, she uses the horizontal method in reading cover art against the respective journals’ contents. In so doing, she not only traces an artistic trajectory but also highlights shifting editorial objectives over time. Liying Sun uses an integrated approach. Closely examining one particular family of journals, she demonstrates that “editorial agency” can only be fully understood if we read journals not as discrete works but as part of a larger constellation of publications. Michel Hockx offers a situated reading, which demonstrates the ways particular journals illuminate their broader historical context and the ways cultural politics have informed the historical reading of particular periodicals. His focus is on censorship and pornography: he specifically probes what the censorship of one allegedly obscene journal, Eyebrow Talk, tells us about the cultural politics of the time and enduring perceptions of pornography in China.

The brief reflection by Ellen Widmer that concludes this section of the book proposes another intertextual method of approaching women's journals. She does not focus on the content of actual women's periodicals but instead uses another genre of materials altogether – novels – to probe questions related to the perception, reception, and actual production of women's journals.

The method Ellen Widmer explores could potentially be used across the period covered in the volume – from the turn of the twentieth through the turn of the twenty-first century. Her focus is, however, on one brief moment at the beginning of this longer history. At this time, as later chapters by Grace Fong and Nanxiu Qian demonstrate, the Chinese “women's journal” was quite radical in tone and thus opened up and closed off certain spaces for women's reading and writing. Widmer uses three “women's novels” to gain insight into how this type of women's magazine was received.

1 Persuading with Pictures: Cover Art and The Ladies’ Journal (1915–1931)

Julia F. Andrews

The covers of magazines are often dismissed as inconsequential wrapping paper, soon torn and tattered as they protect the more important contents within. Most libraries, indeed, discard them when they send the magazines to the bindery, and many reprint editions of historical materials fail to include them. The vivid effect of the object's transitory encounters with glancers and readers is thus lost in this transformation from the ephemeral into the permanent, as the conventions of preservation necessitate the conversion of magazines deemed worthwhile into hardbound books or microfilm.1 This chapter, by surveying covers of women's magazines of the early Republican period, seeks to draw attention to the significance of these publications as material objects, and particularly to explore the visual images with which editors and publishers conveyed their ideas to their readers. Funü zazhi – The Ladies’ Journal, as the longest running of these magazines (1915–1931) presents a good case for examination of the intersection between the concerns of magazine publishers and larger trends in society of the day (Figure 1.1).2 These intersections become most apparent when we do an integrated reading of the covers of various magazines, a situated reading of the covers in the context of the shifting Chinese art world, and most importantly in the analysis that follows, a horizontal reading of The Ladies’ Journal covers against its content.

Fig. 1.1 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 1:1 (1915): painting by Xu Yongqing

The Object

The Ladies’ Journal, published by the Commercial Press, was one of nineteen new journals created by the press shortly before and after the 1911 Republican revolution to satisfy and profit from public demand for reading matter on modern subjects. From about the turn of the twentieth century, the expanding use of modern printing technology and Western paper by Chinese publishers introduced new formats and sizes, yielding tactile and visual changes that presented editors with unprecedented potential, as well as challenges. Most notably, with the birth of magazines on the Western model and their stiff paper covers came the opportunity, and the competitive necessity, for cover images and text that would most effectively communicate with the magazine's anticipated readership. Over its seventeen-year history, the editors and artists of The Ladies’ Journal evolved a range of conceptual and practical responses to the challenges presented by the new cover format and new technological possibilities.

Until the twentieth century, Chinese books were generally printed on soft Chinese paper from large wooden blocks, with the individual pages folded at the outer edge. Each fascicle of the book was tightly bound with thread and usually protected by a plain paper or cloth cover. On the exterior, there was little to distinguish one volume from another, other than the vertical paper label on which the title might appear, usually in hand-brushed calligraphy.3 Volumes in a set of books were usually protected on four of their six faces with stiff wrappers constructed from hand-made paperboard that was lined with good paper and faced on the outside with blue cotton. The sets were distinguished only by a paper label and the bone, ivory, or jade fasteners used to close the wrapping case and were shelved horizontally so that one would see the exposed white ends of the pages rather than the binding or the cover.

Some of the earliest modern periodicals produced in China, such as the Dianshizhai Pictorial (1884–1898), which was photolithographically printed on soft Chinese paper, were distributed with pages unbound and folded in a colored paper wrapper that was printed with the periodical's title, price, and issue number and a brief advertisement of its contents (Figure 1.2). Periodicals of the next generation, in contrast, began to present readers with an aesthetic founded on international models, but modified to the extent deemed necessary by its editors. Women's World began by closely following Japanese periodical design of the day, with an attractive but simple two-color design printed in red and gold on a white background (Figure 1.3). Curved lines and two small clusters of flowers frame the large characters of the magazine title, hand-brushed from right to left in a legible but relaxed kaishu (standard script). This cover, its imagery similar to that of Art Nouveau commercial art in the United States, Europe, and Japan, is elegant, refined, and stylish. The influence of a European enthusiasm for Japonisme in the formation of Art Nouveau makes this style modern in a way that is simultaneously international and Asian. Although the text of the magazine's title, Women's World, states its intention, it does not, in its inaugural issue, yet speak to gender in visual terms.

Fig. 1.2 Cover of Dianshizhai Pictorial, 128 (1887.8.xia)

Fig. 1.3 Cover of Women's World, 1 (Jan. 1904)

The Women's Eastern Times broke new ground in the conceptual richness and visual coherence of its full-color cover designs.4 With its first issue, published just before the Republican revolution, the editors established a standard for the magazine's subsequent imagery and design. Commercial artist Xu Yongqing (1880–1953), who was trained in the Jesuit painting atelier associated with the orphanage at Xujiahui, depicted two girls looking happily at the cover of the inaugural issue of The Women's Eastern Times (Figure 1.4). A full-page color reproduction of a watercolor painting, it carries a strong sense of narrative – as though caught in a spontaneous moment, one girl has tucked a small Western-style book under her arm and is avidly listening to her friend, who holds the magazine with two hands to better display and inspect its cover. That cover, of course, is the same one, depicting the same two girls looking at it. If carried to its logical conclusion, the image would repeat infinitely, like a hall of mirrors. The difference between this fictional self-portrait of the magazine and that implied optical reality is that here the present and the future coexist in the same space. Moreover, as spectators, our viewpoint is identical to that of the cover girls who are looking at the magazine, suggesting that we are they, or vice versa.

Fig. 1.4 Cover of The Women's Eastern Times, 1 (June 11, 1911): painting by Xu Yongqing

In simplest terms, this striking conceit simultaneously signifies both the potential readership of the magazine, literate young women, and its subject matter. Indeed, as a marketing statement, Xu Yongqing's cover image conveys to potential buyers and subscribers how completely The Women's Eastern Times aims to serve its readers, with this visual trick totally eradicating the distinction between contents and audience, the magazine world and that of reality.

A systematic cover program reinforced this visual definition of the magazine – that it was both for and about young women. Each issue of the journal bears a different image, but the entire run, at least through 1916, shares a consistent theme – images of young Chinese women enjoying their daily lives – and a consistent Western style of illustration.5 These are young women who do not always stay at home, and the covers demonstrate in pictorial terms the many possibilities, from reading to aviation, that might occupy the minds and lives of readers at the dawn of China's new era. The cover of issue four continues the publisher's clever self-promotion, with an image of a girl relaxing in a garden chair reading a newspaper, probably intended to be the magazine's sibling, the daily Shibao – The Eastern Times. Continuing to emphasize the desire of modern girls to read modern periodicals, the visually reduplicative cover of issue 13 (1914) takes as its subject a well-dressed young woman gazing intently through a shop window at two rows of magazines on display (Figure 1.5). Readers will immediately recognize that the objects of her interest, depicted with legible cover images, are prior issues of The Women's Eastern Times. The successful establishment of the visual identity of the brand is proclaimed in this painted image. Those who conceived and approved these covers, whether the publisher, his editors, or an art editor such as Xu Yongqing, clearly emphasized the communicative potential of the visual on their covers.

Fig. 1.5 Cover of The Women's Eastern Times, 13 (April 1, 1914): painting by Xu Yongqing

These were not the only Shanghai publishers of the day to headline their editorial agenda with cover design. A more flamboyant effort that survived for fourteen months and seventeen issues was Zhenxiang huabao (True record), founded by artists and revolutionary activists Gao Jianfu and Gao Qifeng early in 1912.6 Lavishly printed on high-quality paper, its complex covers, printed in rich colors and even gold, survive as extravagant celebrations of the victory of the revolutionary movement (Figure 1.6). Printed by the Shangwen printing house, the covers created a grand impression that emphasized the seriousness of the publishers’ political and artistic agenda. This idealistically conceived periodical took its cultural mission as primary and financial concerns as secondary. Faced with loss of their subsidy from the Nationalist Party after Yuan Shikai began centralizing his power, however, its editors were forced to close it after the March 1913, issue, when funding collapsed.

Fig. 1.6 Cover of The True Record, 12 (1912): painting by Gao Qifeng

The Company

In contrast to this important but short-lived publication effort, The Ladies’ Journal survived for a decade and a half (1915–1931). The history of its parent, the Commercial Press, from 1897 to 1948, spans the birth and development of graphic design in China, and the evolving appearance of its publications testifies to the growing importance of a professional practice that operated at the intersection of art, commerce, and persuasion. Over the decade of its Sino-Japanese partnership, 1904 to 1913, the press experimented with letterpress and advanced photographic printing, and it subsequently expanded its repertory to include color lithography, copper engraving, collotype printing, and three-color copper engraving.7 Technicians from Japan and the United States were engaged to develop the capacity for sophisticated use of color with newly purchased equipment. By the time The Ladies’ Journal was established in 1915, the press had a decade of experience with the highly successful Dongfang zazhiThe Eastern Miscellany, established 1904, and Jiaoyu zazhiThe Chinese Educational Review, established 1909.8 In 1909, Commercial Press even produced its own kaishu type fonts. Its magazines, printed with moveable type on Western paper in the modern magazine format, had stapled bindings and stiff paper covers.

The First Designer

In 1913, after the appearance of Xu Yongqing's striking covers for The Women's Eastern Times, the Commercial Press engaged him to head its illustration department (tuhuabu).9 Xu had co-authored a middle school drawing textbook for the firm as early as 1902.10 At this chronological junction, however, it may have been more important that he had developed the appealing visual image that gave the cover of The Women's Eastern Times its look. When the new magazine The Ladies’ Journal appeared on the stands, it announced its intention to compete with The Women's Eastern Times in unmistakable terms: its cover images in the first year were a series of twelve images by the same experienced illustrator, Xu Yongqing, which featured young women engaged in various activities of daily life.

Although the Chinese title of The Ladies’ Journal was placed in the margin above the illustration rather than superimposed on the image, as in the earlier journal, the hand of the artist was unmistakable and the compositional concept identical. Perhaps the only thing that differentiated the young women on the first twelve covers of The Ladies’ Journal from their sisters on the first twenty issues of The Women's Eastern Times was the somewhat less adventurous nature of their activities.

Readers of The Women's Eastern Times had encountered many cover images of women who were outside the home, and engaged in specifically modern activities – walking to school, playing tennis, walking dogs, photographing, fishing with rod and reel, posting a letter, donning white gloves, and watching an airplane. The covers of this magazine thus generally describe a world of modern women who were literate, creative, independent, athletic, and mainly urban. The texts on the interior pages are further supplemented by an assortment of images to inspire the imagination – princesses, concubines, female artists, and woman aviators.

Over the course of the first twelve issues of The Ladies’ Journal, Xu Yongqing presented a spectrum of more ordinary women and differentiated the look of The Ladies’ Journal from that of The Women's Eastern Times by his concentration on images of women at home. The first issue announces itself and its potential readers with a girl reading in an urban garden, the red brick wall behind her suggesting that the setting is a modern city and her calm concentration testifying to her enjoyment of the solitary pleasure offered by the book in her hand (cf. Figure 1.1). Although to our eyes today her clothing looks “traditional,” in the context of her time, and in contrast to many of the cover illustrations to subsequent issues, her garments are particularly colorful and stylish – the green fabric of her skirt is echoed in the artfully exposed inner face of her tunic's high collar, displaying it as a carefully designed matched set. On all twelve covers of volume one, the same masthead, Funü zazhi, proceeds in large standard script calligraphy from right to left across the top margin of the page. The date, volume, and issue number are arrayed vertically in the left margin and the government registration and publisher's name appear at right. Below the illustration is printed in four small characters a poetic Chinese title for the cover image. In a small font, the alternate title The Ladies’ Journal is printed in English below the illustration title.

The young woman on the cover of issue two, even more colorfully garbed, is painting, her tools at her side and her watercolor paper tacked to her tilted drafting board (Figure 1.7). She works in a Western-style interior, with an electric light overhead and an ornate clock on the wall. Equally significantly, she is painting in the Western manner, and tacked on the wall to her right appears a completed watercolor landscape painting. Beside her on the table is a square, indicating her familiarity with geometry, a subject introduced in the previous issue and considered the most important scientific foundation of Western perspective. A pamphlet at the edge of her table suggests the benefits of using instructional manuals of the kind that Commercial Press offered on the market and that the cover artist had himself authored. Artist-designer Xu Yongqing has simultaneously brought to the attention of readers a number of his editors’ stated goals: to promote women's art – a topic discussed at length in Doris Sung's chapter in this volume – to emphasize useful scientific principles, to facilitate understanding of Western culture, and to demonstrate the varied occupations of women. “Art,” the editors declared in issue one, “is our national essence, but women's art, particularly that of modern times, rarely reaches readers. If the magazine can collect examples of their artistic achievements it will be a grand event for women.” Moreover, the editors noted that they had added an additional column on art to their original plan of twelve thematic sections, and particularly sought submissions of painting, calligraphy, embroidery, epigraphy, and music.11

Fig. 1.7 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 1:2 (1915): painting by Xu Yongqing

Bridging the gap from ideas with the authority of antiquity to those that might herald modernity was still an awkward process for the editorial team in the second decade of the twentieth century. Moreover, the definition of the newly translated term for art, meishu, remained in flux.12 Perhaps acknowledging that Europe prized artistic activities that had never achieved significant status in China, the art (meishu) section aimed to expand the boundaries of Chinese critical theory beyond the high arts of ink painting and calligraphy. In issue one, editor Chunnong (Wang Yunzhang) stated that his project was inspired by shortcomings in the two earlier histories of women's artistic accomplishments, Yutai shushi (Calligraphy from the jade terrace) by Li E (1692–1752) and Yutai huashi (Painting from the jade terrace) by Tang Shuyu, which were limited to women's painting and calligraphy.13 He thus combed the art (yishu) section of the Siku Quanshu (The complete library in four sections) for additional examples. The result, organized biographically into the same categories as its source, still included many women famous as calligraphers and painters, but also three Qing dynasty artists in other fields – Gao Mei, a composer for the qin (a seven-stringed zither), Han Yuesu, a seal-carver, and Gu Erniang, an ink-stone carver – along with three more ancient women, Gongsun Daniang, a Tang dynasty sword-dancer, Huang Daopo, a Yuan dynasty weaver, and Lu Meiniang, a Tang dynasty embroiderer. Issue two summarized biographical entries for eleven painters and calligraphers, along with one composer, one seal carver, and one embroiderer. The articles may have served their purpose of informing young women of these earlier histories and of the names and notable reputations of a few of their predecessors, but they did not succeed in expanding upon the Jade Terrace histories in any significant way and were dropped in later issues. The question of women's artistic production remained important to the editorial agenda, however, and pages with black-and-white or color reproductions of paintings by female artists were bound into each issue, along with photographs of girl's school principals and other notable figures in the world of literate women. These pages were printed on more expensive coated paper for better results than could be obtained on the rougher paper used for the text.

In issue three, the art section was given over to a three-part series on embroidery, and Xu Yongqing's cover again highlights the contents of the journal by depicting a young woman earnestly bending over her needlework (Figure 1.8). The setting is the interior of a traditional house, its floor paved with rectangular grey tiles, the embroiderer's work mounted on a simple frame and illuminated by diagonal rays of natural light that filter into her high-ceilinged room. We move outside on the April cover, where pink blossoms in the distance evoke springtime and, to continue the theme of silk working, a young countrywoman picks mulberry leaves to feed silk worms. Expanding the female occupations rendered on previous The Ladies’ Journal covers, Xu Yongqing depicts a pair of girls picking tea leaves on the cover of issue five, suggesting their contributions to the gustatory pleasures of the urban population (Figure 1.9). Injecting the most prosaic housework with a touch of romance in issue six, a girl washing clothes on the bank of a stream is depicted gazing poetically at the flight of distant geese. We return to the domestic interior in issue seven to find a girl spinning thread in an expansive home with grey tile floors of traditional architecture (Figure 1.10a). The settings in the cover illustrations for issues eight through eleven may be metropolitan, but are sufficiently generalized to be typical of the aspirations of a wide range of potential readers. Ensuring that cuisine is not neglected, issue eight's cover girl slices vegetables in a comfortable but simply furnished Chinese kitchen, with a steaming wok behind her (Figure 1.10b). The cover images return to a thoroughly Western interior and a new Western occupation with issue nine, on the cover of which appears a nurse, garbed in crisp white uniform, preparing medicine (Figure 1.10c). Like all the interiors depicted on these covers, the setting is clean and hygienic. The matron on the cover of issue ten sits in a tidy room with dark woodwork, a hardwood floor, and a stone outdoor patio, presumably an elegant urban residence (Figure 1.10d). The labor of the cover girls on the last three issues of the year returns to textile production. The one on issue eleven stitches fabric, her basket and scissors at her side. Finally, on the cover of issue twelve, a pretty girl wearing the blue tunic and black skirt typical of Xu Yongqing's traditionally attired women turns towards us from her seat at a large loom (Figure 1.11). The oil lamp behind her contrasts with the electric light illustrated on the cover of issue two. Six of the images are rendered in modern metropolitan settings: the other six women are placed in more traditional Chinese rooms that could be almost anywhere in the Yangzi River valley area – in Shanghai's old city, in Suzhou, or in any one of the prosperous smaller cities of the region.

Fig. 1.8 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 1:3 (1915): painting by Xu Yongqing

Fig. 1.9 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 1:5 (1915): painting by Xu Yongqing

Fig. 1.10 Covers of The Ladies’ Journal, 1:7–10 (1915): paintings by Xu Yongqing

Fig. 1.11 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 1:12 (1915): painting by Xu Yongqing

Although published in Shanghai, and painted by an artist who had grown up in the rural suburbs of the city, the generalized images on the covers of this first volume are not primarily urban and seem targeted to the wider geographic reach of the Commercial Press's network of thirty-six branch booksellers in cities, large and small, throughout China. Indeed, Xu Yongqing's illustrations echo the editorial postscript to the first issue. Perhaps most important, their variety and careful balance of setting and occupation suggest the national scope of the publication's aim: “Our country is very large, and the situation in every different region is different. We will be grateful to writers who can carefully explain the customs and professions of your areas.”14

Equally important, Xu Yongqing's covers are directly related to topics specifically mentioned by the editors in the respective issues of the journal – hygiene, home management, handicrafts, and cuisine – and they echo the mutually reinforcing relationship between the magazine's contents and the advertisements for Commercial Press publications on its pages. Reading horizontally, we realize that in the first issue the ads introduce texts specifically for girls on Chinese literature, moral cultivation, and choral music, as well as a range of general textbooks – elementary arithmetic, Chinese, and ethics, and secondary science, geography, history, mathematics, and Chinese – along with edifying works on hygiene and poetry, an English–Chinese dictionary, travel guides for China, Shanghai, and West Lake, diaries, household budgets, handicraft and sewing manuals, letter-writing manuals, reproductions of Tang, Song, Yuan, and Ming calligraphers’ writings, maps of the European war, and art products – art and photography albums, art reproductions, and postcards.

The first year's covers for The Ladies’ Journal thus established an identity for the magazine, displaying the range of modern and traditional women who would form its subject matter. Whether all of them, the pickers of tea and mulberry leaves, the embroiderer, the spinner, and the weaver, were likely to read this magazine is less certain, but the images created by Xu Yongqing and the magazine's claims that art is the national essence both aimed to elevate the status of women's work in the eyes of male and female readers alike.

A distinctive, and sometimes even disorienting, new cover look was introduced for every one of the first five years of the magazine, and each, in its own way, contributed to the editorial agenda. In the second year, 1916, the focus of the color images changes from women as subject matter to art made by women. Each of the covers features a rectangular full-color reproduction of a Chinese painting framed by a complex botanical arabesque. Like that of the first year, the design is essentially Western, but it now assumes a hybrid form. The Chinese masthead appears in the decorative clerical script popular among enthusiasts of epigraphy in Shanghai, balanced below by its large English title set in a curvilinear Art Nouveau font to match the background ornament (Figure 1.12).

Fig. 1.12 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 2:6 (1916): painting by Lou Tong

The artist of the bird-and-flower paintings on the cover of issues seven and eight (Figure 1.13) was Jin Zhang (Jin Taotao; 1884–1939), the British-educated daughter of a prominent Zhejiang family (also discussed in Sung's chapter). She had studied in Shanghai, England, and France by this time, but was talented in Chinese painting, thus exemplifying a certain ideal of the well-educated cosmopolitan Chinese woman. Her older brother, the legal expert Jin Cheng (1878–1926), a former Qing official who continued to serve in the new Republic, recruited her to teach in the vigorous traditionalist painting group he led in early Republican period Beijing. She would go on to exhibit her paintings in major national and international exhibitions of the 1920s and 1930s and was best known for her paintings of fish. Flower paintings such as this were well regarded as well.15

Fig. 1.13 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 2:8 (1916): painting by Jin Zhang

Oddly, although the artists of the painting reproductions that appear in the magazine are usually listed in the captions and the table of contents, those who painted the cover images are rarely identified, and, as is more common, the art editor in charge is never mentioned. The artist of the central cover image for the first half of 1916, six different bird-and-flower album leaves, may be read from signatures and seals as the still unidentified, but possibly female, Lou Tong (sobriquet Hongye ciren, Poet of Red Leaves). Xu's and Jin's paintings also bear legible signatures, but most cover paintings and designs are anonymous. Nevertheless, by virtue of the signed paintings on some covers, the theme of women artists is conspicuous, and a Western Art Nouveau design is established as the magazine's new look. This pattern survives into 1917, when black-and-white reproductions of Chinese narrative paintings become the ornamental centerpiece of the fussy floral design (Figure 1.14).

Fig. 1.14 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 3:10 (1917)

In the issues of 1918 and 1919, however, there is a conceptual shift in a more Asian aesthetic direction. The featured artist in volume four, 1918, was the famous woman painter Wu Shujuan (1853–1930) (Figure 1.15). Primarily a painter of landscapes, a traditionally masculine genre, she was paired by admirers with the renowned male painter Wu Changshi (1844–1927) as “the two Wu.”16 Her reputation was furthered by the selection of her work for exhibition in an international exposition held in Rome in 1910. These twelve covers thus demonstrate the accomplishments of a Chinese woman artist notable on the international stage.17

Fig. 1.15 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 4:7 (1918): painting by Wu Shujuan

Thematically, therefore, the covers take Wu Shujuan as a model to demonstrate the potential of women creative artists, but simultaneously put forth a larger argument about the position of Chinese culture in the international milieu. Moreover, from an artistic perspective, they mark a shift in approach that parallels larger trends in the Shanghai art world of the day. Unlike the paintings on the covers of volumes two and three, which were subordinated to a dominating Western-style commercial design, the Wu Shujuan covers foreground her work, monumental Chinese landscape paintings, as high art. The cover has now banished the previous Art Nouveau ornaments, replacing them with a plain background design that, in totality, suggests the effect of a Chinese painting. Around the black and white vertical landscape image is printed a simple border of textile patterns in a single subtle hue of green, yellow, or grey, as though to form the silken borders of a traditionally mounted painting. The Chinese masthead is in a plain, handwritten standard kaishu script, and the English title has retreated to a small strip below the painting.

This emphasis on fine arts over commercial art on these covers shows changes occurring in the Chinese art world making their way into the pages of the journal. The Shanghai Art Academy, which opened in 1913, was founded as a school of Western painting, but in practice, this meant commercial art – the skills in drawing, watercolor, and oil painting that would enable artists to work as illustrators and designers in the new Shanghai publishing industry and theatre world. From 1915, its faculty included Xu Yongqing and Shen Bochen. However, with the increasingly widespread acceptance of Cai Yuanpei's theories of aesthetic education, which were published in 1917, as well as the return from study in Japan of several men who taught at the academy, the modernizers in the Shanghai art world quickly realized that this school for commercial art did not fulfill the more elevating role of an academy of fine arts.18 From 1918, Shanghai Art Academy, which began to supply the publishing industry with talent, also took the lead in promoting new style art education. It was soon followed by establishment of the Beijing Art Academy and the implementation of co-education in both schools in 1919.

In accordance with these developments, the journal's focus on fine art covers in 1918 would continue in the 1919 issues, which reproduce figure paintings by the famous nineteenth-century Shanghai-school painter of elegant women Hu Xigui (1839–1883). The two volumes of The Ladies’ Journal, which reproduce high-quality Chinese paintings rather than commercial art on their covers, are thus in harmony with both the overall aims of the magazine and broader trends in art circles of the day.

Perhaps considering that bird-and-flower paintings were common subjects for female painters, the art department turned back to this theme as the central cover image of the 1920 issues, publishing paintings dated 1801 by Zhou Li (Figure 1.16). By 1920 the interior pages were more fully decorated with line drawings, and almost every section or article was supplied with an ornamental header. Even the photographs of paintings on the covers are now ornamented with a pale figural border, somewhat incongruously depicting little boys holding sets of string-bound books overhead as they dance on fluttering ribbons. The covers of volumes four through six (1918–1920) span the three major genres of Chinese classical painting, namely landscape, figures, and birds-and-flowers. In May of 1919, Luo Jialun published a scathing critique of the Commercial Press magazines, including The Ladies’ Journal, which led the press to reconsider its editorial strategy.19 During this period, 1919–1920, Wang Yunzhang implemented a shift from classical Chinese to the newly fashionable baihua (colloquial) language, and, to satisfy demand for new content, staff writer Shen Yanbing (best known under his pen name Mao Dun) was asked to contribute articles on women's issues.20 Wang Yunzhang's last two years as editor of the journal, however, show no dramatic break with the magazine's previous graphic design.

Fig. 1.16 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 6:5 (1920): painting by Zhou Li, dated 1801

The Radical Era

In contrast, the term of new editors Zhang Xichen and Zhou Jianren in 1921 was launched by a strikingly ornamental cover, a single image used for an entire year (Figure 1.17). The magazine's designers turned away from the focus on the high art of Chinese painting that had dominated recent volumes and returned to an image made as a commercial ornamentation. The elegant drawing, a peacock framed by the moon, is decorative and cosmopolitan, suggesting an exoticism in which East Asian and Western viewers might equally partake. Most conspicuously, it is not identifiably Chinese. The most radical change in the magazine's look, however, occurred in the following year, 1922, with more experimental and less consistent visual ideas at work and a conspicuously greater emphasis on text than image. The table of contents began to appear on the cover for the first time, even replacing the cover image. Issue four of volume eight announced a special issue on divorce with a plain but bright red-and-white checked cover on which no other image was attempted (Figure 1.18).

Fig. 1.17 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 7:5 (1921)

Fig. 1.18 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 8:4 (1922): special issue on divorce

Reading horizontally, one sees that these changes on the cover are congruous with changes inside the journal: Under Zhang Xichen, the magazine shifted to more controversial aspects of feminism, including women's sexual emancipation, while deemphasizing the practical aspects of family life, child-rearing, and housekeeping that were found in earlier issues.21 This stance, developed in the context of New Culture theoretical and social ferment and in response to attacks on the magazine for conservatism, is not directly reflected by images on the magazine's covers. What may be notable is what is not on the covers. First, the revival of Chinese paintings as cover motifs between 1916 and 1920 completely ceases. For 1923, editors Zhang and Zhou settled on a stark unfigured cover. As though needing nothing to attract readers beyond its sophisticated contents, the cover eschewed visual complexity and had no decoration other than plain color and straightforwardly laid out words. An editorial innovation of this period was the frequent publication of thematic special issues. Number eleven of 1923, for example, announced the title of one such number – Choosing a Spouse, in black type against a bright blue background (Figure 1.19). It is not currently known who designed such covers, but they are broadly in keeping with the simplified functional designs promoted by the Bauhaus and other European proponents of modern design in the same period.

Fig. 1.19 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 9:11 (1923): special issue on choosing a spouse

The last two years of Zhang and Zhou's editorship were devoted to pushing the boundaries of conventional thinking even farther, but the pair chose not to carry forward a similar revolution in cover design. All twelve issues of 1924 (volume 10) were decorated with comfortable images of paired birds on a flowering branch signed by the male artist Li Licheng (1881–1942) (Figure 1.20). Li, a contemporary painter from Shaoxing, was a maternal cousin of the magazine's editor Zhou Jianren and his more famous brothers Lu Xun (Zhou Shuren) and Zhou Zuoren.

Fig. 1.20 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 10:2 (1924): painting by Li Lichen

The year 1925 opened with the special issue that would eventually cost Zhang Xichen his editorship – The New Sexual Morality. The covers of some of the 1925 issues were strikingly new – bold and lyrical versions of Art Deco botanical motifs possibly stimulated by art world excitement about the International Exhibition of Decorative Art soon to open in Paris (Figure 1.21).22 This Asian version of Art Deco was most brilliantly displayed in the designs of Sugiura Hisui (1876–1965), the lead designer for the Mitsukoshi department store and a pioneer of Japanese graphic design. Work such as his seems to have inspired a number of Japan-oriented Shanghai designers, including Feng Zikai (1898–1975). This striking and innovative cover style suggested similarly forward-looking contents.

Fig. 1.21 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 11:5 (1925): design by “Xiang”

The magazine covers chosen during the term of Zhang Xichen and Zhou Jianren are as simple as the ideological issues raised in the magazine's text are profound. In contrast, the interior pages followed a course of increasing visual complexity. The upper margin of the table of contents typically published lyrical landscape drawings, and almost every section and in some cases every article was decorated by an ornamental line drawing, usually in an Art Nouveau style. The most elaborate chapter headings drew attention to articles by Zhang Xichen himself: “What Is the New Sexual Morality?”23 in the special issue of the same title (Figure 1.22) and “The Female Student's World View,” in the special issue on woman students.24 Special issues routinely had additional title pages, which were often ornately decorated. They were not particularly avant-garde by international standards, some reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, but they remained entirely “Western” in look.

Fig. 1.22 “What Is the New Sexual Morality?” The Ladies’ Journal, 11:1 (1925)

Modern graphic and book design began to separate themselves somewhat from illustration and advertising in the mid- and late 1920s. With the appearance of Art Deco, and later Bauhaus- and Constructivist-inspired designs, the second half of the 1920s was the period when a fully cosmopolitan modernist look began to appear regularly in Shanghai publications.25 Zhou Jianren's brother, Lu Xun (1881–1936), was one of the earliest editors to concern himself seriously with cover design.26 He had insisted on providing his own cover designs for some of his early book publications, including his 1909 Stories from Foreign Lands and his 1923 translation Peach-Colored Cloud, and soon after began commissioning young artists to design covers for some of his books and magazines. One of his favorite designers was Tao Yuanqing (1893–1929), whose work was simple and direct, sometimes with a slight Japanese flavor, and who avoided the fussy Victorian styles that characterized early-twentieth-century Chinese magazines, including The Ladies’ Journal issues of the 1910s. The 1925 covers of The Ladies’ Journal are similarly in the new, more direct and simple cosmopolitan style (see Figure 1.23).

Fig. 1.23 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 11:3 (1925): design by “Ke”

By end of the 1920s, when the journal was edited by Du Jiutian, The Ladies’ Journal began to solicit individual covers from commercial artists of the day. The seventh issue of 1929 (vol. 15) devoted an entire issue to the First Ministry of Education National Fine Arts Exhibition, with a particular focus on female artists whose work was selected for the show. Extensively illustrated, and filled with biographies of women who exhibited in the Shanghai exhibition, this special issue made a greater contribution to recording and publicizing the careers of female artists than any other in its seventeen-year history. The striking cover was adorned with an Art Deco image in which a female nude towers over the earthly globe on which she stands, gracefully raising her arms toward a celestial orb (Figure 1.24). Not designed specifically for the magazine, this was one of five “designs” by the male artist Jiang Zhaohe that had hung in the applied arts section of the national exhibition. Critic Li Yuyi singled it out for particular praise as representing women's spiritual liberation, calling attention to the bonds that tie her ankles to the earth, the shackles of family and society that the young woman must resist. She extends her bound hands toward the auspicious light of the moon, toward the goddess of beauty in her lunar palace, yearning for freedom.27 While the eye-catching quality of the image and the critic's enthusiastic explication may bring attention to this ambitious special issue, the artist's addition of a cupid in the upper right is a diversion from the issue's main theme, the seriousness and success of women artists of the day. The remaining covers of 1929, possibly selected, like this, from pre-existing designs rather than commissioned for the journal, are varied in style and theme in an almost random way.

Fig. 1.24 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 15:7 (1929): design by Jiang Zhaohe

The Final Phase: A New Cosmopolitanism

The strategy Commercial Press used at the end of 1929 to reestablish a more coherent visual identity was similar to that employed in its inaugural issues – it simply borrowed talent from its competitors. The covers of the 1930 issues all feature the same bold and attractive Art Deco design (Figure 1.25). Beginning in that year, and continuing through the first half of 1931, drawings and decorations on the interior pages of The Ladies’ Journal bear signatures such as Baceo, Bacceo, and J Pacco (see Figure 1.26). All were part of the artist Qian Juntao's (1906–1998) playful transformations of his artistic and editorial identity. The Chinese characters of the artist's studio name, on which these signatures are based, look as though they should be Japanese (白川尾 Mandarin: Baichuanwei). In these versions, however, he has romanized his pseudonym in an Esperanto version of its pronunciation in his native Zhejiang dialect.28 The result now looks European, not Japanese. On other occasions, particularly in his work for his primary employer, Kaiming Book Company, he published under female pseudonyms – a common practice, as Grace Fong explains in her chapter, in early-twentieth-century poetry as well.

Fig. 1.25 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 16:11 (1930): design by Qian Juntao

Fig. 1.26 Table of contents for The Ladies’ Journal, 17:1 (1931): ornaments by Baceo (Qian Juntao)

When Qian Juntao announced his public launch into the field of graphic design in 1928, he began a long career that would mark him as one of the most consistently accomplished of the Japan-oriented modernist designers in Shanghai, and one of the first to openly and consistently claim design as his primary profession.29 Following the pattern commonly seen among Chinese professional painters, he asked his teacher,Feng Zikai, to draw up a price list for his designs. In this public recommendation, Feng praised his student highly for his gifts as a graphic designer and pointed out the significance of book design in influencing the mood of readers – “it may symbolize the contents, and it can prepare people's mood and attitude for the reading before they even open the book. Like the overture of an opera, it can stimulate the feelings of the viewers, and get them in tune with the drama…” The price list was published in Dushu zazhi (Readers’ magazine) in 1932, as well as in Xin nüxing (New woman) and as a flyer.30 Qian Juntao worked freelance for a number of Commercial Press publications, including Xiaoshuo yuebao (Short story magazine), Eastern Miscellany, The Educational Review, and Xuesheng zazhi (Student magazine), throughout this period, although he later listed his editorship at the Kaiming Book Company as his primary job.

He brought a very modern sensibility to his work, both in design and lettering, and his covers therefore speak of a cultural world that is fully up to date, flowing forward in the same aesthetic stream that carried the artists of the West and Japan. This is evident in his introduction of modernist lettering and abstraction to the masthead of The Ladies’ Journal (see Figure 1.25). Qian provided most of the cover designs and ornamentation for the interior features for The Ladies’ Journal throughout the magazine's final two years.31

Qian Juntao's designs for the journal were generally more lyrical than was his abstract design for Student Magazine (Figure 1.27) (and more often signed with a Chinese seal, Juntao, than with Esperanto). He often used floral motifs, which were closely related to Japanese design and were a hallmark of his style in the 1920s. The 1930s would bring a more global look to Qian's work, as it did to Chinese publishing as a whole. Designs inspired by Egyptian archaeology brought a more exotic form of Art Deco imagery into his covers for the first three issues of The Ladies’ Journal in 1931.

Fig. 1.27 Cover of Student Magazine, 18:1 (1929): design by Qian Juntao

While Qian Juntao stopped work for The Ladies’ Journal after its chief editor, Ye Shengtao, departed in the spring of 1931, the magazine continued to run equally striking cover designs by Qian's younger colleague, Zhang Lingtao, and other designers in the second half of 1931. In the magazine's last years, with these innovative modern designers, The Ladies’ Journal reassumed the cosmopolitan look with which it had begun. International standards had changed dramatically since 1915, however, with the widespread adoption of modernist forms in commercial design, and the decision makers at Commercial Press chose The Ladies’ Journal's designers from those who worked in this new international style.

When a brief war with Japan broke out in Shanghai on January 28, 1932, one of the first casualties of the battle was the headquarters of the Commercial Press, located adjacent to the Japanese district of Shanghai. In addition to raining bombs on the printing factory, arsonists burned to the ground the building in which the magazine offices were located. This could not have come at a worse time, after the great stock market crash of 1929 had plunged much of the world, and thus some potential advertisers, into financial crisis. Publication of Eastern Miscellany was soon resumed despite the great practical difficulties faced by the press, but The Ladies’ Journal, having recently lost much of its staff, was never revived as an independent publication. The last issue of 1931, its cover an abstracted image of a fair-haired girl and a dove, was its final appearance.

The Commercial Press, which survived for more than half a century, was more notable for its economic success than for innovations in aesthetic language or high production values. Yet the seventeen-year run of The Ladies’ Journal spans a crucial formative period of China's magazine industry, one in which the various goals of edification and entertainment, modernization and profit, were pursued against the unpredictable background of contemporary political and economic events. The look of the magazine, as defined by its cover, was crucial to its identity. The lyrical images of gentle, industrious women that greeted readers in 1915 spoke to a new regard for women as cultural consumers and as a focus of educational, economic, and social concern. While women as participants in constructing a new society are demonstrated by some covers in the magazine's first half decade, their real or imagined tastes for floral and figural fine arts imagery become dominant in its first transitional phase as the press implemented a radical linguistic shift from classical Chinese to the modern written language in 1919 and 1920. This break with the past was marked in 1922 by covers of the new The Ladies’ Journal that consistently rejected traditional Chinese imagery.32 By the end of the 1920s, as pictorial magazines such as Young Companion (Liangyou huabao) and tabloids like Pictorial Shanghai emerged as potential competition for the attention of Shanghai readers, Commercial Press reaffirmed the importance of the visual by seeking eye-catching imagery. Covers for 1928 and 1929 span rather backward-looking figural images in watercolor, conservative Japanese-style floral imagery, epigraphic-style calligraphy, Art Deco designs and lettering, and finally even photography.33 This diversity may be construed positively as trying to offer something for every class of reader, or negatively as lacking necessary coherence. In terms of the editorial message, the increasing exposure for work by women artists was also part of a message the magazine as a whole was trying to convey. In its last phase, under the editorship of Ye Shengtao (who had signed the price list for his designer friend Qian Juntao in 1932), the magazine sought clarity of cover design, with a consistent focus on Art Deco images that speak to a gentle cosmopolitan stylishness.

By its very final months, which corresponded to the dawn of Shanghai's great era of 1930s graphic design, the publisher consistently ran striking modern cover designs on The Ladies’ Journal. The September 1931 issue presents a young woman, her fashionably cropped hair blown in the wind, who bends her torso expressively as she turns to gaze through a window (Figure 1.28). But the vivid black and white pattern of her short dress extends over her whole form, including her head, converting the woman into a patterned silhouette. Over her head, as she looks out the window, grows a tree. Is she indoors or out? Is it night or day? The modish pattern of her garb and the elegance of the tall, European-style window beside which she stands are the utmost in high style, a quality that the surrealistic puzzle of the image and the modernist masthead only emphasize. This pictorial ambiguity, with a woman standing intensely alert, lost in thoughts we cannot read, suggests a more complicated agency for this female subject than the more straightforward pictures of her sisters who read, painted, sewed, or cooked on the covers of The Ladies’ Journal a decade and a half before. Indeed, while obviously not the intent, this uncertain image might even be read as foretelling the end of The Ladies’ Journal. While it was certainly the destruction of the Commercial Press facilities in 1932 that precipitated the magazine's demise, the publishing boom of the 1930s, with the appearance of so many more beautifully designed and printed modern magazines, as well as the increasingly numerous and diverse possibilities for culture, profession, and life-style that this decade of prosperity brought to Shanghai, may have made it impossible for a magazine like The Ladies’ Journal to continue to try to speak to or for “all Chinese women,” as it had attempted for seventeen years.

Fig. 1.28 Cover of The Ladies’ Journal, 17:9 (1931)

Just as the concerns of its potential audience and the editorial agendas of the press and its editors evolved over the seventeen-year run of the magazine, so did its visual identity. Though it was assumed to target an audience of women, many of its readers were, in actuality, like the majority of its editors and authors, men for whom the situation of women in modern China was of personal, social, or intellectual concern. Its artists and editors triangulated the diverse desires of its publishers and its public against their own ideals and practical compromises. The evolving and often contradictory standards that it set for itself represent major trends in the Chinese publishing world and in the rapidly evolving culture of which it was a part.

Reading horizontally, we realize that the cover images developed at the Commercial Press for The Ladies’ Journal usually pushed forward its editorial agendas. No doubt they were also affected by certain practical limitations, ranging from personnel to budget to schedule, and, as we have seen, reading situatedly, by the relationships between managers, editors, and artists; nevertheless, the conspicuous changes over the years give visual form to transformations in the rapidly modernizing domestic and international environment in which the magazine was published. However one may wish to evaluate the changing editorial approaches that might appear on its interior pages, whether to consider the journal's approach more or less progressive in the context of its time, the cacophonous nature of the early twentieth century debates about women,34 along with the social transformations then under way, are well reflected in its cover design. From its coherent initial imagery in 1915 to the visual diversity of its final year, 1931, The Ladies’ Journal offered its readership a convincing demonstration of the centrality of the Chinese woman in a modernizing and internationally oriented urban world.

1 Digitization of as yet unbound and unmicrofilmed magazines has the potential for preserving the color images, but it obviously cannot bring back those already discarded. Our project database, “Chinese Women's Magazines” (, attempts to retrieve lost covers for the journals under scrutiny there.

2 This essay has relied upon original issues of the magazine in the collections of the University of California and Shanghai Municipal Library, a reprint edition in 72 volumes (Shanghai Funü zazhi she, ed,), as well as on photographs and scans collected from libraries around the world by the project's intrepid research assistants, Doris Sung and Liying Sun. See the project database, “Chinese Women's Magazines.”

3 Paper covers were usually off-white or indigo blue. Occasionally, elite bibliophiles might use figured brocades for their outer wrappers, but most books had a practical plain blue or beige fabric.

4 Carol C. Chin (“Translating the New Woman”) has taken note of these covers to address a different argument. They are also closely analyzed in Judge, Republican Lens, Chapter 3. For color images of many of the covers, see our repository at and the database “Chinese Women's Magazines.”

5 Some of the later illustrations were done by Shen Bochen (1889–1920), who was also trained at the Jesuit painting workshop, and whose style of cover illustration is similar to that of Xu Yongqing. In the final publication year, 1917, the editors used a Chinese painting of figures in antique garb on the cover of issue 21. On Shen and on this final cover see Judge, Republican Lens, Chapter 3.

6 Although the magazine is considered influential, its editorial approach, combining politics and art, seems to better reflect the editors’ personal interests than those of a larger Shanghai audience. Perhaps most difficult, from the perspective of its commercial viability, were its expensive production values.

7 Reed, Gutenberg in Shanghai, 199; Reynolds, China, 121–3; Ip, “A Hidden Chapter,” 23–44.

8 See Zhang Jinglu, “Shangwu yinshuguan,” 557–9.

9 Soon after he was hired as head of Commercial Press's illustration department in 1913, Xu Yongqing began teaching interns at the press to do watercolor painting and drawing. His two earliest disciples, He Yimei and Ling Shuren, succeeded him as leaders of the publisher's art department in 1915 when Xu left to join the faculty at Shanghai Art Academy. Other students included men now famous for their yuefenpai tobacco advertisements, such as Hang Zhiying, Jin Meisheng, and Jin Xuechen, as well as renowned illustrator Ge Xianglan. Shanghai meishu zhi, 406. Also see Chen and Feng, Old Advertisements, 25–29.

10 See Laing, Selling Happiness, 127, for reference to Xu Yongqing and Odake Takunobu, Zhongxue yong qianbi huatie; see also Chen and Feng, Old Advertisements, 27.

11 The essay begins by noting that the magazine was planned with twelve columns, but had added two more: meishu (art) and jizai (reports). Two other thrusts of the essay were investigation of the status of women's schools and translations that would bring information about Western culture.

12 The word meishu was a Japanese adaptation (bijutsu) of the European “Fine Arts” that is believed to have first appeared in 1872 in Japanese instructions for the Vienna Exposition. It appeared in Japanese institutional names, the Kobu bijutsu gakkô (Ministry of Technology School of Fine Arts), established in 1876, and the Tokyo bijutsu gakkô (Tokyo School of Fine Arts), established in 1889. By 1911, a major art-historical anthology, Meishu congshu, which would later include ceramics and textiles, had begun publication in China, and the following year the awkwardly named Shanghai tuhua meishu yuan (literally, Shanghai Fine Arts Academy of Painting, hereafter called Shanghai Art Academy) was established. As Ogawa (13–14, 17) noted, “Asia did not have a concept of fine arts that encompassed painting, sculpture, architecture, and craft until the modern era.”

13 Li E, Yutai; Tang Shuyu, Yutai. For an article on the Jade Terrace texts, see Ma Yazhen, “Cong ‘Yutai shushi.’”

14 The Ladies’ Journal 1. 1 (1915): 202 (yuxing 14).

15 Reproductions of Jin Zhang's paintings appear frequently on the pages of Yilin xunkan, Yilin yuekan, and Hushe yuekan, publications of art societies with which she was associated, as well as in the women's magazines. Her 1922 treatise on fish painting, Haoliang zhile ji, was reprinted in 1985. For more on her career see Lü Peng, “Hushe yanjiu,” 16, 63, 133.

16 Ho, Biographical Dictionary, 234.

17 For a preliminary study of this aspect of Wu Shujuan's career, see David, “Making Visible Feminine Modernities.”

18 For one such text see Cai Yuanpei, “On Replacing Religion with Aesthetic Education.”

19 Nivard, 39–40. Luo Jialun, “Jinri Zhongguo.”

20 See Wang, Women in the Chinese Enlightenment, 78–84.

21 Shiao, “Printing, Reading, and Revolution,” 61.

22 The cover of The Ladies’ Journal 11.3 (1925) is signed by an as-yet-unidentified artist, Ke, and no. 11 by Xiang, perhaps Commercial Press staff artist Ge Xianglan, who had trained under Xu Yongqing.

23 The Ladies’ Journal 11.1 (1925), special issue on the New Sexual Morality, 16.

24 The Ladies’ Journal 11.6 (1925), reprint, 662.

25 For good examples, see Minick and Ping, Chinese Graphic.

26 The completeness with which Lu Xun's diaries survive has enabled reconstruction of a particularly good picture of his activity. For further sources see Andrews, “Commercial Art,” 191–192.

27 Li Yuyi, “Jiaoyubu.” The image was also reproduced in smaller scale on the pages of Liangyou 45 (1930): 28 and elsewhere as an example of design. Jiang's central image of a sinuous figure on tiptoe is extremely close in design to that of a bronze female figure sculpted by Max le Verrier, Clarté, in which a young woman standing on a stepped pedestal holds an illuminated globe. Created in Paris by the prize-winning art deco designer in 1928, and marketed in various sizes, it is possible that its image, if not one of the lamps itself, made its way to Shanghai. For the sculpture, see (accessed July 11, 2015).

28 Personal communication with the artist, Shanghai, 1995.

29 Qian made a substantial contribution to recording the history of the profession and made a point of reconstructing his own portfolio (predominantly with Kaiming shudian covers, and a few from Commercial Press) in the last years of his long life. Unlike some commercial artists who deemphasized their publishing careers after reintroduction of China's fine art market in the 1980s and 1990s, Qian remained proud of his role as a professional designer. Qian Juntao, Qian Juntao.

30 For one example of this text, see the unpaginated advertisement at the end of Dushu zazhi 2: 11–12 (1932).

31 Qian Juntao was credited for cover design in the table of contents, 1930, no. 9, and Zhang Lingtao in 1931, no. 7. Qian also published a number of articles on Western art history in the journal's pages in this period.

32 The only anomaly is the 1924 cover program, with traditionalist paintings by a cousin of the editor.

33 Funü zazhi 15:9, cover.

34 On the significance of the debates of this era as “cacophonous,” see Chiang, “Womanhood, Motherhood, and Biology.”

2 Engendering a Journal: Editors and Nudes in Linloon Magazine and Its Global Context*

Liying Sun

In the first three decades of the twentieth century, the development of the Chinese publishing industry benefited tremendously from the active circulation of textual and visual materials around the globe. These materials included large quantities of photos, books, newspapers, and magazines from all countries, which constituted a veritable “global database” of world print culture. This database offered inspiration for cultural brokers in China, namely publishers, editors, writers, artists, and translators, to create (trans-)culturally inspired products.1 Magazines preserve particularly rich evidence of this editorial practice of promoting an early “globalization.” This chapter focuses on one such magazine, LinglongLinloon Magazine (1931–1937),2 and uses integrated and situated readings to explore the following questions: How did local cultural brokers consciously select certain images, series, or discourses from a global setting, and how did they use these materials to address local issues of body, femininity, and gender relations? If a journal was gendered, how did the selection reinforce the gendered nature of the publication? Did the selection and interpretation contribute to the manipulation of a gendered voice? And what can we learn from our findings about whether Linloon Magazine as a “women's magazine” was in fact written in a “genuine” female voice?3

As early as a decade ago, Leo Ou-fan Lee had already recognized the value of Linloon Magazine as integral to the collective pursuit of modernity in the metropolis of Shanghai.4 Since the digitization of Linloon Magazine conducted by Columbia University, scholars have benefited from accessibility to the journal and have examined Linloon Magazine from multiple perspectives.5 Barbara Mittler explored the discourse of “new (wo)men” as well as gender relations in the journal. She pointed out that the journal was “polyphonic, sometimes internally contradictory” and suggested the need for future research on the individuals and institutions behind the journal in order to understand its internal contradictions and multiple voices better.6 In another study on Linloon Magazine, she further complicated the question by investigating the construction and function of particular (non-)gendered genres in Linloon Magazine and other women's magazines.7 More recently, Gary Wang has explored the journal's editorial group, and thus is able to offer a new understanding of the representational tensions in the construction of heteronormative marriage in Linloon Magazine.8 Hsiao-pei Yen, Yunxiang Gao and, most recently, Louise Edwards have further examined Linloon Magazine in studies on its discourse of beauty and morality in relation to larger calls of nationalism and feminism.9 While all of these essays grapple in some way or other with the question of the “female voice” in Linloon Magazine, the question of who the editors were and whether it was thus a women's magazine just in name, remains somewhat unresolved. At the same time, nobody appears to have read Linloon Magazine against either other Chinese periodicals by the same publisher, or other non-Chinese magazines circulating at the time.

This study takes up precisely these two questions and thus goes beyond conventional readings of the journal. The first of two sections introduces the background of the main editors and discusses the extent to which Linloon Magazine was a “women's magazine” (ideally designed for women, read by women, and perhaps also edited by women) and whether its gendered voice and prominent style of “attacking men” (xiang nanzi jingong) was determined by its “female editorship.” I argue that in the first two years (1931–1933), Linloon Magazine was first and foremost a commercial product targeting both men and women, and that the gendered voice was only eventually created by male editors. The second section focuses on the circulation of nudes, as a particular type of visual material published in Linloon Magazine, and uses an integrated approach to explore the editorial practice of addressing different readerships with the same visual materials. I will argue, first, that the entire discourse of body representations and gender relations in Linloon Magazine had a transcultural dimension, which reflected the editors’ efforts to “promote globalization.” Second, I will contend that visual and textual materials are not gendered per se, and they both can be used by more or less gender-specific magazines. At the same time, however, the materials can contribute to or reinforce the shaping of a gendered voice through editorial practice.

I Gender Matters on the Editorial Board – Lin Zecang and Chen Zhenling

Existing scholarship has offered very little information on the background of the members of Linloon Magazine's editorial board. Consequently, the journal has been viewed as a finished product, isolated from the dynamic process of production. An investigation of the agents behind the magazine can, however, help us understand why and how Linloon Magazine was created. In fact, only a few figures remained central to the editorial group, although many editors joined the team for short periods. Lin Zecang (1903–1961, male, founder, chief editor) and Chen Zhenling (allegedly female, copy editor, later responsible for the column Women/Funü) were key figures on the editing team.10 In the following section, I first introduce Lin Zecang's educational background and social networks and show his skill as a cultural broker. I then problematize the understanding of Linloon Magazine as a “women's magazine” by identifying the puzzling “female editor” Chen Zhenling and examining the journal's targeted readers.

Lin Zecang: A Cultural Broker

Born and raised in a prominent Christian family from Gutian, Fujian Province, Linloon Magazine's founder Lin Zecang received his Bachelor of Commerce from Kwang Hua University (Guanghua Daxue) in Shanghai in 1926.11 He seems to have been fully bilingual and able to read original English-language materials fluently. Skilled at combining knowledge and practice, culture and market, Lin's extremely well-developed instinct for new products and potential markets was clearly shown in his later publishing and editorial enterprises. He was representative of a group of cultural brokers in 1920s and 1930s Shanghai who were interested in introducing Western culture for both educational and commercial purposes.

As early as January 1922, when he was still at the university, Lin founded the San Ho Company (Sanhe gongsi). Later in 1925, he established the China Photographic Society (Zhongguo sheying xuehui) in Shanghai.12 The society greatly contributed to the early development of Chinese photography and established important links to international photographic organizations, including the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain and the French Photographic Society.13 These connections explained the source of “foreign” images in Linloon Magazine, which I will discuss later in this essay. Unlike the China Photographic Society, the San Ho Company was not labeled as a cultural institution, but as a commercial body to deal with “all trades.”14 It extended its business to publishing in 1925, and founded Sheying huabao – Pictorial Weekly (1925–1937, hereafter SYHB) in the name of the Chinese Photographic Society that same year. The pictorial positioned itself as part of entertainment tabloid (xiaobao) culture in Shanghai, although it reserved space for discussions of photographic technology. From that time on, Lin made great efforts to build up his publishing empire. He founded a series of illustrated newspapers and magazines in addition to Pictorial Weekly: Changshi – Common Knowledge (1928–1931), Linloon Magazine (1931–1937), Diansheng (the abbreviation for two periodicals: Diansheng ribaoMovie Radio News, 1932–1933; Diansheng zhoukan – Movie Tone: The National Movie Weekly, 1934–1941), Jinghua zhoukan – Essence Weekly (1940s), Zhongwai yingxun – Chinese and Foreign Movie News (1940s), and others.15 It is notable that Pictorial Weekly had existed for almost six years when Linloon Magazine was established. The two periodicals coexisted until August 1937. Bearing a “pre-history” and viewed as a “little sister,” Linloon Magazine was not a stand-alone cultural carrier, but part of a commercial and cultural publishing system.16 In the system, Pictorial Weekly was Linloon Magazine's “parallel text.” It offers rich historical materials for decoding the editorial strategy practiced in Linloon Magazine. Whereas Linloon Magazine holds a privileged position in terms of preservation, digitization, and accessibility, Pictorial Weekly has not received sufficient scholarly attention. I will therefore juxtapose these two journals in this essay through integrated and also situated readings.

Chen Zhenling: “She” in Question

In addition to the male editors, two women's names appeared in Linloon Magazine's colophons. One is Liang Xinxi, who was first a contributor to Linloon Magazine, and then became the official copy editor from issue 77 on (December 7, 1932). About a year later, she married Lin Zecang and acted as editor of Diansheng ribao, a tabloid focused on gossip surrounding Hollywood and Chinese movie stars.17 The other woman's name was “Chen Zhenling,” or more often “Ms. Chen Zhenling” – “Chen Zhenling nüshi.”18

“Chen Zhenling nüshi” was also the name of the “editor-in-chief” of Funü ribao (“Women's Daily”), a supplement to Movie Radio News around 1932.19 The column Zhenling xinxiang (“Zhenling's Mailbox”) was concurrently published in Funü ribao and in Linloon Magazine over the course of its print run. Even after Linloon Magazine ceased publication in 1937, Zhenling's Mailbox continued to appear in Movie Radio News until at least 1940. The only biographical information that we can find about Ms. Chen Zhenling, however, is a frequently quoted statement published in the first issue of Linloon Magazine. According to this statement, getting out of school, Chen had immediately started to work as editor for Linloon Magazine. She “wishes to be the mouthpiece (literally the ‘throat and tongue’) for her female compatriots.”20

Chen Zhenling was the only name to appear in every single issue of Linloon Magazine throughout its seven years of publication. But who was Chen Zhenling? Gary Wang creatively conjectures that Chen Zhenling might not actually have been a real person, but the pseudonym for one, or even a whole group of (male) editors: why else would the name “Zhenling” (preciously elegant) tally so perfectly with the journal's self-fashioning remarks? This becomes even more plausible as “Chen” if pronounced in Shanghai dialect actually sounds like “cheng” – meaning “to become.” Accordingly, Chen Zhenling could mean “becoming preciously elegant” – an aim the readers of Linloon Magazine were expected to aspire to – and their editor, Chen Zhenling, appeared thus as the perfect model for them.21

Let me carry Wang's attempt to decipher Chen's name by examining its contemporary and local pronunciation even further: What if Chen Zhenling was one of Lin Zecang's female pseudonyms? In contemporary Romanization, his name Lin Zecang was transcribed as “Tse Tsang Ling” (T. T. Ling). Read in reversed order (“Tsang Tse Ling”) and in Shanghai dialect this actually becomes “Chen Zhenling.” What is more, the “cang” in his name is a homonym with “cang” meaning “to hide”; the name could also be read as “hiding (cang) genuine Ling.”22

Before female editor Liang Xinxi officially joined the editing team in December 1932, the editorial board was exclusively male, then. It is possible that Liang Xinxi continued the work under the name of Chen Zhenling after December 1932. But it is also possible that “Chen Zhenling nüshi” continued to be used as a composite of Lin Zecang and other male editors who used Chen's byline to “attack men,” as a successful marketing strategy aimed at convincing readers that Linloon Magazine was indeed the “one and only mouthpiece for women.”23

Linloon Magazine: A Magazine of Her Own?

Linloon Magazine targeted female readers, and, edited by a “Ms.” Chen Zhenling, has been taken as a source for discussing an “alternative,” a “women's voice” on such issues as gender relations, bodies and femininity in relation to modernity and nationalism.24 However, Linloon Magazine was not strictly a “women's magazine” – certainly not in its first two years (March 1931–beginning of 1933). The journal was not exclusively designed for, edited by, or read by women. Rather, it was a new product created by the San Ho Company to stimulate the market. This can be seen when self-definitions in Linloon Magazine and its “parallel text,” Pictorial Weekly, are compared. Linloon Magazine was initially designed in March 1931 to be a lifestyle and leisure magazine aimed at both educated female and young male readers, although female readers were emphasized. As stated in its publishing goal from its very first issue, Linloon Magazine was conceived as an exquisite combination of addressing the “women question” and offering “sophisticated entertainment.”25 In August 1931, Pictorial Weekly, the “parallel text” to Linloon Magazine, proclaimed that it was “especially welcomed by women, but even more admired by young people [of both sexes].”26 Similarly, Linloon Magazine did not forget its male readers. It even launched a short advertisement from September 2, 1931 to January 1, 1932, that addressed this male reader: “Brother Ying, if you want to have a perfect love life, a happy family, and find a job successfully, you should read ‘Linloon Magazine’ regularly.”27 In addition, both the Chinese and English titles of Linloon Magazine constantly changed from 1931 to 1933, alternately including and excluding the term funü (literally: women) or “ladies.”28

Only between September 1932 and August 1933 did Lin Zecang begin to focus on female readers in Linloon Magazine, whereas Pictorial Weekly targeted male readers – and this was advertised aggressively. Thereafter, as a result of marketing and interaction between editors and readers, Linloon Magazine became a more gendered magazine that clearly targeted female readers. It is difficult to find hard evidence to explain why the publishing strategy was unstable at the time, but most likely Lin Zecang was trying to maximize readership and profits. It seems that once Lin knew that Linloon Magazine's female readership was stable, he began to divide its readership by suggesting that Pictorial Weekly was for men, while Linloon Magazine was for women. When the editors of Pictorial Weekly realized in August 1931 that, although the journal targeted young people of both sexes, its major readership was female, it tried to direct female readers to purchase Linloon Magazine.29 An advertisement in January 1932 stated, “If men read Pictorial Weekly, [then their] happiness is incomparable; if women read Linloon Magazine, [then their] worries disappear.”30 Also, in January 1932, Pictorial Weekly published an announcement in Linloon Magazine, entitled “Speak Up against Unfairness towards Men.” It says that although it was fairly “reasonable” for Linloon Magazine to “attack men,” the magazine ridiculed men so much that “male readers were unsatisfied.” Pictorial Weekly would, therefore, start a new column called “Speak Up against the Unfairness.”31 Even more radically, Lin later openly advocated a style of “attacking,” which purposefully encouraged the two pictorials to compete with each other, claiming that Linloon Magazine was “to discuss women's issues, promote elegant and beautiful lives, and attack men,”32 whereas SYHB was designed to “attack women.”33 These examples clearly reflect Lin's marketing strategies, and explain why Linloon Magazine shows a prevalent tendency of “misandria” (while keeping up some misogynist attacks as well), as Mittler pointed out.34

Both in Pictorial Weely and in Linloon Magazine, advertisements reveal elements of “attack” against both sexes. For example, one advertisement in Pictorial Weekly claims on the one hand to “attack women,” while on the other, it states that the journal is “most welcomed by young people and women,” as well as “deeply favored by fashionable women, and greatly admired by fashionable young men.”35 I would argue that simultaneously attacking and welcoming (wo)men was precisely one of the editorial strategies that Lin successfully used. Satire becomes an “editing style” that could potentially draw both male and female attention.

In the first two years of its publishing history, then, Linloon Magazine was not exclusively designed for women, nor was it edited by women, or only read by women. This was so in spite of its misandric rhetoric, in spite of its being personalized as a female “little sister” of other magazines, in spite of its female voice (albeit by male and female editors) and in spite of the fact that as a “gendered” journal, it focused on femininity and gender relations.36 Yet women did become the journal's most important and openly targeted readers after 1933. The choice of particular visuals and their framing on the pages of Linloon Magazine, to be discussed in the second part of this chapter, may illustrate how Linloon Magazine eventually did become “a magazine of her own” – by and through editorial agency.

II The Circulation of Nudes: Reading Linloon Magazine against Pictorial Weekly

Both Linloon Magazine and Pictorial Weekly used visual materials, and indeed, visuality was essential to their market success. Depictions of nudes, and especially nude photographs, were important elements in shaping both Linloon Magazine and Pictorial Weekly as modern and artistically sophisticated journals.37 What is the function of nudes in Linloon Magazine and how is it different from that of those found in other periodicals, such as Pictorial Weekly, however? To what extent would the difference in representation of the nudes in the two journals, if any, reflect a different implied readership? This section compares how nudes were displayed in the two periodicals through an integrated reading.

Female Nudes: Healthy or Scandalous?

An identical image published in both journals gives us a good basis to compare. Figure 2.1 is a stand-alone nude photograph published in Linloon Magazine, depicting the upper body of a female nude. The darkness of her hair and background is contrasted with the lightness of her body. It is presented as an artwork with specific aesthetics; yet the caption relates the nude to notions of “health and beauty” (jianmei).38 It says, “Women in our country are always satirized for being either healthy without beauty, or beautiful without health. The picture above is a healthy and beautiful woman. Who, then, can say that women cannot have healthy and beautiful physiques?”39 The caption thus attempts to draw the readers’ attention to the discourse of jianmei rather than the aesthetic values of the nude, although readers might have “resisted” this suggested reading.40

Fig. 2.1 A semi-nude, Linloon Magazine, 1:39 (1931), 1534

Yet this image was not necessarily bound to the jianmei discourse. Half a year later, it was used in Pictorial Weekly (Figure 2.2). After describing the woman's “graceful posture and medium stature,” the caption explains, “Li Li, a dancing girl from Peking, used to be an actress in the Peking Qingtian Film Company. She has moved to Shanghai now, and is one of the famous dancing girls in Shanghai. This is a photo of her in the semi-nude.” Instead of commenting on her physique, the explanation concentrates on her profession as a movie actress and famous dancing girl, and offers ambiguous associations between her semi-nude photograph and her profession. More sensationally, a long story entitled “Sixty thousand yuan for a dancing girl; Li Li's whole lovelorn story” occupies the entire front page next to her picture. It recounts one of Li Li's scandalous affairs, and explains why she had the semi-nude photo taken:

At first, Li Li was renowned in the circle of dancing girls in Peking. She had broad social contacts, and did not care much about social conventions. Therefore, she didn't reject the invitation to take nude photos of her. She came to Shanghai after the 9·18 Incident, and met Zhu Lide, employee at the post office, at the old Carlton Dance Hall…41

Unlike the caption in Linloon Magazine, the story emphasizes not Li's beautiful physique but her carefree attitude about social conventions, which allowed her to have the photo taken. The photo serves to illustrate this social gossip, full of sex and crime. To avoid the combination of the semi-nude image and the related scandal around her not being considered “sophisticated” enough, he added an “Editor's Note,” questioning “how those lechers and married men would think about it?”42 His question functions as a warning, which prevents the report from being entirely scandalous. As analyzed in the first section of this chapter, Pictorial Weekly had begun to focus more on male readers from January 1932. Li's nude photo was obviously used to attract this readership's “male gaze,” to bring men “incomparable happiness (kuaile wubi).”43

Fig. 2.2 A semi-nude, Li Li, Pictorial Weekly, 8:366 (1932), 49

An identical nude image was thus used as an instructive figure for an implied, mostly female audience in Linloon Magazine, while it was interpreted as an ambiguous illustration to a report on sex and scandals prepared especially for the male palate and gaze in Pictorial Weekly. In fact, circulating identical or similar photographs – not necessarily nudes – between Linloon Magazine and Pictorial Weekly was a common phenomenon (see Figure 2.3). Generally speaking, Pictorial Weekly connected these images to social activities or current affairs, or used them to satirize women, while Linloon Magazine deliberately related these images to fashion, health and beauty and used them as part of their instructive advice, or sometimes as a way of “attacking men.” The phenomenon suggests that images are not intrinsically gendered, and that the same images can be used and read differently in different journals. Editors would use captions and stories to frame and interpret one and the same image differently in different journals, guiding implied male/female readers to diverse – sometimes even opposite – ways of seeing. I call this the power of “editorial agency.”44

Fig. 2.3 Examples of photographs circulated between Linloon Magazine and Pictorial Weekly

Male Nudes: Good Example for Physical Training?

The style of “attacking men” in Linloon Magazine, as we might predict, could easily be taken as reflecting the female voice: a style created by and for women, and thus published in a women's magazine. Yet “attacking men” was not a unique attribute of Linloon Magazine, nor was it necessarily voiced by and for women. Figure 2.4, for instance, is one of three male nudes (out of forty-five standalone nudes) published in Linloon Magazine between 1931 and 1934.45 It represents an aesthetics of strength and masculinity, or “cuirasse ésthetique” as art historians would put it. The caption reads, “It is most important for men to train their bodies, [thus] not only can [their] spirit be delighted, but also [they] can dispel illness and live longer. This image clearly shows the fully developed muscles of a physically healthy man. Who knows how many men from our country have such a physique?”46 The last sentence disparages the physiques of Chinese men, well known in contemporary discourse on the “sick man of Asia,” while referring to the discourse of “health and beauty.” In the context of Linloon Magazine's “attacking” style, the critique can be understood as a female satire of men.

Fig. 2.4 A male nude in Linloon Magazine, 1:17 (1931), 606

The colophon of the seventeenth issue shows, however, that a man, Zhou Shixun, was the editor of the “Entertainment” section, in which Figure 2.4 appears. He therefore should have been responsible for the editorial decision. Even if he was aided by other editors, only Lin Zecang and Lin Zemin's names were listed on the colophon; both of them were male. The only supposedly female name, Chen Zhenlin, was not even listed as an editor on the colophon, but on the page of the “Woman” section. The voice of Linloon Magazine was therefore again controlled by male editors.

Was Linloon Magazine the only magazine that satirized men or male nudes, in order to evoke a sympathetic response from female readers? The male nude in Figure 2.5, which was published in SYHB, is similar to the nude in Figure 2.4. The image was included in the column “Photography Studies” (Sheying yanjiu lan) in Pictorial Weekly in 1930, more than one year before the publication of Figure 2.4 in Linloon Magazine. Typically edited by Lin Zecang (sometimes by Lin Zemin), the section was a fixed space for both (male) professional and amateur photographers to exchange information on photochemistry, exposure settings, photographic masterpieces, and the activities of the China Photographic Society. The fact that the male nude was included in this section indicates the editors’ appreciation of its artistic value. The caption of the image is almost the same as the caption of Figure 2.4. Comparing these two captions, we can see that the caption of Figure 2.4 in Linloon Magazine was based on the one in Pictorial Weekly (Figure 2.5) published a year before: the disparaging sentence is identical. The only difference is that one sentence that is absent in Pictorial Weekly has been added in Linloon Magazine: “not only can [their] spirit be delighted, but also [they] can dispel illness and live longer.”47 The additional sentence in Linloon Magazine emphasizes how men can benefit from physical training. This is in accord with our observation of Li Li's semi-nude and its presentation in Linloon Magazine: Here, the images would stress the ideology of beauty and health rather than eroticism. In this case, however, the image was gendered by a female voice in a gendered journal.

Fig. 2.5 A male nude in Pictorial Weekly, 5:250 (August 9, 1930), 399

The Global Context

The (mostly Western) nudes in Linloon Magazine were part of the global circulation of visual materials between periodicals, reproducible photographs, and photographic albums. In the pre-Linloon Magazine era, Lin Zecang was already aware of the circulation of nude images, and had established his taste, criterion, and channels for selecting and publishing nudes.48 He announced that he would not publish images of Chinese nude models from the very beginning of Pictorial Weekly in 1925. Yet he never rejected Western nudes, especially “world photographic masterpieces” of nudes, which he often published in the column “Photography Studies.” Before 1931, all the nudes he selected for publication were not “full nudes” in his understanding. To Lin, “a full nude photo” would mean a completely exposed (usually female) nude who posed very close to the camera. In the summer of 1930, after his publishing enterprise suffered from the global economic crisis, he started to “reform Pictorial Weekly.” His new policies included focusing more on women-related content, and publishing more images that displayed “healthy female physical beauty.”49 His San Ho Company started to openly advertise its desire to trade artistic nude photos, imported from the West. Not long after he introduced these new policies, Linloon Magazine was founded. Therefore, Linloon Magazine was very likely a consequence of the economic crisis, and it was created to increase his market-oriented publishing business. The integration of nudes, thus, could neither be isolated from the journal's commercial purposes, nor from its global context.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the publication of popular journals was a huge business not only in China, but also in Europe and North America. Large numbers of foreign magazines were imported into China, but very little is known about them. In many cases, we must assume the nudes in Linloon Magazine were reproduced from reprints of photos, photographic journals and fan magazines from around the world; the satirical images in Linloon Magazine were reproduced from French or American journals, although sometimes we lack sufficient evidence to identify precisely from which journals, or how the editors acquired them. What we do know is that foreign bookstores such as Kelly and Walsh in Shanghai, for example, provided readers with periodicals such as The Illustrated London News, Punch, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.50 Importing magazines might also have been good business for companies. In an advertisement in Linloon Magazine, the Dahua Magazine Company (Dahua Zazhi Gongsi) claims, “our company transported more than two thousand kinds of novels, magazines and newspapers from Britain, America, Germany and France.” In addition to direct sales, the company also offered subscriptions to any foreign magazine.51

Lin Zecang understood that foreign magazines were an extremely rich source for his publishing enterprise. He was also aware that a number of his well-educated readers were interested in these magazines. In an Editor's Note in 1929, he encouraged readers to “translate the essence of magazines from all over the world, and then send them to us together with the original copy. [Readers] could also send the original copies and copperplate pictures.”52 It would not be surprising if certain readers thus became contributors to Pictorial Weekly and collected miscellaneous materials for the journal. Linloon Magazine continued the tradition, and aimed at “collecting the essence of various magazines in the world.”53


This chapter has examined gender issues and the use of nudes in Linloon Magazine. It appears that the birth of Linloon Magazine was more a commercial event than an effort to create a purely “feminized space.” This means that in studying gendered journals, we should consider the role of male editors, or male “editorial agency,” more carefully. A particular style of “attacking men” in Linloon Magazine was not necessarily adopted because Linloon Magazine was a “women's magazine,” nor was it purposefully done by “female editors.” On the contrary, in many cases, it was male editors who manipulated the female voice for commercial purposes; the gendered target of a journal could be as much of a construction as the gender of women or men is. After examining the circulation of nudes in Linloon Magazine and Pictorial Weekly, I further found that images are not intrinsically gendered, but rather gendered through editorial framing. Editors selected and interpreted the same materials in different ways for variable implied audiences, in shaping the styles of their journals. In Pictorial Weekly, female images were often connected to social activities, to current affairs, or sometimes to satirizing women, while in Linloon Magazine, female images were deliberately associated with fashion, health and beauty (jianmei), instructive advice, or sometimes “attacking men.” Generally speaking, nudes in Linloon Magazine often emphasized the ideology of beauty and health rather than eroticism. All of these findings complicate the question of what can or must be called a “women's magazine” or a “gendered journal”; to what extent is our assessment of these publications affected by our assumptions of the gender of the editors? Finally, this chapter asserts the value of engaging in carefully integrated and situated investigations in our study of these multifaceted texts.

* An early version of this paper was presented at the conference “Gender & Transcultural Production: Chinese Women's Journals in their Global Context, 1900–2000,” May 13–15, 2011, SOAS, London. I am thankful for the invaluable comments by Professors Nathalie Cooke, Barbara Mittler, Joan Judge, Michel Hockx and two anonymous reviewers. I am also grateful to Matthias Arnold, Annika Joest, and Li Yu-Chieh, who have been closely working with me on Linglong – Linloon Magazine in the database “Chinese Women's Magazines.” Some materials regarding the background of Linloon Magazine and Sheying huabao have been included in one of my Chinese articles, “Cong Sheying huabao dao Linglong.”

1 The concept of “cultural brokers” is drawn from Rudolf G. Wagner; see his “The Role of the Foreign Community”; “Joining the Global Imaginaire.” For earlier scholarship see Hagedorn, “A Friend to Go between Them” and Richter, “Cultural Brokers.”

2 The Chinese word linglong literally means “small, cute and smart,” “exquisite,” “petite,” and the magazine is also referred to in English as Petite. It describes the important features of Linloon Magazine. On the one hand, the actual magazine was pocket-sized, and it was designed to be easy to carry around; on the other hand, the title Linglong personalized the magazine and made it emotionally more accessible to its readers. For a detailed discussion of the possible meanings of the title Linloon, please refer to the introduction to Linloon Magazine in the WoMag database Website:

3 On the complexity of the “women's voice” in women's magazines, see Beetham, A Magazine of Her Own?

4 Lee, Shanghai Modern, 86–88. See also Li Keqiang, “Linglong zazhi.”

5 See “Linglong Women's Magazine.”

6 Mittler, “In Spite of Gentility.”

7 Mittler, Portrait of a Trope, chapter 1.

8 Gary Wang, “Making ‘Opposite-Sex Love.’” Gary Wang's article is based on his MA thesis. A few other MA theses on Linloon Magazine have been produced in the last few years, both in Taiwan and in mainland China, such as Kong Lingzhi, Cong Linglong zazhi kan.

9 Yen, “Body Politics”; Yunxiang Gao, “Nationalist and Feminist Discourses on Jianmei”; and Edwards “The Shanghai Modern Woman's American Dreams.”

10 A number of well-educated and talented young graduates supported Lin's achievements in publishing and photography as contributors or editors. Many of them were Lin's relatives, who received elite education and were exposed to “Western” culture. For example, Lin Zemin (d. 1938, male, editor of photography) and Lin Zeren (?–?, male, editor of the column Common Knowledge/Changshi) were Lin Zecang's younger brothers; Gao Weixiang (b. 1906, male, contributor) was his cousin. Other editors were Zhou Shixun (male, editor of the column Entertainment/Yule), Huang Shiying, Ye Qianyu (1907–1995, male, editor responsible for Fine Arts/Meishu), Liang Xinxi (b. 1908, female, copy editor from 1932), Cao Lengbing, Zong Weigeng, and Liang Yongfu.

11 Lin first went to study at St John's University in 1921 and then Kwanghua University after the May Thirtieth Movement in 1925. St John's University enjoyed great fame for its high-quality education, its English-speaking environment, and its high tuition. It was one of the most prestigious (church) universities in Shanghai, or anywhere in China at that time. See Xiong Yuezhi and Zhou Wu, Sheng Yuehan daxue shi.

12 At the beginning the English name was “China Camera Club.” It was changed to “China Photographic Society” in 1926. See Lin Zecang, “Sanhe gongsi.”

13 Lin Zemin, “Canguan Yingguo huangjia sheying xuehui.”

14 As Lin commented in 1937, three kinds of products were regularly sold by the company from the very beginning: table tennis equipment, photos of movie stars, and photographic devices. See Lin Zecang, “Sanhe gongsi,” 80. Of the three, “photos of movie stars” were possible sources of images used for reproduction in Linloon Magazine.

15 Changshi issue no. 13 is dated Feb. 1, 1928. Since the newspaper was published every three days, it was perhaps founded at the beginning of January 1928. The newspaper existed for four years, and later was incorporated into Linloon Magazine as a column; see Linglong 1.4 (1931): 126. Lin Zecang's name usually did not appear in Movie Radio News as editor, but as founder (chuangban zhe). The publisher was given as San Ho Company. There is no known scholarship on the relation between Movie Radio News and other publications founded by San Ho, to my knowledge. The information on Chinese and Foreign Movie News and Essence Weekly appears in Zhu Junzhou, Shanghai tushuguan. However, the information is not easy to find, because the Chinese name of the San Ho Company contains a typo, and no editor's name is listed.

16 An editor's note in Pictorial Weekly literally said that Linloon Magazine “is our journal's little sister” after Linloon Magazine published two issues. The female personalization of Linloon Magazine shows how Lin initially designed and positioned Linloon Magazine. See SYHB 6.281 (1931): 247.

17 See Linloon Magazine 1.30 (1931): 1138. Lin and Liang were married in 1932; see Linglong 2.70 (1932): 953. Most scholarship so far has assumed that Liang Xinxi was male.

18 Both Gary Wang and I myself have individually tried to identify Chen Zhenling over the past years. Except for a few books of the Linglong Series (Linglong congshu), we discovered very little about Chen's further publications. Nor did we find any photos. As Gary Wang points out, Linloon Magazine published a huge number of photos of female authors and readers, and it is unlikely that Chen's photo would not have been published if she was a real person. Moreover, in a group photo of editors employed by the San Ho Company in 1937, no female editors can be clearly identified. See “Sanhe gongsi shiwu zhou jinian quanti zhiyuan sheying.” Judging from the hairstyle and the outfit, such as long jackets and suits, most people should be male, but the sex of the person in the first row in the left corner, for example, remains unclear. However, even if the person was female, it should be Liang Xinxi, as she was the editor-in-chief of Diansheng at the time.

19 Women's Daily is preserved in very poor condition together with Movie Radio News. As part of Movie Radio News 545 (Nov. 10, 1933), Women's Daily was marked as Issue 301. Further research is necessary.

20 Linglong 1.1 (1931): 5. The rhetoric “throat and tongue” was recurrently used in later advertisements for the journal, and presented one of the foci of the journal's self-representation.

21 Gary Wang, “Making ‘Opposite-Sex Love,’” 247.

22 For more detailed information see my PhD dissertation “Body Un/Dis-Covered.”

23 It is one of the slogans repeatedly advertised; see, for instance, Linglong 1.5 (1931): 147.

24 See, for instance, Gao, “Nationalist and Feminist Discourses,” 548.

25 The publishing goal was “to promote women's ‘elegant and beautiful’ lives, and encourage ‘sophisticated entertainment’ in society.” See, for example, Linglong 1.1 (1931): 13.

26 SYHB 7.302 (1931): 12.

27 My emphasis. The advertisement was published from September 1931 to January 1932 in the following issues: Linglong 1.25 (Sept. 2, 1931): 915; 1.28 (Sept. 23, 1931): 1024; 1.31 (Oct. 14, 1931): 1209; 1.39 (Dec. 9, 1931): 1510; 1.42 (Jan. 1, 1932): 1661.

28 The Chinese title of the journal included funü (women) for the first time in vol. 3, no. 96 (May 24, 1933), and it continued to be used sporadically until the Chinese title was finally stabilized from vol. 3, no. 107 (Aug. 23, 1933). The English title of the journal was first “Linloon Magazine” from vol. 1, no. 1 (March 18, 1931) to no. 25 (Sept. 2, 1931); then it was changed to “Ladies’ Magazine” from vol. 1, no. 26 (Sept. 9, 1931) to no. 29 (Sept. 30, 1931). Then vol. 1, no. 30 (Oct. 10, 1931) changed to “Lin Loon Magazine” again, exactly when the advertisement targeted male readers. This situation continued until vol. 2, no. 62 (Aug. 10, 1932), and vol. 2, no. 63 (Aug. 17, 1932) started to add “the Ladies’ Journal” to “Lin Loon Magazine.” A few months later, vol. 3, no. 90 (April 5, 1933) replaced the title with “Lin Loon Ladies’ Magazine,” which lasted to no. 217 (Dec. 25, 1935). The English title disappeared from no. 221 (Jan. 22, 1936) on.

29 Gao Weixiang, “Sheying huabao.”

30 See advertisement in SYHB 7.324 (1932): 188.

31 Linglong 1.46 (originally misprinted as 45) (Jan. 27, 1932): 1873.

32 Linglong 1.48 (April 27, 1932), 1941.

33 See advertisement in SYHB 7.352 (1932): 308. The advertisement claims to “attack women” on the one hand, but also claims to be enjoyed by women and youngsters on the other. I analyze it later in this chapter.

34 Mittler, “In Spite of Gentility.”

35 SYHB 7.302 (1931): 12.

36 Similar examples of how male editors manipulated the “female voice” and female authorship can be found in Victorian magazines; see Beetham, A Magazine of Her Own? 188.

37 In this chapter, “nude” or “nudes” will be used merely as a technical term to refer to images of (1) totally unclothed bodies; (2) upper bodies unclothed; (3) bodies scantily clad with transparent materials. The theoretical debate over “nudity” and “nakedness,” which is not directly relevant to the situation in China at the time, is dealt with in my PhD dissertation.

38 Cf. Gao, “Nationalist and Feminist Discourses.”

39 Linglong 1.39 (1931): 1534.

40 Cf. Fetterley, The Resisting Reader.

41 SYHB 8.367 (originally misprinted as 366) (1932): 49.

42 Ibid.

43 See Sanjiaojia, “Li Li pai luoti zhao.” According to gossip, Li Li's semi-nude photo was taken by Chu Baoheng, a professional photographer who allegedly had an affair with her.

44 See Sun, “Body Un/Dis-Covered.”

45 The image is counted as a “nude” in spite of the briefs worn by the man. Few photographs of male nudes were published in pictorials from the 1910s to the early 1930s. The majority either posed in briefs or exposed only their upper bodies. See Sun, “Body Un/Dis-Covered.”

46 Linglong 1.17 (1931): 606.

47 The complete caption of Figure 2.5 is, “It is most important for men to train their bodies. This image clearly shows the fully developed muscles of a physically healthy man. Who knows how many men from our country can have such a physique?” SYHB 5.250 (1930): 399.

48 For detailed information on Lin's attitude toward nudes as well as the sources of nude photographs selected for publication in Linloon Magazine and SYHB, see Sun, “Body Un/Dis-Covered.”

49 SYHB 5.248 (1930): 377.

50 Huang Haitao [Calvin H. T. Wong], “Biefa yanghang kao,” 232.

51 Linglong 1.30 (1931): 1130.

52 SYHB 5.207 (1929): 49.

53 Linglong 1.48 (1932): 1977.

3 Raising Eyebrows: The Journal Eyebrow Talk and the Regulation of “Harmful Fiction” in Modern China

Michel Hockx *

The journal Meiyu (Eyebrow talk), published from 1914 to 1916, was the first modern Chinese literary magazine edited by and targeting women. It also has the dubious honor of being the first modern Chinese literary magazine to be banned for being obscene and harmful. This paper examines exactly how the banning of this journal came about and how this affected its later reputation and its scholarly treatment up to the present day. I focus on the terminology employed to categorize transgressive publications and on the regulatory and censorial mechanisms involved in limiting their distribution. At the same time, I highlight the significant connection between the representation of women through modern print culture and the perception of moral transgression by regulating authorities.

Although the modern movement in Chinese literature positioned itself largely in opposition to traditional morality, I argue in the main body of the paper that the banning of Eyebrow Talk represents a crucial moment when certain ways of representing love and desire were banished from the realm of cultural acceptability, while others were elevated to the level of elite respectability. I show that gender was an important element in this process and, moreover, that the rising popularity of magazine publishing made the need for state regulation more acute. Towards the end of the paper, I will show that, in present-day China, the boom in online fiction has led to similar concerns and similar types of state intervention, once again aimed particularly at fiction produced by and for women.

Exemplifying the need for “situated” and “integrated” readings of journals, this chapter reads Eyebrow Talk against historical sources that shed light on its significance in discussions about morality and education. I also show how moral verdicts on Eyebrow Talk played a role in its dismissal by literary critics and how these dismissive comments affected scholarly treatment of the journal for many decades. I specifically focus on the role played by a misleadingly formulated reminiscence by the famous author Lu Xun, whose involvement with Eyebrow Talk I demonstrate to have been much more intricate than he himself ever cared to admit. Although I do not provide a “horizontal reading” of any of the issues of Eyebrow Talk,1 the censorship documents I examine provide conclusive evidence that, in the eyes of their contemporaries, journals such as Eyebrow Talk needed to be defined and assessed in terms of the entirety of their contents, including texts, illustrations, covers, and all the other elements that one would normally include in a horizontal reading.

I begin with a brief introduction to erotic fiction from premodern China, as a reminder that concerns about moral transgression in literature existed in China prior to the introduction of modern mechanized print culture.

Premodern Pornography

In her oft-quoted introduction to the collection The Invention of Pornography,2 Lynn Hunt emphasizes the importance of the link between the spread of print culture and the emergence of pornography as “a regulatory category…invented in response to the perceived menace of the democratization of culture.”3 Referring to Walter Kendrick's The Secret Museum, another classic study of the history of pornography, Hunt situates pornography in “the long-term context of the careful regulation of the consumption of the obscene so as to exclude the lower classes and women.”4 Hunt's introduction asserts a direct link between pornography and modernity. Not only did pornography as a “category of understanding” emerge around the same time as Western modernity, but its producers, according to Hunt, belonged to a “demimonde of heretics, freethinkers and libertines” that was integral to Western social and intellectual developments including “the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution.”5

The 1910s and 1920s in China were the period par excellence when Western modernity made its way into China, and terms such as “renaissance,” “revolution,” “science,” and “enlightenment” are part and parcel of intellectual and cultural debates of the period. The introduction of these modes of thinking into China within the space of a few decades has been noted by many scholars. Most studies of Chinese literary culture of the period have not, however, paid much attention to the link between this high-speed introduction of modernity and the development of heretic or libertine genres of literary expression.

Before further exploring potential similarities between Hunt's observations about European pornography and Chinese print culture of the early twentieth century, it is important to acknowledge that China already had a print culture, and indeed pornography, well before the early twentieth century. Giovanni Vitiello, who has done extensive research on late Ming (early seventeenth-century) Chinese pornography, notices similarities between Chinese and European cultural history in that period. Referring to the work of Lynn Hunt, Vitiello writes that “[t]he history of pornography in China parallels that of European pornography.”6 Rather than looking at developments in China as outcomes of Western influence, Vitiello perceives historical symmetries in the sixteenth century that are unrelated to direct contact. These include the rise of the novel and the development of commercial printing, as well as new philosophical attitudes towards feelings and desire that are integral to late Ming Neo-Confucianism. Vitiello prefaces this analysis, however, with the comment that the history of pornography in China is short-lived. By the early eighteenth century, the Qing dynasty had firmly established a regulating category (yinshu or “licentious books”), which, according to Vitiello, rooted out the practice of pornography until the gradual demise of Qing power in the late nineteenth century.7

Dealing also with the late Ming, an essay by Paola Zamperini sets up a direct and detailed comparison between a Chinese pornographic novel and one of the French novels featured in Lynn Hunt's collection. Following Hunt and also referring to Foucault, Zamperini suggests that the historical modernity of European pornography, especially in the early period, lies in its “transgressive nature,” that is, its ability “to challenge existing authority and to suggest new paradigms of thought, identity, and behaviour.”8 Zamperini emphasizes that this ability to shock and challenge the dominant culture is what gives pornography its power, in Hunt's understanding, and also what necessitates its regulation or suppression. In the late Ming novel she studies, Zamperini notes little transgressive potential, since the main female protagonist undergoes a lengthy Buddhist purification to atone for the “sins” of her younger days – although the fact that atonement is at all possible might constitute some sort of challenge to authorities who might have considered harsher punishment.

It seems, therefore, that the first rise of pornography in China did not set in motion the kind of sustained development of a transgressive, anti-authoritarian literary and visual practice and category of understanding that Hunt has outlined for the European case. Whether this is because the early development of the genre was cut short by harsh government intervention (Vitiello) or because the genre itself was less transgressive than its contemporary European counterpart (Zamperini) is hard to say. For the purposes of this paper, however, it is important to bear in mind that a pornographic tradition, as well as regulatory jargon (the category of yinshu), did exist in China prior to the advent of modern mechanized print culture.

Central to this premodern regulatory discourse about pornographic writing was a moralistic discourse about women. If yinshu or “licentious books” were the opposite of proper publications, then yinfu or “wanton woman” was, as pointed out by Keith McMahon (citing Ding Naifei), “the obscene antithesis of the chaste remarkable woman.” The category of yinfu was epitomized by Pan Jinlian, the female protagonist of the Ming dynasty erotic novel Jin Ping Mei.9 McMahon's work on late Qing fiction provides plenty of examples of positive and negative gender stereotypes within the wider context of the late imperial cultural ideal of polygyny (i.e., men entering into simultaneous relationships with multiple women, including a wife, several concubines, and courtesans and prostitutes). By the time Eyebrow Talk came out, in the third year after the fall of the Empire, modern urban elites had started to oppose polygamy. In fact, as we will see, one of the characteristic features of Eyebrow Talk is its celebration of the strictly monogamous relationship between the editor Gao Jianhua and her husband Xu Xiaotian. The banning of Eyebrow Talk therefore heralds a new chapter in the history of Chinese transgressive fiction, as its repression and regulation become intertwined with concerns about general education and women's enlightenment.

Popular Education and Problematic Women

In September 1916, the sale and reproduction of Eyebrow Talk were banned by order of the Ministry of the Interior (Neiwu bu), acting on advice obtained from the Ministry of Education. That ministry in turn had acted on the advice of the Popular Education Research Association (Tongsu jiaoyu yanjiuhui), a committee established by the Ministry of Education itself in order to supervise and control the distribution of popular literature (fiction, drama, and records of public speeches).

As pointed out by Paul Bailey, the discussions at the regular meetings of the Association (the minutes of which are still available and will be referred to later) focused especially on the fight against “sexual corruption.” Bailey notes that many of the books proscribed by the Association were “stories of sexual adventures.” What is interesting in the current context, however, is that most of the banned books mentioned by Bailey have the word “women” in the title and that, according to Bailey, “intimate adventures of women students” later even became a separate category of obscenity meant to be banned.10 Clearly, state concerns about sexual corruption were not gender-neutral and the mere mention of women in the title of a publication could potentially attract censorial attention.

The emphasis on women in Eyebrow Talk went well beyond its title and manifesto. First and foremost, its editor-in-chief was a woman, Gao Jianhua, who also used the name Gao Qin. Gao's dates of birth and death are unknown, but she was most likely born in the late 1880s. She grew up “at the borders of the West Lake” (i.e., in Hangzhou), was educated at Beijing Women's Normal College, and had returned to Hangzhou in the summer of 1914, where she married her cousin Xu Xiaotian (Xu Jia'en, Xu Zehua, 1886−1948), who had apparently been her childhood sweetheart. Xu, who hailed from Shangyu in Zhejiang and came from a respected literary family,11 had been an active revolutionary during the last years of the Qing empire and a member of the anti-Qing revolutionary Restoration Society (Guangfu Hui), which was active in the Zhejiang area between 1904−1907. The female revolutionary Qiu Jin (1875−1907) was its most famous member. Both Gao and Xu are described as having been close to Qiu Jin, and both joined the Restoration Society again when it was revived in the 1940s.12 By all accounts, Gao Jianhua and Xu Xiaotian were a close couple, and they were involved in many other publishing ventures throughout the 1920s and 1930s.13 Xu Xiaotian died in 1948 in a traffic accident. Gao Jianhua is said to have been still alive in Shanghai in 1965. It is not clear when she died.14

The appearance of such a magazine would seem to be a logical outcome of a process that was set in motion about a decade earlier, namely the trend towards the open advertisement of female authorship of fiction. As Ellen Widmer has shown, the popularity of fiction written by, or presented as written by, female authors increased rapidly from 1904 onwards. Such fiction was valued especially for its purported ability “to combat women's seeming ignorance of the world.”15 In other words, women's fiction was considered part of the drive towards enlightening those previously denied formal education. As such it came under the remit of the regulators of “popular education.”

Widmer's observations about authorship raise the question of authenticity: to what extent was women's fiction written by “real” women?16 In scholarship to date, Eyebrow Talk has suffered especially from suspicions pertaining to the gender of its contributors. Consequently, its pioneering status has only recently been recognized. In English-language scholarship, the locus classicus (in fact the only reference to Eyebrow Talk in English scholarship prior to 2003) is a comment by Perry Link, who stated that Gao Jianhua was “a pro forma editor…whose real purpose was to attract attention to the idea of the new-style woman in a magazine written mostly for men” and that most of the fiction published under female names was in fact penned by men.17 Recent scholarship, especially the work of Jin-Chu Huang included in this volume, has refuted this assumption.

Most Chinese-language scholarship on Eyebrow Talk prior to 2004 also cites a brief description of the magazine by Lu Xun (pseudonym of Zhou Shuren, 1881−1936), the most canonical of male writers associated with the “New Culture” movement. In a 1931 essay where he passes a scathing verdict on vulgar, commercial Shanghai culture, Lu Xun gives a sarcastic description of 1910s popular fiction, which he characterizes as superficial romances of the “scholar + beauty” variety. He then mentions Eyebrow Talk:

The monthly journal Eyebrow Talk appeared at a time when the Mandarin-Ducks-and-Butterflies-style literature was flourishing. Although Eyebrow Talk was later banned, the power [of this style] did not wane at all. It was challenged only when New Youth started to become popular.18

In view of the canonical status of Lu Xun in socialist China, this brief comment and the concomitant verdict on the entire genre was sufficient to prevent serious scholarship on Eyebrow Talk for decades. Yet one would have expected that, from the 1980s onwards, as Lu Xun's status diminished and his former nemeses were given ample attention as “alternatives” to the “New Culture” mainstream, someone would have gone back and looked at Eyebrow Talk. This has, however, hardly happened.19 Moreover, Lu Xun's account raises a question: if Eyebrow Talk was representative of such a strong popular current in modern Chinese literature, then why was it banned?

Lu Xun's Lie

When reading about Eyebrow Talk in secondary sources, even recent scholarship recognizing its contribution to women's fiction, it is very difficult to get an impression of the reason it was banned. Things become clearer when one looks at actual original copies of the journal, which are held in various libraries in China, and can be found sporadically in libraries elsewhere. Anyone who is familiar with the general style of literary journals of the 1910s cannot but be somewhat shocked, or surprised, when encountering the cover of the first issue of the journal, which features a woman with one exposed breast.20 The surprise continues in leafing through the pages following the cover. As with most journals of the time, those pages are devoted to reproductions of photographs and paintings, but in the case of Eyebrow Talk, many of those reproductions are images of female nudes or semi-nudes.21 In the 2006 reprint edition of the journal, the quality of the reprint is such that the nudes are hardly visible. Moreover, the reprint does not include the most provocative cover images, but instead has included the “cleansed” covers of later editions (about which more below). Therefore, although access to the contents of Eyebrow Talk is now much more convenient than before, because the reprint has been bought by many libraries, it is still difficult to get a full impression of the visual impact of the original journal. Moreover, even those Chinese scholars who undoubtedly did consult the original remain silent about the dominant presence of nude images in it. Apparently, scholars in China are still reluctant to discuss nudity publicly, making it all the more important that scholars outside China take the lead in studying this particular journal.

At this point it is necessary to point out that nothing in the content of Eyebrow Talk constitutes “pornography” in the absolute sense, as captured in Lynn Hunt's definition of pornography as “the explicit depiction of sexual organs and sexual practices with the aim of arousing sexual feelings.”22 There are no sexual organs on display anywhere in Eyebrow Talk. Even when fully unclothed women appear in images in the journal, the sexual organs are always covered in some way (see Figure 3.1).23 The texts in the journal refer to sexual practices through allusion and innuendo, but they never describe such practices directly. To reiterate, what interests me in this paper is the role that Eyebrow Talk may have played in the development of a more relative definition of pornography as a regulatory category representing sexually oriented cultural material considered unsuitable for popular consumption. And my special interest is in how such a category is constructed in the specific case of the regulation of women's magazines.

Fig. 3.1 Nudes in Eyebrow Talk

By early 1915, i.e., not long after the founding of Eyebrow Talk, the Chinese Ministry of Education seems to have started to take a stronger interest in the regulation of literary journals. The March 1915 issue of Jiaoyu zazhi (The Chinese educational review), a widely read commercial journal that routinely reproduced official Ministry announcements and other policy-related news, contains the text of a Ministry document signaling specific concerns about the lack of good quality literature in China. The text focuses its criticism on “despicable, deviant fiction journals that are harmful to customs” (weibi guaili you shang fengsu zhi xiaoshuo zazhi).24 The document makes special mention of the use of “obscene” (yinwei) front covers, even by fiction journals whose contents are not objectionable. The document ends by calling upon authors and publishers to clean up their act.

Possibly in response to such criticism, new print-runs of the first four issues of Eyebrow Talk that came out after January 1915 carry “cleansed” covers – although the contents were not changed, leaving in place the nude images in the opening pages of each issue (see Figures 3.2, 3.3, and 3.4). Still the journal continued to associate its brand with nudity in different ways, for instance, through an advertisement in the Shenbao of October 13, 1915, which shows an unclothed woman with one breast exposed, while the other breast and her sexual organs are covered by the two characters for “eyebrow talk” (see Figure 3.5). Moreover, as became clear in the process banning Eyebrow Talk in 1916, the publication of nude images was not considered to be its only transgression. Below I shall take a closer look at that process.

Fig. 3.2 Original and “cleansed” covers of Eyebrow Talk 1

Fig. 3.3 Original and “cleansed” covers of Eyebrow Talk 2

Fig. 3.4 Original and “cleansed” covers of Eyebrow Talk 3

Fig. 3.5 Shenbao advertisement for Eyebrow Talk

In July 1915, the Popular Education Research Association was founded by the Ministry of Education. Its members were Ministry officials as well as representatives from educational institutions in the capital and police representatives. The Association's main task was to judge the quality of literary publications, drama performances, and public speeches, with the explicit aim of determining which publications and performances may or may not be harmful to the general public. The Fiction Section (Xiaoshuo gu) of the Association, to which I shall limit myself here, was not simply a censorship office; i.e., it was not just in the business of banning books. It also gave prizes to books it considered especially noteworthy and provided advice about which books to include in free “popular libraries” (tongsu tushuguan) across the country.25

Although it is a well-known fact, it is still especially salient in this context that the individual chairing the Fiction Section of the Popular Education Research Association was the Ministry official Zhou Shuren, i.e., the future canonical author Lu Xun, whose reminiscence about Eyebrow Talk played such a key role in later scholars’ perceptions of the quality of the journal. Although there has been ardent debate in China as to whether Lu Xun participated voluntarily in the banning of books or was only half-heartedly following orders, and although it has been pointed out that by the time Eyebrow Talk was banned Lu Xun had already stepped down from his position, the minutes of the meetings he did chair in the second half of 1915 make it clear that he was the architect of the classification system by which Eyebrow Talk and other similar publications were later banned. Even scholars who have attempted to downplay Lu Xun's involvement in the Association have confirmed that he created the classification system that they considered to be a positive example of his stance against the “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies” school.26 None of the scholars taking part in these debates have attempted to consult Eyebrow Talk or to form an independent opinion about the journal.

An overview of the classification system for fiction, designed by Lu Xun for the Popular Education Research Association, was published in The Chinese Educational Review in December 1915.27 The system proposes that the Fiction Section assess all works of fiction published in China, including both book publications and journals, in terms of a three-tier ranking: upper-rank, middle-rank, and lower-rank. Criteria are provided for what constitute upper-, middle-, or lower-rank works in eight different genre categories, defined by subject matter (education, politics, philosophy or religion, history or geography, concrete matters and science, social issues, fables and jokes, and miscellaneous writings). In most cases, the lower-rank categories are defined in terms of what is unscientific, superstitious, immoral, harmful to customs, or lewd and obscene. The document points out that the Association sees it as its task to try and promote all works assessed as “upper-rank” and that it will seek to “limit or ban” all works assessed as “lower-rank.” The last sentence states that all related visual material (cover images, inside images, and illustrations) will be assessed according to the same criteria.

As part of its regulatory work, the Fiction Section compiled lists that were passed on to the Ministry, to regional associations and libraries, and later also to publishers. These lists are included in the Association's annual reports (baogaoshu) and, when examined with the present context in mind, they draw attention to two further important details about the censorship system. First, the lists create two additional ranking categories, namely a top category called “upper-rank with award” (shangdeng gei jiang) and a bottom category called “lower-rank and banned” (xiadeng jinzhi). Second, the lists show that fiction magazines were assessed as a whole; i.e., a single verdict was made on the basis of one or more issues of the journal and no individual verdicts were made about works of fiction included in those journals.

Throughout 1916 the Fiction Section, by then no longer chaired by Lu Xun, applied these principles to their readings of and discussions about fiction submitted for assessment by the publishers themselves, as well as fiction found on sale in Beijing. Although 1916 witnessed a significant change in government, with Yuan Shikai's attempts to restore the monarchy thwarted and Yuan himself dying soon after, the policy towards popular education and the regulation of fiction seems to have remained relatively consistent throughout. In this context, Paul Bailey observes that Chinese educators involved in regulating fiction between 1912 and 1918 only criticized work considered to have “a damaging effect on sexual morality.”28 Unlike later critics associated with the post-1918 New Literature movement, these educators and regulators did not take an overall dismissive stance towards what would later be called “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies” fiction. This is presumably what Lu Xun meant when he wrote in his later reminiscence that the style of fiction epitomized by Eyebrow Talk remained popular until it was challenged by the New Youth group.

It is indeed the case that the Fiction Section made no attempt at all to exercise a blanket ban on works of the “butterfly” variety. In fact, only a very small number of works were banned, and even fewer magazines, which makes the case of Eyebrow Talk all the more interesting. It confirms that those holding real power to regulate the publication of literary work considered Eyebrow Talk to be on the wrong side of a dividing line between work that was substandard but harmless and work that was substandard and dangerous, and therefore to be outlawed. Seen in this light, Eyebrow Talk represents not the epitome of “butterfly fiction,” but something considered worse than “butterfly fiction.” This might also explain why, in spite of the general rehabilitation of “butterfly fiction” in Chinese academia and more widely in Chinese culture since the 1980s, Eyebrow Talk has remained in obscurity.

Censorial Considerations

As mentioned above, Eyebrow Talk was officially banned only five months after its last issue had come out. It may be that the journal had stopped publication for other reasons, entirely unrelated to the later banning. In my view, however, it is more likely that the publisher, the New Learning Society (Xinxue huishe), which had sales branches in all major cities in China and appears to have derived most of its income from the sale of textbooks, i.e., from educational activity, was sensitive to the policies coming down from the Ministry of Education and closed down the journal pre-emptively. Moreover, the investigation may have taken longer than usual due to the political turmoil that summer. Be that as it may, when the final verdict came in September 1916, the censors’ opinion, as reproduced in the following month's Jiaoyu gongbao (Education gazette), was very clear. Eyebrow Talk was banned because

its language and topics seem specifically aimed at destroying moral barriers and harming social standards. It is the most offensive of all the fiction journals…

The fiction and images printed in Eyebrow Talk are largely of an obscene nature and of ridiculous intention. They seem to have no idea of the meaning of respecting human dignity.29

[emphasis added]

The same issue of the Education Gazette also reproduces the directive from the Ministry of the Interior in which it states its approval of the request for banning and decrees that all sales and printings of the journal must be repressed.30

As suggested in my joint research with Liying Sun,31 the wording of the banning order is important: Eyebrow Talk was not banned just for its images, but also for its fiction. Although no concrete examples are provided, it is possible to speculate which specific content would have been considered, in the words of the banning order cited above, “aimed at destroying moral barriers and harming social standards.” One of our preliminary conclusions is that, apart from the nudity, it was also the description of romantic and physical intimacy, in some cases with sexual overtones and often amplified by the presence of illustrations featuring intimate couples (including same-sex couples),32 that may have been considered transgressive at the time – although as mentioned above, none of the descriptions or illustrations feature explicit sexual activity. Transgressiveness might also have been found in the many texts devoted to celebrating the intimacy between the editor Gao Jianhua and her husband Xu Xiaotian, including a very early occurrence of the “new love-letters” (xin qingshu) genre, as well as references to hugging and kissing.33 These may seem innocuous nowadays but may have been considered harmful in the mid-1910s, especially in the context of a genre (fiction) and a type of publication (illustrated magazine) that was widely perceived at the time as playing a crucial role in popular education.

Further evidence that transgressiveness was found not only in the images but also in the fiction in Eyebrow Talk emerges when reading through the 1917 annual report of the Popular Education Research Association. First and foremost, the report refers in several places to a new journal, entitled Shuoye (literally: Speaking of the armpit), edited by Xu Xiaotian and published by the New Learning Society, of which seven issues were found to be in circulation. The report indicates that although Shuoye appeared to be in book format, it was in fact a journal reprinting large amounts of fiction previously published in Eyebrow Talk. There is no mention of images in the report, yet once again a decision is taken to ban the publication. Just as Eyebrow Talk was the only banned journal on the 1916 list published by the Fiction Section, Shuoye is the only banned journal on its 1917 list.

During its March and May 1917 meetings, the Fiction Section discussed the case of individual works of fiction that had previously appeared (presumably serialized) in Eyebrow Talk and were now published as books. The question was raised if every single work that ever appeared in Eyebrow Talk should automatically be banned, and the conclusion arrived at was that this should not be the case. Fiction Section member Gao Buying presented the consensus opinion as follows, as recorded in the minutes of the meeting: “Mr Gao Buying stated that in the past our Association had banned Eyebrow Talk on the basis of its editorial principles [or perhaps ‘editorial layout,’ bianji tiaoli]. It was never said that all fiction in it should be banned.”

In relation to other cases discussed at the meetings, the censors also expressed concern about the effect of their decisions. They showed themselves well aware of the fact that their banning orders might in fact create more interest in “harmful fiction” (buliang xiaoshuo – the term most frequently used to describe their target), resulting in more illegal copies being distributed. Their lists, which were published in the media and presumably circulated to libraries around the country, might become free advertisements for the substandard works they were trying to suppress. They also showed concern that they could only limit the circulation, but had no means of rooting out the production of “harmful fiction,” because many of the publishing houses were safely ensconced in the foreign concessions in Shanghai, where the Ministry had no jurisdiction. They even went so far as to send a letter to the Jiangsu provincial authorities (responsible for governing the nonforeign parts of Shanghai), asking them to help find a solution. The reply from Jiangsu was simple: they had absolutely no authority over what went on in the foreign concessions. The discussion about this problem also points up another subtle distinction: it is noted that the foreign concessions do carry out their own policies regarding the suppression of obscene (yinhui) material, but that they have no interest in addressing potential harm to “customs” (fengsu). Clearly, the Chinese regulators wished to see a wider category of publications suppressed than their European counterparts who governed the concessions.34 In the case of fiction, their concern was that this genre, considered at the time in China as the most promising form of writing for inspiring and educating the general populace, could become a danger to popular education if it were to focus on transgressive topics.

The content of Eyebrow Talk, however, is by no means solely focused on attempts at transgression. In terms of visual content, the journal's editors demonstrate a comprehensive interest in the lives of women, publishing an extensive series of photographs of Chinese women in different settings and practicing different occupations (see Figure 3.6). In some of its fiction, such as Gao Jianhua's short story “The Words of the Nude Beauty,”35 the theme of nudity is employed to comment on the vanity of adornment and embellishment and the fate of women who functioned only as “pretty property” of their husbands in patriarchal society. Another strong interest of the journal is in the so-called “New Drama” (xinju) movement, which, among other things, promoted the practice of male and female actors appearing together on stage.

Fig. 3.6 Photographs of women's everyday lives in Eyebrow Talk

Interestingly, many of these themes (romantic love, the position of women, the aesthetic appreciation of the nude, new drama) were later taken up by the “May Fourth” generation, including Lu Xun himself. The members of that generation, too, were accused of immorality by cultural conservatives, but somehow they managed to cultivate a “serious,” “detached” attitude that allowed them to establish themselves as connoisseurs, rather than as profiteurs. In contrast, their distaste for and distrust of journals such as Eyebrow Talk stems from their suspicion that its publication was first and foremost a commercial venture, selling libertinism to the uneducated masses without considering the consequences. The trade-off appears to have been that the “May Fourth” generation was itself largely unable to reach out to any readers outside their own circles. Whether Eyebrow Talk really had a much wider readership than, say, New Youth is difficult to verify. What seems clear, however, is that the suspicion that it might reach a wide audience, including a large female audience, together with the topics it chose to address and the often rather playful manner in which it chose to address them, combined to push Eyebrow Talk towards what Bradford Mudge called the “cultural nether world,” while the “May Fourth” generation forced itself to “ascend to the transcendent heights of ‘high art.’”36

Transgression and Regulation in Today's China

In the contemporary People's Republic of China, a postsocialist state with a strongly moralistic government, the issues addressed in this paper are unfolding in fascinating ways on a new playing field: the Internet. Pornography, now defined as the graphic depiction of sexual acts, is banned in China on the basis of a comprehensive moral argument: it is considered “harmful” to all citizens, regardless of age, as opposed to the situation in most Western countries, which stipulate an age-limit of eighteen for legal access to pornographic material. Regulation is most apparent with regard to “popular” media such as film and especially television, but the increasingly popular Internet is much more difficult to regulate. In recent years, online entrepreneurs have begun to undermine the state-owned publishing system by setting up commercial websites for popular genre fiction. These websites function as publishers: they contract authors to serialize their novels on their websites, and they charge online readers for access to those writings. In doing so, they circumvent the regulations of the print-based publishing system, which requires every publication to be preapproved by government censors through the “book number” (shuhao) system.37

Women writers (or male writers using female avatars) appear to have taken the lead in this industry by creating several hugely popular forms of transgressive erotica, which are said to cater to literally millions of predominantly female readers. The most well-known of these genres is danmei (known in English as “Boys’ Love” or BL for short): erotic stories featuring pretty, young, male homosexual partners, often presented as fan fiction based on characters from popular novels, films, or TV series.38 So important is female participation in this industry that literally all the main websites now show, at the top of their home pages, very prominent direct links to the “women's writing” section.

Although strong female participation in the production and consumption of genre fiction is the norm in other parts of the world as well, as is the presence of erotic elements in such fiction, the Chinese case is interesting because the authorities are still hesitant to accept the more erotically tinted works as harmless entertainment, and continue to worry about its effect on China's citizens. In 2007, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which regulates the Chinese publishing industry, announced that it would seek to eradicate “online obscene and pornographic fiction” (wangluo yinhui seqing xiaoshuo). Since 2009, GAPP has been publishing regular blacklists of websites that feature “obscene and pornographic content.”39 Although the word “fiction” now no longer appears in the title of those lists, the actual websites listed are predominantly fiction sites. The uncertain status of the issue is emphasized by the fact that the websites are blacklisted as a form of “naming and shaming”; i.e., it is made public that they carried pornographic content, which they have been asked to remove, but the sites themselves are not closed down. Unsurprisingly, the same sites end up in the Top Three of the lists every time they are published.

The term buliang xiaoshuo (harmful fiction), referred to above as the term of choice to describe transgressive journals such as Eyebrow Talk by the Chinese government of the 1910s, is still in use today. Morally bad fiction is still seen as a force that might corrupt the general populace. Interestingly, the term has also been adopted by netizens wanting to read such fiction and actively roaming the forums to ask if anyone knows where they can download harmful fiction. Some of the genre fiction sites have latched onto this trend by featuring all kinds of works with the word buliang in the title and even floating potential future genre categories such as haokan de buliang xiaoshuo (well-written harmful fiction).

Almost a century after the banning of Eyebrow Talk, Chinese netizens, many of them female, are using a wide range of playful and creative methods to undermine the long-cherished and long-defended link between fiction and morality, as well as the government's authority to regulate both. If the Eyebrow Talk material were to appear on the Internet in China today, most likely nobody would raise an eyebrow (pun intended). In time, this will hopefully result in this journal also receiving at least some measure of dedicated scholarly attention in China itself. As I hope to have shown through this situated reading of the journal, Eyebrow Talk is unique in its ability to shed light on a set of moral and literary standards, as well as a set of educational policies and censorship policies, that have continued relevance to the study of Chinese culture today.

* Part of this chapter is based on ongoing research carried out jointly with Liying Sun. See also her contribution to this volume.

1 When I introduced the concept of “horizontal reading” in 2003, one of the examples I gave at the time was a horizontal reading of part of the contents of the first issue of Eyebrow Talk. Cf. Hockx, Questions of Style, 134–36. A “vertical reading” of women's fiction from the pages of Eyebrow Talk is provided in Jin-Chu Huang's chapter in this volume.

2 Hunt, “Introduction.”

3 Ibid., 13.

4 Ibid., 12.

5 Ibid., 10–11.

6 Vitiello, “The Fantastic Journey,” 296.

7 Ibid., 295.

8 Zamperini, “Canonizing Pornography.”

9 McMahon, Polygamy and Sublime Passion, 18.

10 Bailey, Reform the People, 189.

11 Xu Xiaotian's grandfather Xu Zhengshou passed the jinshi examination in 1829. Xiaotian's brother Xu Jiaxing (Chia-hsing Hsü) was active in Shanghai as an educator and translator and contributed to many publications of the Christian Literature Society (Guangxue hui). More information about the Xu clan can be found on the home page of Mr Xu Baowen, grandson of Xu Jiaxing and great-nephew of Xu Xiaotian.

12 That Xu Xiaotian was an associate of Qiu's is mentioned in all biographical sources about Xu, most tracing back their acquaintance to the Datong school in Shaoxing, where Xu worked under Qiu as principal. In 1929, Xu wrote one of the four prefaces for Qiu Jin's collected posthumous works, edited by her daughter Qiu Canzhi. Gao Jianhua is referred to in most sources as “the youngest of Qiu's sworn sisters (jiebai jiemei).”

13 Some of their later journal publications were similar in style to Eyebrow Talk. Although there were no subsequent instances of banning, some of their projects were met with mistrust and suspicion by others in the magazine world. Cf. Hockx, Questions of Style, 205.

14 Information based on private correspondence with Xu Baowen, July 17, 2011.

15 Widmer, The Beauty and the Book, 253.

16 For an extensive discussion of how notions of authenticity and sincerity affected literary thought about women's writing during the Republican period, see Maria af Sandeberg, “Gender in Chinese Literary Thought.”

17 Link, Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies, 171.

18 Lu Xun, “Shanghai wenyi zhi yipie,” 294.

19 Apart from the research by Jin-Chu Huang, represented in this volume, the most notable exception is the work done by Shen Yan for her MA thesis. See Shen, “20 shiji chu Zhongguo nüxing xiaoshuo zuojia yanjiu.” An otherwise path-breaking study by Xue Haiyan devotes a long section to tabulating works of fiction written by women and published in early Republican journals, but it overlooks Eyebrow Talk. Cf. Xue Haiyan, Jindai nüxing wenxue yanjiu. A later article by Xue indicates that she has now taken notice of Shen Yan's research, and of Eyebrow Talk, and calls for a larger project that might provide a more comprehensive overview of early modern Chinese women's fiction. Cf. Xue Haiyan, “Minchu (1912–1919) xiaoshuo.”

20 The image in question was painted by Zheng Mantuo (1888−1961), who is also famous for having introduced semi-nudes in advertisement posters around the same time. See Laing, Selling Happiness, 115.

21 In most cases they are photographs of Western women, reproduced from so-called “erotic postcards.” Cf. Sun Liying, “An Exotic Self?” 276–277.

22 Hunt, “Introduction,” 10.

23 Although, as pointed out to me by Joseph McDermott in response to a presentation of this research at Cambridge University, it might have been shocking to readers at the time that in many images the women's feet are not covered.

24 “Da shi ji.” According to one Chinese scholar, writing in the 1960s, this document was authored by Zhou Shuren (Lu Xun) in his capacity as Ministry official – about which more below. See Shen Pengnian, “Lu Xun,” 35.

25 Bailey, Reform the People, 205.

26 Cf. Chen Shuyu, “Lu Xun yu tongsu jiaoyu yanjiuhui,” 75.

27 “Tongsu jiaoyu yanjiu hui,” 108−9.

28 Bailey, Reform the People, 190.

29 “Zi neiwu bu.”

30 Ibid., 50.

31 Hockx and Sun, “Women and Scandal.”

32 For a brief discussion of some images of same-sex intimacy in Eyebrow Talk, see Sang, The Emerging Lesbian, 1–3.

33 Xu Xiaotian, “Xin qingshu shi shou.”

34 A relevant context here is constituted by the international treaties concerning the “repression of obscene publications,” the first of which dates from 1910. This might have been the basis on which the foreign concessions regulated pornography. China was at this time not yet a signatory to this treaty (it joined in 1923) but seems to have opted for even stricter domestic legislation. National differences in interpretation of what did or did not constitute an “obscene publication” appear to have thwarted the implementation of such treaties for many years. A fuller treatment of this aspect awaits further research.

35 Gao, “Luoti meiren yu.”

36 Mudge, The Whore's Story, xiii.

37 This system is circumvented by some print-based publishers as well, but arguably not so easily. For a study of the so-called “second channel” in traditional publishing in the PRC, see Kong, Consuming Literature.

38 For a pioneering study of this genre in China and its main website, Jinjiang, which is entirely focused on women's writing, see Feng, “Addicted to Beauty.”

39 I am grateful to Ashley Esarey for pointing me in the direction of this material. For an example of such lists, preserved by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, see

Coda: Women's Journals through the Prism of Late Qing Fiction

Ellen Widmer

My recent book, Fiction's Family: Zhan Xi, Zhan Kai, and the Business of Women in Late Qing China, examines three novels in which women's journals play a crucial role: Nü yuhua (Female jail flower), published in 1904 by Wang Miaoru, Nüwa shi (The stone of goddess Nüwa), by Haitian Duxiaozi, published in the same year, and Nüzi quan (Women's power) by Siqi Zhai (penname of Zhan Kai, 1861?–1911?), published in1907.1 These novels are part of a much larger group written specifically for women readers between 1904 and 19072 and they significantly reflect the changing relationship between women and fiction at this time. Whereas traditional fiction was often risqué and hence mostly off limits for proper women, reformers of the late Qing obviously hoped to upgrade the form and use it as a vehicle of social change.3 In this fiction, the female figure engaging with women's journals at the time would become an object of public discussion and public scrutiny.

Wang Miaoru's Female Jail Flower is generally accepted as the work of a woman. After a few dramatic adventures, one of the novel's heroines, Sha Xuemei, comes across a group of women dedicated to the idea of improving the world from a women's point of view. One among the group is an editor of a women's paper (nübao), whose title is unspecified. The magazine's rhetoric is uncompromising in its call for improving conditions for women, including by violent means. It is also quite anti-male. When a part-time contributor to the magazine falls ill, Xuemei steps in. Eventually she writes a whole novel, Choushu (The book of revenge), for the newspaper. As events in the novel unfold, Xuemei and her group of radical agitators take their own lives after an abortive attempt to improve conditions for women.

Female Jail Flower casts women's journals in a rather ambiguous light. It is partly thanks to them that Xuemei acquires the ideology to cope with her desperate situation. Although she is presented as a positive character, the novel is clearly of the view that she can never fit comfortably in the real world surrounding her. Her methods are too violent, her point of view too uncompromising, and her attitudes toward men too negative. The novel sees more of a future for another female character, Pingquan, who is depicted as more gracious and ladylike and who is able to contemplate marriage, even though she does not finalize plans to marry before the novel ends. The text suggests that education and medicine are safer careers for women than journalism. Journalism, the novel seems to say, can raise important ideas, but it cannot always control the way women readers will respond, and it can lead them into dangers that could threaten their lives.

The plot of the second novel, Goddess Nüwa's Stone, is quite different, but the attribution to women of explosive reactions to women's periodicals is similar. The point is made already in the first chapter. There, a seemingly peaceful woman, Qian Yifang, is provoked by her reading of European history to write a poem and article and submit them to a journal entitled Nü xuebao (Journal of women's learning). The story of Cleopatra, in particular, rouses her to action. She is outraged to think that China's current plight is related to men's predominance in positions of power. Were women to have the right to hold office, they could do a much better job of ruling the country and bringing it out of its current state of humiliation, she believes. Qian's two pieces are quoted in the text, the poem in full, the essay in part. Their radical tone is typical of articles in the actual women's journal of this name (the Journal of Women's Learning discussed in Chapter 10), but the writings are invented.4 Soon Qian Yifang disappears from the unfinished novel and a crew of amazons appears. With this move, Goddess Nüwa's Stone transfers the action to a more fantastic plane.

Although Female Jail Flower never provides a title for the magazine that energizes Sha Xuemei, the fictional magazine she reads and writes for must have been more or less like the Journal of Women's Learning in Goddess Nüwa's Stone in its uncompromisingly radical stance and its unwillingness to work with men. Both novels pose a contrast between more and less radical strategies, and they assign the fictional women's periodicals and the space they provide to the more radical side. Without these periodicals as outlets for women's frustrations, it seems, neither crew of amazons would have been as fully activated.

In the third novel, Women's Power, there is again a contrast between radical and peaceful strategies, and again this is one in which women's journals play a big role. Unlike Zhan Kai's earlier novel of the same year, entitled Zhongguo xin nühao (China's new heroines), this one has no violent women among its main characters, and the plot has been softened in at least one other way: Yuan Zhenniang (this novel's heroine) is pursued by her male friend (she does not actively pursue him). I believe this moderation was intended to reassure readers and censors that the novel's agenda conformed to “proper” boundaries for women.

A key turning point in the novel is when Zhenniang meets a woman who has connections in the newspaper world. She asks Zhenniang whether she would like to try her hand at writing an editorial on women's rights. Zhenniang's first draft is cogently argued, and the woman sees to its immediate publication. Without asking permission, she affixes Zhenniang's name to the document, and Zhenniang becomes famous all over China. She happens to be on her way to a school in Beijing at the time of publication. Once she arrives, her fellow students convince her to found a women's newspaper. It will be called the Nüzi guomin bao (Women citizens’ news). She and the students who will work with her on this project decide upon a set of rules for incorporation. These provide important insights into how women's periodicals at the time may have been run. (Zhan Kai was a journalist and knew the profession well.) The rules pertain to the name of the paper; the amount of money stockholders must raise; the timing of publication (daily); the language to be used (half vernacular and half classical); the election of chief officers by stockholders; the content of the newspaper (editorials, fiction, and news); the establishment of distribution centers in every province; the exemption of articles and letters from publication fees if they help women; the printing only of advertisements that pertain to women; the exclusive employment of women; and the distribution of profits to stockholders, with any extra being used to set up branch offices.5 After sufficient funds are raised through Zhenniang's schoolmates, who represent every Chinese province and can appeal to women's schools in their home areas, permits are obtained from the necessary government ministries, the newspaper is incorporated, and a headquarters is found.

The paper attracts a good deal of attention. Yet trouble arises when women readers extend the space of the journal to real space and attempt to set up clubs and societies in response to this publication. The phenomenon of clubs of female newspaper readers is an interesting offshoot of the newspaper culture described by Zhan Kai. In Hunan interest spreads like wildfire. When the journal advocates freedom from male control, a provision with which Zhenniang disagrees, corrections are made to the charter of Women's Citizens’ News: it becomes less anti-masculine and the radical groups in Hunan also simmer down. A worse problem erupts in Xinjiang. There, women's groups lose control altogether and attack legal authorities, killing several people in the process. Significantly, the violent women are not friends of the heroine but emerge from fringe groups lying well outside her acquaintance.

With this development, reprisals against Zhenniang's newspaper begin. The authorities disband affiliated clubs all over China. As the person in charge, Zhenniang is in danger of being arrested. However, by this time her father has taken a position of political authority in Beijing. Out of courtesy to his rank, the authorities decide not to arrest Zhenniang, but instead put her under house arrest at the newspaper office. The associate editor is then asked to stand in and take the blame. However, she is of frail constitution and dies in prison. Zhenniang is understandably depressed by this sad outcome. When her father asks her to give up newspaper work she accedes. The newspaper will go on, but without Zhenniang at the helm. We later learn that the newspaper continues to attract interest and subscribers, but under another woman's control.

As in Female Jail Flower and Goddess Nüwa's Stone, the fictional newspaper in Women's Power plays an ambiguous role. It makes many credible points, and there is no doubt that its editor, Zhenniang, is reliable (in the author's opinion), in the sense that she is a moderate progressive and believes women reformers should work with and not against men. But whether because its readers are not sophisticated enough, or because of the incendiary nature of the subject matter, women's journals cannot always keep issues from spinning out of control. Even with as reliable a leader as Zhenniang at the helm, Women's Citizens’ News still has the potential to cause violence in outlying areas such as Hunan and Xinjiang. Zhenniang is on much more solid footing, in the author's mind, when she pursues other methods of achieving reform. One possibility is the Zhongguo furen hui (Chinese Women's Organization) that is brought to readers’ attention in an appendix to the novel.

The question can be asked at this point of whether the Women's Citizens’ News was based on any existing periodical, and if so, which. Other than Journal of Women's Learning, there were several newspapers or magazines at the time with progressive enough agendas to have served as models. Among these are Qiu Jin's (1875–1907) Zhongguo nübao (Chinese women's news). As a person whose journalism made her well known, Qiu Jin's experiences are quite likely to have informed Zhan's novels, and it is conceivable that the toned-down quality of Women's Power (in contrast to Zhan's earlier novel) was a response to her arrest and execution.6 However, it does not seem that she or any other woman editors were unique influences. For example, the charter guiding Qiu's Chinese Women's News contains points that are similar but not identical to those for Women Citizens’ News,7 and Qiu's struggles to raise funds for her publication contrast with the perfect ease with which funds for Women Citizens’ News are raised. Additionally, Women's Power is more interested in employment for disadvantaged women, whereas Qiu Jin focuses on the basic indignities faced by all classes of women.

Setting aside the question of which real women's journals may have been models, we find that Zhan's own rhetoric follows that in Goddess Nüwa's Stone quite closely. Thus, his novel suggests that a women's journal can create excessive disruption as well as raising useful questions. A far less incendiary route for women is to work in professions like education or medicine, or join clubs like the Chinese Women's Organization. Unlike Female Jail Flower and Goddess Nüwa's Stone, Zhan does not present amazon-like heroines in his second novel, but his more toned-down female leaders imply a belief that women make their best contributions through professions that do not aim to arouse readers.

We know from the prefaces to his novels that Zhan Kai was quite progressive for his time. He believed that women's rights, including voting and employment rights, were necessary if China was ever to become whole. But he also thought that a strong push in this direction would have to wait until constitutional government was firmly in place, and that women should always work in concert with men. Furthermore, the events his novels describe are set roughly forty years in the future. He does not imagine such reforms occurring any time soon. In these provisos, he is far less radical than Wang Miaoru, not to mention Qiu Jin and He Zhen.

The way readership is portrayed in these novels is also of interest. It is telling that in Female Jail Flower only the more radical Xuemei is shown to be deeply immersed in reading a woman's journal. This selectivity allows the journals to be seen as appealing particularly to radicals. Likewise, when Qian Yifang is outraged by her reading of European history, it is to a woman's journal that she turns. Had her feelings been less inflamed, would Cleopatra's story have led her to submit writings to such an outlet? Similarly, Zhenniang never sought to enter the newspaper business, and she eventually left it behind. Can we deduce from this evidence that calm women, women with sophisticated reading skills such as Zhenniang, would prefer to stay away from women's journals? Or was it rather that the novelists wanted to oversimplify, portraying these journals as intent on rupturing the status quo and thus coding them as more incendiary than they really were? This second alternative accords with the iconography by which women's journals were linked to amazons and violence in Female Jail Flower and Goddess Nüwa's Stone. If Zhan Kai deliberately removed amazons from his second novel, whether or not in response to Qiu Jin's fate, he may have done so advisedly, with a sense that some woman readers preferred quieter modes of self-expression or that censors would find less to object to in what he had to say. The overriding point is that in our novelists’ view women's periodicals provided the space to foster incendiary reactions. Circumspect, progressive women might prefer face-to-face encounters as a less risky means of contributing to progressive change.

These possibilities suggest that women's journals had an impact not only on women readers, who may or may not have known how to handle them, but also on male literati, who worried about their impact – the space these journals opened up to women had not been calibrated sufficiently. It is in the case of a woman author, Wang Miaoru, that they play the most positive role, even though they largely disappear once Pingquan appears on stage. Both male writers, Haitian Duxianzi and Zhan Kai, are clearly more worried about the power of women's journals to lead women astray. Yet none of our authors cast such concerns in terms of their own anxieties. Instead we are shown the “objective truth” that women's journals would provoke disaster if proper precautions were not exercised. Considering that our novelists wrote on the eve of, or even after, Qiu Jin's arrest and execution, we might agree that they had a point about disaster. But this consideration does not fully explain their tendency to write their own fears and cautions into their novels. If we sought the full truth of what it meant to have radical women's journals on the scene in the late Qing, we would want to go beyond the novels considered here.

Our three novels tell us something about what happened when new journals for women emerged during the late Qing. Even if we look only at the fears they generated, we can conclude that their impact was profound. In addition, Women's Power is of value for its detailed information about the steps one had to take to launch such a journal, although it sometimes makes the process sound easier than it was. As long as one remembers that they are fiction, these three novels lend useful insights into how early women's journals were received by contemporary readers. They draw a map of the unsettling thoughts that these journals’ pioneering opening of new space for women's articulations and women's concerns had engendered.

1 Widmer, Fiction's Family. Women's Power is the second of two reformist novels by this author, both published in the same year: the title of his earlier novel is Zhongguo xin nühao (China's new heroines).

2 For a fuller list of such titles see Aying, Wanqing, 120–33.

3 See David Wang, Fin-de-siècle Siecle, 23–30.

4 I am indebted to Nanxiu Qian for help with this point.

5 See p. 34 of the first edition in the Shanghai Library. Amy Dooling calls this part of the novel a “how to” manual for setting up a newspaper. See her “Revolution.”

6 Qiu died on July 15, 1907, by the Western calendar. This is the sixth day of the sixth month by the lunar calendar (the sixth month runs from July 10 to August 8 on the Western calendar). Both of Zhan's novels were published in the sixth month of Guangxu 33. China's New Heroines was printed at the beginning of the sixth month; Women's Power was printed in the sixth month, not necessarily at the beginning. Adding this evidence together, we come up with the possibility that China's New Heroines came out before Qiu's death and Women's Power came out afterwards.

7 On Qiu's draft charter see “Chuangban,” 10–11.