Liangyou: Kaleidoscopic Modernity and the Shanghai Global Metropolis, 1926-1945

IMG_4859One of the nice things about going to UC Irvine is that during my coursework years, I had the option of taking classes at any other UC campus at no cost beyond a little bit of paperwork and administrative hassle. For one reason or another, though, it never worked out before my third year as a doctoral student, when I was finally able to work a seminar at UC San Diego into my schedule. Professor Paul Pickowicz welcomed me into his history class on visual culture in Republican Shanghai, and I happily spent two quarters reading through the Liangyou huabao (The Young Companion Pictorial) and writing a research paper about how women and sports were presented in the magazine. At the end of the spring quarter, we held a conference and invited other scholars interested in Liangyou to present their work. The papers from that conference have just been published, in a beautifully produced book that recently arrived on my doorstep, Liangyou: Kaleidoscopic Modernity and the Shanghai Global Metropolis, 1926-1945.

Liangyou (lee-AHNG-yo) was a periodical published in Shanghai between 1926 and 1945, something like Life magazine in the U.S. It featured photo spreads of movie stars (both Chinese and foreign), reports on new buildings and architectural achievements, lifestyle advice, travel stories, and so forth. Though the magazine was headquartered in Shanghai, its coverage was global, and Liangyou represented an important source of information about the world for many Chinese who would never cross the borders of their country—or perhaps even their home province. Liangyou, as we discussed many times during our conference, was a “kaleidoscope” for readers interested in modernity and China’s place in the world: each time they opened the magazine, they encountered a different variety of pictures depicting the latest and greatest from China, Berlin, Tokyo, New York, and elsewhere. The magazine issues are fascinating to read through, as some of the biggest feature stories are things that we’ve never heard of today! I am always interested in which stories endure and which ones seem important at first, but then fade as the years go by.

My essay in the book examines how Liangyou reported on women and sports during its first several years of existence. The magazine occasionally ran a sports page (Liangyou is consistent in its inconsistency of structure—features often disappeared after running for only a few issues), but only men were presented as athletes. Women were generally pictured as genteel young ladies who pursued exercise as part of their well-rounded lives (seeking a healthy mind in a healthy body), but they weren’t often photographed with their medals or championship cups as men were. At the same time, the fact that young Chinese women of the 1930s were participating in athletics at all was significant—only two or three decades before, many of them would have been hobbled by bound feet since childhood.

I’m pretty pleased with how my article turned out, and it’s really exciting to see it in print. This is basically my first “real” academic publication—a paper that I researched, presented, saw go through a round of peer review (one reviewer thought it was great, while the other seemed to think that I should consider a career change), and revised before it was finally published. The whole process, from that initial seminar at UC San Diego through holding the book in my hands, took just under three years. That’s probably about average (or maybe even fast) for an academic publication.

The book is gorgeous, with rich photographs and nice heavy-weight paper. (Unfortunately, that means it’s priced to match—a copy will cost you $127.) It’s a little too heavy for me to haul back to Shanghai when I return next month, so one of my goals before I leave is to sit down and read through the essays. Though I read them all in first draft form during the conference, I know that every one of the contributors made extensive revisions as the book came together. So in many ways, I feel like I’ve received a totally new book—which is a nice start to 2014.

Happy New Year!

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