AUTHOR’S RESPONSE TO REVIEWS OF REPUBLICAN LENS
I would first like to thank the two reviewers for taking the time to read Republican Lens so closely and for their insightful comments. I will respond to the lengthier review first.
I am grateful to the reviewer for his/her detailed description of much of the content of the book and for his/her high praise for its method which he/she states helps resolve the intractable problem of accessing the level of everyday experience. I, nonetheless, feel that I need to offer a corrective to the way the book’s methodology is presented at certain points in the review. The reviewer notes that he/she is not an historian and this may be the source of confusion. He/she claims the book is a work of social history and suggests that its main feature is quantitative data and statistical analysis. This is patently false. The book is a work of cultural history and contains very little quantitative data (with a few exceptions such as figures for the circulation of the journal or rates of maternal and infant mortality in the chapter on women’s reproductive health). While the book comes out of a larger project that has created a database of women’s periodicals, this database, as the term digital humanities suggests, serves the ends of qualitative humanistic research more than it does statistically-grounded social science research. The reviewer seems to conflate impersonal data (the basis of social scientific research) with more personalized and qualitative historical detail. As a work of cultural history the book is indeed rich in such historical detail (too rich, the reviewer seems to suggest). Its methodological aim is to illuminate the interactions between different levels of analysis: between the details of lived and constructed everyday experience, and the larger social, print and political conjunctures with which they intersected.
The reviewer also makes an argument about theory that requires clarification. He/she claims that no theory is cited in the book. Republican Lens is indeed more source-driven than theory-driven. It is, however, theoretically informed in ways that seem to have eluded the reviewer. While he/she invokes Walter Benjamin several times in the review, the theorists who inform the analysis in Republican Lens are not directly named in the narrative. A close reading of the book (and its endnotes) nonetheless reveals the contribution of a number of theorists to its conception of cultural history (notably Roger Chartier) and gender history (such as Joan Scott and Denise Riley), and to its analysis of everyday life (among them Michel de Certeau), of the text-image relationship (including W. J. Mitchell), and of photography (such as Giorgio Agamben), to give a few examples. At the same time, it is perplexing that the reviewer makes only very cursory reference to the conceptual framework of the book which is laid out in the introduction and woven into subsequent chapters. Three prime tensions serve as the scaffolding for this framework: the tensions between reform and commerce, between epic and everyday aspirations, and between male strategies for advancing social reform and the female tactics that often contradicted them. The latter in particular, which builds on de Certeau’s analysis of the practice of everyday life, is completely overlooked in the review.
While Walter Benjamin’s work is, as the reviewer notes, highly suggestive for reflections on urban modernity, Paris is a less apposite point of comparison for the Shanghai of Republican Lens than the reviewer suggests. Superficial similarities aside, the differences between the semi-colonial Chinese treaty port city and one of Europe’s great capitals are as profound as the differences between the 1911 Revolution and the 1789 and 1848 revolutions. With its foreign concessions (which housed the print industry) and its mixed population, Shanghai was a much more cosmopolitan, politically complex, and culturally hybrid city than Paris. The effort to apply Benjamin’s and Hippolyte Taine’s reflections on world exhibitions to exhibition culture in early twentieth China is also suggestive but ultimately limited. The exhibition of student works discussed in Chapter 5 was much less about the fetishization of commodities and the glorification of their exchange value than it was about their use value—a key theme of the chapter. At the same time, China’s participation in global exhibitions was more about cultural and political capital than it was about economic capital.
One of the reviewer’s main criticisms of the book is its critique of the May Fourth critique of early Republican commercial culture. The reviewer asks for more precise references to this critique and suggests that it can be more accurately traced to left-wing writers in the 1930s than to the May Fourth era itself. The reviewer is correct in stating that the label “mandarin duck and butterfly” writings which came to encompass the early Republican commercial press gained traction in the 1920s and 1930s. The critique itself, however, as several authors have shown, began with May Fourth intellectuals. Given the number of scholars cited in the book who have already eloquently and substantively made this argument (including Theodore Huters, Fan Boqun, Chen Jianhua, Perry Link, and Denise Gimpel) and given that I was not writing a genealogy of the critique but rather a redemption of the work that was criticized, there was no need to go into further detail. It is true that the above mentioned authors have generally dealt with literary journals rather than with general interest or women’s journals like Funü shibao. The latter was, however, clearly part of the same commercial print culture as the maligned literary magazines: the reviewer him/herself refers to the journal’s editor, Bao Tianxiao (whose name he/she consistently mistakenly writes as Bao Xiaotian), as a “mandarin duck and butterfly writer”—a label I dispute as did Bao himself.
Another substantive criticism concerns the use of the classical language in Funü shibao and particularly in the women’s poetry published in the journal. The reviewer asserts that the use of the classical language to articulate new, reformist ideas did not reflect the vitality and dynamism of the language as I state (and as Wu Shengqing has beautifully argued at greater length in Modern Archaics: Ornamental Lyricism in China, 1900–1937). The reviewer suggests that these early Republican authors used the classical language by default, because they had not yet become proficient in the vernacular. This is not true. Bao Tianxiao, as I demonstrate in the book, was one of the earliest promoters of baihua—he published two journals in the vernacular in Suzhou in the first years of the 20th century, Lixue yibian (Compendium of translations to encourage learning) and Suzhou baihua bao (Suzhou vernacular journal). Bao clearly felt the demotic language had particular uses, first and foremost to communicate new ideas to a less learned audience, not to articulate complex reform ideas to his educated peers. Even if the female poets did not have the same facility with baihua as authors such as Bao did, this in no way detracts from the power of their expression in classical poetic modes.
There are many other points I could take up from this detailed and thoughtful review. I will just briefly clarify one of these. The reviewer states that I confusingly use James Cahill’s article on “beautiful women” (meiren) paintings to argue that the female figures who appear on the covers of Funü shibao were not typical meiren. He/she is referring to the wrong Cahill article, however. In this instance I am not citing Cahill’s “Meiren or Beautiful Women Paintings: A Survey” but his “Paintings Done for Women in Ming Qing China?” In this latter article Cahill discusses a little-known genre of paintings of women that were created for women’s private viewing in the inner chambers. It is this genre of painting that has fascinating resonances with the figures on the Funü shibao covers who defy meiren conventions.
The main critique raised by the second reviewer is an excellent one: that we need to be as attentive to the various genres of images in and around Funü shibao—from “high” oil painting to “low” graphic arts—as we are of various genres of texts, and that we need to analyze the interactions between these various genres of images, for example between Chinese women’s photographic portraits and the female figure in European fine art. The richness of the images in journals like Funü shibao certainly lends itself to this kind of analysis which is already starting to be undertaken by talented emerging art historians.
Finally, these two excellent reviews with their profound insights particularly into the images in the journal could not, of course, address all of the issues raised in Republican Lens (two that received little attention, for example, are women’s reproductive health and strategies for discerning female authorship). For another discussion of the book in which some of these issues are addressed, please see the podcast available at http://newbooksnetwork.com/eastasianstudies/2016/01/19/joan-judge-republican-lens-gender-visuality-and-experience-in-the-early-chinese-periodical-press-u-of-california-press-2015/