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Public Passions

Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China

Eugenia Lean
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnk29
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  • Book Info
    Public Passions
    Book Description:

    In 1935, a Chinese woman by the name of Shi Jianqiao murdered the notorious warlord Sun Chuanfang as he prayed in a Buddhist temple. This riveting work of history examines this well-publicized crime and the highly sensationalized trial of the killer. In a fascinating investigation of the media, political, and judicial records surrounding thiscause célèbre,Eugenia Lean shows how Shi Jianqiao planned not only to avenge the death of her father, but also to attract media attention and galvanize public support. Lean traces the rise of a new sentiment-"public sympathy"-in early twentieth-century China, a sentiment that ultimately served to exonerate the assassin. The book sheds new light on the political significance of emotions, the powerful influence of sensational media, modern law in China, and the gendered nature of modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93267-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the fall of 1935, a woman by the name of Shi Jianqiao discovered that her sworn enemy, ex-warlord Sun Chuanfang, had become a leading member of the Tianjin Qingxiu lay-Buddhist society (jushilin) on Nanma road.¹ Shi made several visits to the society’s congregation site to learn of Sun’s schedule, and on the morning of November 13, 1935, she planned to take action. Sun was scheduled to lead the sutra-recitation session that day, but things did not seem promising for Shi at first. The retired militarist was late because of the rain. And, when Sun finally appeared, Shi had to...

  6. ONE The Assassin and Her Revenge: A Tale of Moral Heroism and Female Self-Fashioning in an Age of Mass Communication
    (pp. 21-48)

    Just after killing Sun Chuanfang, Shi Jianqiao distributed the poem above to witnesses at the crime scene. Composed by the assassin herself, the poem was in the form of seven-character, regulated verse (qiyan lüshi). As such, it was part of the tradition of lyrical poetry (shi), a literary genre long regarded as particularly effective both for expressing one’s inner-most thoughts and sincere feelings, and for arousing the emotions of others.¹ To an audience familiar with this poetic tradition, Shi Jianqiao’s poem brimmed with passion and sincerity.² Shi’s obsessive dedication to avenging her father is evident in the first line, and...

  7. TWO Media Sensation: Public Justice and the Sympathy of an Urban Audience
    (pp. 49-76)

    In a decade when high-profile news events seemed to be the norm, the case of Shi Jianqiao managed to stand out. The 1930s saw several assassinations of political figures, and high-profile female murderers emerged with considerable frequency. The Nationalist regime relied upon an informal military corps to engage in political murder of its enemies, and revenge killings of militarists were not unprecedented. A strikingly similar case of filial revenge had taken place just three years earlier when Zheng Jicheng assassinated retired militarist Zhang Zongchang to avenge the death of his uncle (wei shu baochou).¹ Plenty of women were also engaging...

  8. THREE Highbrow Ambivalence: Fear of the Masses and Feminized Sentiment
    (pp. 77-105)

    Although it describes a contemporaneous crime of passion that featured a female assassin by the name of Liu Jinggui, a case to which I return in detail at the conclusion of the chapter, the epigraph for this chapter nicely illustrates how, despite public interest in them, crimes featuring passionate women caused considerable anxiety to elite observers. In contrast to the celebratory reception of the Shi Jianqiao affair in the urban media and the entertainment world, more “highbrow” social commentary published in newspaper editorials, legal journals, leftist periodicals, social and political weeklies, and the women’s press took a rather negative view...

  9. FOUR The Trial: Courtroom Spectacle and Ethical Sentiment in the Rule of Law
    (pp. 106-140)

    The trial of Shi Jianqiao turned out to be a highly complex legal affair. The court case began on November 21, 1935, only eight days after the assassination, with the local prosecutor filing an official charge against female defendant Shi Jianqiao in the Tianjin District Court. The document presents the facts of the assassination in a fairly straightforward manner: ten years earlier, Sun Chuanfang captured and killed the defendant’s father, Shi Congbin. The defendant had harbored a desire for revenge ever since. Not long before the killing, she bought a Browning handgun and six bullets from an unknown retired soldier,...

  10. FIVE A State Pardon: Sanctioned Violence under Nationalist Rule
    (pp. 141-179)

    On October 14, 1936, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the Nationalist government announced that it was granting Shi Jianqiao a pardon. This was not the first time that the central regime had decided to pardon such a criminal. The Nanjing government had issued a similar reprieve to Zheng Jicheng, who had appeared on the public stage in 1932 under circumstances that were remarkably similar. Like Shi, Zheng had killed a retired militarist to avenge the murder of a father figure. Whereas Shi had killed ex-Jiangnan military leader Sun Chuanfang, the son had killed northern militarist Zhang Zhongcang. While Shi...

  11. SIX Beyond the 1930s: From Wartime Patriotism to Counter-Revolutionary Sentiment
    (pp. 180-206)

    In this final chapter I examine Shi Jianqiao’s post-pardon career to inquire into the fate of sentiment beyond the 1930s and to address briefly the question of historical memory. In reviewing Shi Jianqiao’s participation in War of Resistance relief efforts, I first offer a few thoughts regarding how Shi Jianqiao’s feminized moral sentiment inspired the collective emotion of modern patriotism (aiguo) during the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s and 1940s. Shi Jianqiao was the perfect candidate to lead a local resistance movement and embody the sentiment of Chinese patriotism. After Japan’s relentless bombing campaign of the hinterland...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-214)

    Given that our contemporary world is characterized by a truly global consumer culture and media economy, it is interesting to cast a glance back to an earlier period when mass media were just starting to shape the political participation of a new mass citizenry worldwide. Transitioning societies throughout the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed how high-profile criminal trials and media sensations became arenas in which social and moral issues were subject to scrutiny and examination. 1930s China was no exception. Marked by a rising mass media, a state aggressively trying to centralize, and a fledgling...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 215-248)
  14. Glossary of Selected Chinese Names and Terms
    (pp. 249-256)
  15. References
    (pp. 257-274)
  16. Index
    (pp. 275-290)