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Mediasphere Shanghai

Mediasphere Shanghai: The Aesthetics of Cultural Production

Alexander Des Forges
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    Mediasphere Shanghai
    Book Description:

    For many in the west, "Shanghai" is the quintessence of East Asian modernity, whether imagined as glamorous and exciting, corrupt and impoverishing, or a complex synthesis of the good, the bad, and the ugly. How did "Shanghai" acquire this power? How did people across China and around the world decide that Shanghai was the place to be? Mediasphere Shanghai shows that partial answers to these questions can be found in the products of Shanghai’s media industry, particularly the Shanghai novel, a distinctive genre of installment fiction that flourished from the 1890s to the 1930s. Shanghai fiction supplies not only the imagery that we now consider typical of the city, but, more significantly, the very forms—simultaneity, interruption, mediation, and excess—through which the city could be experienced as a business and entertainment center and envisioned as the focal point of a mediasphere with a national and transnational reach. Existing paradigms of Shanghai culture tend to explain the city’s distinctive literary and visual aesthetics as merely the predictable result of economic conditions and social processes, but Alexander Des Forges maintains that literary texts and other cultural products themselves constitute a conceptual foundation for the city and construct the frame through which it is perceived. Working from a wide range of sources, including installment fiction, photographs, lithographic illustrations, maps, guidebooks, newspapers, and film, Des Forges demonstrates the significant social effects of aesthetic forms and practices. Mediasphere Shanghai offers a new perspective on the cultural history of the city and on the literature and culture of modern China in general.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6356-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Conventions and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    For twentieth- and twenty-first-century readers around the world, “Shanghai” is a name with real power, denoting the quintessence of modernity in East Asia, whether conceived of as glamorous and exciting, as corrupt and impoverishing, or as a complex synthesis of the good, the bad, and the ugly. How did the name Shanghai acquire this power? How did adventurers, refugees, and businessmen and women from across China and around the world know that Shanghai was the place they wanted to go? How did they learn what to expect when they arrived and how to become “Shanghai people”(Szahaenin)? I suggest that...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Rhetorics of Territory, Mixture, and Displacement
    (pp. 29-55)

    Although Shanghai was only a county seat in the Qing administrative hierarchy, the city came to occupy a unique position in the Chinese literary and cultural imagination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Looking back on this period, T. A. Hsia aptly likens Shanghai fiction to European writings about Paris and London.¹ From the works of Balzac and Hugo to those of Flaubert and Zola, from Dickens to Arthur Conan Doyle, Paris and London were seen as intoxicating and dangerous worlds apart, home to a “system of potentially unlimited energetic transformations and exchanges … an overheated circuit of...

  7. CHAPTER 2 From Street Names to Brand Names: The Grid of Reference
    (pp. 56-72)

    In 1892 Shanghai appears for the first time as a 360º panorama. Seen from the tower of Trinity Church through the lenses of photographers like Tomishige Rihei, the city is a collection of buildings organized into a grid by a system of streets and alleys (fig. 3).¹ This focus on the detail of the urban fabric constitutes a striking departure from Wang Tao’s climb to the highest point in the southern city some three decades earlier; in his record of the trip, published in 1875, Wang took care to inform the reader that one could see for severalli, but...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Synchronized Reading: Installment Aesthetics and the Formation of the Mediasphere
    (pp. 73-92)

    The 1890s saw not only the introduction of panoramic photography, arranging Shanghai’s buildings within a systematic grid of reference, but also a new focus on the urban crowd. The adoption of lithographic printing made cheap mass production of pages crammed with detailed images possible; in illustrations like Wu Youru’s “Echuan huoqi” (fig. 5), the artist makes full use of lithography’s potential to fill the page with a new level of exactness.¹ Earlier artistic representations of urban crowds, such as the Song dynasty handscrollQingming shanghe tu(Spring festival on the river), were expensive rareties that could be appreciated only at...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Desire Industries: Constant Motion and Endless Narrative
    (pp. 93-113)

    Of all of the innovative and unprecedented features ofLives of Shanghai Flowers, surely the most disconcerting was its abrupt ending, leaving readers caught in a moment of high drama without any clear resolution. In the concluding chapters of the novel, Zhao Erbao (Zhao Puzhai’s sister) has gone into debt to establish herself as a worthy match for Third Master Shi, a wealthy young man of good family, who leaves Shanghai at the end of the eighth month but promises to return in the tenth month to marry her. When it is heard months later that he has had a...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Brokers, Authors, “Shanghai People”
    (pp. 114-130)

    Given the centrality of broader structures such as the grid of reference, figures of simultaneity and interruption, and the dynamics of desire and excess to Shanghai installment fiction, what kinds of agency are available to the characters inside and outside the text? What subjectivities can an individual located in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Shanghai assume? How might Shanghai residents inoculate themselves against—and even profit from—the perils of excessive leisure consumption? The answers to these questions are not self-evident. The opium addict, for example, rarely appears as a figure of any consequence in Shanghai installment fiction, despite his...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Marxists and Modern Girls: Shanghai Fiction and the 1930s
    (pp. 131-159)

    The preceding chapters have argued that Shanghai installment fiction plays a crucial role in Shanghai cultural production from the 1890s forward and suggest that this fiction articulates the terms on which the city would be understood in the decades to come. Most scholarship on Shanghai literary production draws a clear distinction, however, between realist and modernist fiction of the 1930s and ’40s and earlier Shanghai narratives. Realist and modernist authors are understood to work primarily in a transnational mode, referencing Japanese and European precedents rather than earlier literature in Chinese. This chapter analyzes Mao Dun’s classic realist novelZiye(Midnight,...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Lineages of the Contemporary and the Nostalgic
    (pp. 160-179)

    T. A. Hsia’s diasporic literary archaeology highlights a persistent trope in the reception of Shanghai installment fiction from the May Fourth era forward: we must “excavate” or otherwise rescue texts that have fallen into obscurity and brush off the layers of dust that stand between them and later audiences. Whether this dusting takes the form of an enthusiastic preface to a 1920s reprint edition, a letter to one’s brother teaching in the United States, a “translation” of dialect portions into standard Mandarin in the 1970s and English in the years to follow, or imaginative adaptations of the form to new...

  13. Epilogue: Shanghai 2000
    (pp. 180-184)

    In an article written soon after the appearance of the filmFlowers of Shanghai, Xudong Zhang suggests that we should understand Shanghai nostalgia in the 1990s as a kind of defense mechanism, “a sentimental Chinese response to a global ideology” that functions as a means to “absorb a socioeconomic shock.”¹ Linking the work of Eileen Chang and Wang Anyi to dynamics of socioeconomic change and questions of class identity clearly opens up productive avenues for analysis; in this concluding chapter, however, instead of emphasizing the reactive qualities of Shanghai nostalgia, I would like to return to the question of how...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 185-238)
  15. Character Glossary
    (pp. 239-244)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-266)
  17. Index
    (pp. 267-278)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-284)