An Exotic Self? Tracing Cultural Flows of Western Nudes in Pei-yang Pictorial News (1926–1933)

Chapter

Abstract

After Western nudes were introduced to China during the Late Qing, they were often condemned as immoral and obscene. Their public circulation was thus strictly limited before the mid-1910s. Yet, as of the mid-1920s, the perception of Western nudes had changed: now they were considered beautiful and made into icons as the symbols of ‘Western civilization’. As a consequence, the art form flourished and formed substantial flows in Chinese print, later becoming indispensable in Chinese pictorials such as Pei-yang Pictorial News (Beiyang huabao 北洋畫報). This interesting cultural phenomenon challenges us to think of Western nudes in Chinese print in terms of ‘transculturation’: what was the broader cultural context of the occurrence of Western nude images in the West? What were the crucial factors before/after nudes were reprinted in pictorials that allowed these images to be de-contextualized, reframed and reinterpreted for the Chinese context? Who were the agents? (How) was Western culture objectified during this process? By examining flows of Western nudes as manifested in Pei-yang Pictorial News from 1926 to 1933, I will trace the origins of the Western nudes found in these periodicals, while exploring the roles such pictorials played and the transcultural strategies editors employed when integrating Western nudes into Chinese culture. I will argue that Pei-yang Pictorial News created a type of ‘exotic Self’ by means of surrounding the nudes with traditional Chinese cultural elements as well as framing them with captions that were loaded with Chinese literary allusions. Imported nudes were thus empowered with a distinct Chinese cultural imaginary.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese Studies and Modern History, Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”Heidelberg UniversityHeidelbergGermany

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