Sinology, Feminist History, and Everydayness in the Early Republican Periodical Press
This article merges two approaches in what I am calling a horizontal reading of the women’s periodical press in early twentieth-century China. Feminism’s skepticism of all-encompassing narratives and attentiveness to the circuitous routes through which knowledge is produced make these multigenre, multivocal, and multiregistered materials legitimate objects of historical study. At the same time the methods of sinology, which combine competence in the mutating forms of Republican-era written Chinese with openness to new theoretically inflected approaches, help to unlock their aporetic richness. Aimed at capturing rather than disciplining the chaotic richness of these publications, this horizontal method reads the range of materials within women’s magazines against one another: discursive essays against photographic portraits, and advertisements against readers’ columns, for example. Rather than seeking the discursive logic articulated in selected essays—the prevailing scholarly approach to the periodical press—the horizontal method aims to capture the naturally occurring oddities of quotidian print matter. These oddities, in turn, highlight productive disjunctions inherent in Republican culture. Such a reading deepens our knowledge of the dramatic early twentieth-century changes that altered the course of modern Chinese history and enriches our understanding of the demographic that was arguably most affected by those changes—urban women. It also offers an alternate vision of how those dramatic changes were lived and understood, not in terms of a series of stark binaries that pitted “Western modernity” against “Chinese tradition” but through blended accommodations grounded in the intimate details of daily life.