The "Good Companion"
Liangyou tushu yinshua gongsi (literally, the Good friend books and printing company), established in Shanghai in 1925, clearly followed in the footsteps of the Commercial Press. Its founder, Wu Liande, an enterprising businessman who had once worked for the Commercial Press, was able to enlist such literary luminaries as Zhao Jiabi, Zheng Boqi, Ma Guoliang, and Zhou Shoujuan as editors. With its flagship journal, Liangyou huabao, the company quickly carved out a market for pictorial journals and other popular magazines. Following the example of the Commercial Press, it also sponsored the publication of collectanea and repositories, of which the most famous were Liangyou wenxue congshu (Liangyou's collectanea of literature), Liangyou wenku (Liangyou repository), and Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi (Compendium of new Chinese literature)—the last item has remained a useful compendium for all students of modern Chinese literature. In an advertisement announcing the expansion of the company, it boasted about "the creation of a new era in the field of printing," since it was the first publishing company to specialize in photography. It also sponsored publication of half a dozen journals: in addition to Liangyou huabao, we find a cinema monthly—among the first of its kind—Silver Star (Yinxing); a journal entitled Modern Woman (Jindai funü); a weekly on the arts (Yishu jie), edited by the four "decadent" aesthetes Zhu Yingpeng, Zhang Ruogu, Fu Yanchang, and Xu Weinan; and a quarterly devoted to the world of athletics (Tiyu shijie). These magazine titles suggest the company's chief commercial direction: arts and entertainment. That such magazines satisfied an urban demand seems self-evident, but it is also likely that the demand was created by the magazines themselves.
At first glance, Liangyou huabao immediately impresses the reader with its large size—it is larger than Dongfang zazhi. For a pictorial, it contains a fairly heavy dose of written material, but its attraction obviously lies in its visual features. On the cover of each issue is a photograph or portrait of a moderately modern woman, with her name printed underneath. This may have been a continuation of a convention established by late Qing courtesan newspapers, in which a number of "famous flowers" (mostly courtesans who were acquaintances of the editors) appeared on the covers. But instead of courtesans Liangyou huabao covers featured "new-style" women of considerable renown. For instance, Lu Xiaoman, the coveted paramour and later wife of the famous poet Xu Zhimo, appears on the September 1927 issue. A photograph of the famous actress Anna May Wong (Huang Liushuang) appears on the cover of the June 1927 issue—a personal gift from her to the editor Wu Liande (her inscriptions are in English). This public display brings a sense of both realism and glamour. However, beginning in 1927, the
I am not prepared to argue that the women on the front covers served no other purpose than as commodified "objects" intended to arouse male desire. Rather, I think the magazine's intended readership may have consisted of more women and school-age youths than adult men. Self-identified as a good companion (liangyou) to the reading public, the journal could not flaunt prurient interests but had to maintain a good reputation in order to maintain its large circulation. This good reputation was established, however, not through any intellectual clout or scholarly depth, but through good-natured gestures of friendliness. The editor's words in the front pages of the beginning issues certainly give us such an impression—that the journal serves as a good and constant companion in the daily lives of its readers. In the third issue (April 15, 1926), the editor, assuming the guise of a spirit (Liangyou zhi shen), greets the readers on the front page:
Good morning, dear good friends:
As you open the first page this morning and meet me, I am really a little abashed, and I don't know what to say. So I'll just say good morning and wish you good health. I was an ignorant youth, but thanks to your loving care I have been on friendly terms with you for about two months. I am even more grateful to you for not forsaking me due to my ignorance, and from now on I vow to be a good person, a reliable person, and your trusting and loyal friend.
In another issue the "Words from the Editor" column brings the "friend" even closer to the quotidian lifestyle of the intended reader: "When you are tired from work, pick up a copy of Liangyou and read through it; you can be assured that your energy will revive and you'll work better. When you're in a movie theater before the music begins and the curtain is drawn up, pick up a copy of Liangyou and read
To attribute the above merely to the ingenuity of the editor would be too easy, since behind such words lurk both a conscious intention and a cultural context. Just as the editors of Dongfang zazhi and Wanyou wenku capitalized on the obvious need for new knowledge, the editors of Liangyou huabao sensed and exploited the public need for a new urban lifestyle on the quotidian level. Naturally this need was better served by a pictorial magazine. A useful comparison can be made between the journal and its late Qing predecessor, Dianshizhai huabao (Pictorial from the stone-tablet studio), which revealed the popularity of such a medium. In the late Qing intellectual context, the Dianshizhai pictorial, which consists entirely of drawings in the traditional style (with no photography), is more "fantastic" in content but nevertheless aimed to inform and enlighten the reader with new knowledge by illustrating the wonders of the world. By the time Liangyou huabao was published, that intellectual task was being accomplished by the Commercial Press. At least in Shanghai, modernity, as evidenced by the transliterated term modeng, could be seen as an emergent urban style of life. Thus Liangyou huabao ushered in a second phase of pictorial journalism, one that reflected this urban taste for the modern life—which, beginning in the early 1930s, became further glamourized by the numerous movie magazines. It is in this context that I wish to pay more attention to its coverage of women and youth, for I believe that from this coverage unfolds another story of Chinese modernity.
Not only do women grace the front covers of Liangyou huabao, they also occupy a central position in the magazine's contents, of which the first and last few pages are entirely devoted to photographs; other photos and illustrations, including comic sketches (manhua), are interlaced with written articles. We can only imagine how an issue of the magazine was read by readers of the time, but the reading process would inevitably involve an experience of both visual and written "pleasures." The reader, if reading in sequence, would first look at the front cover and then the photos on the first few pages of the magazine before reading the articles. Or a reader might look at all the pictures and then choose a few articles to read. In either case, a chain of visual links is formed, with or without the written contents. It is highly unlikely that a reader of a pictorial magazine would read only the written and ignore all the visual materials. Thus I would like to attempt a rudimentary visual reading by focusing on pictures of women.
The woman on the cover may not have much to do with the contents of the issue; still, her look and dress serve to establish an initial surface impression that may be linked to other pictures inside the magazine. In some cases, some of the photos inside are variations (more photos or paintings) of the same cover woman as she models seasonal fashion. For instance, Ms. Yang Aili wears a spring or summer dress on the cover of the May 15, 1926, issue, but inside she wears a winter garment
I argue, however, that fashion-consciousness plays only a small part in these photos and drawings about women's fashion. (There were no fashion models then, as there was no such profession yet.) Rather, they reflect a consciousness of dress itself, which provides an index to a new range of sensibilities in the lives of urban women of the middle and upper classes. For I believe that the photos delineate a set of domestic and public spaces in which these categories of the "well-dressed woman" live and move: from the bedroom to the ballroom, and from the living room to the movie houses and department stores. Thus it is not surprising that by 1930 dress-consciousness had widened to include a consciousness of interior decoration and furniture. In issue No. 50 (1930) we find well-dressed women sitting in different rooms of "a typical modern home": two photos of the parlor with modern furniture; two photos of the bedroom with emphasis on the colors and tones of the wallpaper; and the children's bedroom with a bed, chair, and large drawing of an animal on the wall.
On the basis of these photos, it would seem that woman's place is still at home, albeit in a modern space, together with her children. In fact, this domestic link— women and their children—is repeated in almost all the advertisements. At first glance, this domestic picture seems to contradict the earlier May Fourth discourse, which centered on the image of an emancipated Nora—an independent woman who, like Ibsen's character, leaves her traditional family to lead an independent life. Still, I argue that this does not necessarily indicate a conservative retreat from the radicalism of the previous decade. The narrative that can be derived from reading through the Liangyou huabao is one that revolves around women's new roles in a modern conjugal family into which are woven other aspects of an evolving style of urban bourgeois life. Whereas, as these advertisements suggest, women's new roles are still in the home, it is a home made anew by all the modern conveniences and interior design. The domestic space of the household is now fully "publicized" in the open, and as such has become a public issue. As indicated in the numerous photos and articles in the journal, this public discourse of new domesticity