It remains for me to discuss one last specimen in this series of commercial advertisements for modernity—perhaps the most significant one, as it provides the crucial temporal scheme of everyday operation—the commercial calendar.
The commercial calendar began as an advertising gimmick introduced by Western capitalism—principally the British and American tobacco, medicine, cosmetic, textile, and oil companies. As early as the second decade of the twentieth century, the American Tobacco Company (Yingmei yancao gongsi) had introduced offset lithographic printing, formed its own advertising department, and set up an art school for the sole purpose of training commercial artists. But its domination was soon challenged by native Chinese entrepreneurs, in particular Huang Chujiu, the owner of the Great Eastern Dispensary and the Great World Amusement Building, who spotted the artistic talent of a Hangzhou painter, Zheng Man-tuo, and promoted him. Thus calendar posters painted by Zheng and his disciples became most sought-after items, thereby establishing a new tradition of commercial art that combined traditional Chinese painting techniques with modern design (sometimes framed with art deco patterns) and utility. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the calendar poster reached a peak of popularity.
The basic composition of the commercial calendars is the same for each: an oblong rectangular frame, like that of a traditional Chinese painting, with the portrait of a woman occupying about two-thirds of the frame, and at the bottom a calendar; on top of either the large frame or the calendar is printed the name of the company advertising its commodity: usually cigarettes or medicine. In some ways this makes for a perfect summation of some of the central elements I have discussed in this chapter: the calendar poster features not only the veneer of modernity as seen through advertisements but also the paraphernalia associated with the women in the pictures. In fact, the cover women in Liangyou huabao and the women in the calendars bear some striking similarities in terms of fashion, posture, and facial expression, and the background landscapes are similar. The calendar portraits also exhibit a painting technique that, while clearly linked to traditional brush styles and popular roots (such as the nianhua, or New Year pictures, in rural households), nevertheless added some innovative touches. This new vogue was popularized by Zheng Mantuo and his friends and disciples. A special technique of Zheng's was to begin drawing the woman's face with charcoal powder and then touch up with colored hues, thus creating a tender, subdued look. This kind of "portrait of a lady in modern dress" (shizuang shinu tu) became a representative fixture of the calendar, and the discerning viewer or collector supposedly could even see "her eyes following people."
Allow me to read one such woman depicted on a calendar that I own (see figure 1.1). This is one of the more traditional varieties of the calendar, and it advertises Hatamen brand cigarettes. It is painted with a special 1930 technique of light-colored brushwork (caibi dancai hua) first used by the artist Zheng Mantuo in the late Qing period. In this particular case, the body of the woman is not lengthened, as sometimes is necessitated by the oblong shape of the frame. She sits sideways by a patch of water where a pair of swans swim together; in the upper and lower right corners are branches and grass painted in the traditional style. The ambiance seems to transport us away from the modern reality. In my view, it also evokes the fictional world of the Butterfly school (also known as the Mandarin Duck and Butterfly school); the pair of swans in particular is a visual reference, metonymically, to mandarin ducks. This common traditional style may serve to tone down the blatantly foreign (English) origin of the cigarettes. However, in order to spotlight the commodity, the cigarette pack in the grass next to her is red.
As we gaze at the picture of the woman, we find that although her clothes are traditional—she wears a simple and tastefully light-colored qipao—there are some very modern touches that distinguish her from the myriad traditional women who graced magazine covers. For one thing, the big flower she wears near her collar is a striking pink, which contrasts with the pale green color of her gown (with slim pink stripes to match), thereby both bringing out and toning down the familiar aesthetic association of prime colors (red and green). The pointed position of the flower of course also serves to point to the woman, thus giving rise to the familiar poetic metaphor for woman: yizhi hua—a solitary flower of (faded) splendor that
Figure 1.1. Calendar poster, 1930.
But the real function of this calendar, hence the real content of this "text," is the calendar itself, which is reduced to the lower half but framed with a striking art deco design. What makes it immediately relevant to my purposes is the fact that the calendar in this case uses two sets of modern year-marks: 1930 of the Western calendar on the left and the nineteenth year of the Republic of China on the right. The rest of this yearly calendar is divided by the months, which are further divided into weeks. At this point the traditional lunar dates also enter into the charts. I have no idea when this calendrical arrangement became the standard, but the cultural significance cannot be overemphasized. Not only does the standard calendar bring two clear time-markers together (Chinese and Western, both notably modern), but the two also combine to inscribe a modern organizational scheme of time on the traditional. The division of months, days, and weeks is manifestly Western and modern, and by this time governed the everyday lives of Chinese urbanites; a few seasonal dates from the lunar calendar are placed on the month column on top—perhaps as a reminder of the important rituals people still needed to perform or, as is still practiced now, as a form of "fortunetelling" to alert the modern citydwellers to equate their modern datekeeping with a tabulation of divine fortune: which day may be auspicious for which ritual? All of these have become common features in the Chinese calendars used today. But the invention of the calendar poster must be duly accredited. For I believe that time—and the system of calendrical dating—is the foundation on which modernity is constructed. This is also the underlying thesis in Anderson's book, that nationalism could be imagined only as a result of a fundamental change in the conception of time: the imagined community of the nation springs from an idea of "homogeneous, empty time, in which simultaneity is, as it were, transverse, cross-time, marked not by prefiguring