In this essay I have surveyed two highly successful journals, Dongfang zazhi and Liangyou huabao, and their related commercial enterprises in order to explore the ways in which an imaginary of modernity was constructed in Shanghai's urban culture. The two also bore institutional linkages: Wu Liande, the founder of Liangyou huabao, once worked for the Commercial Press, and the Liangyou company clearly followed some of the publishing projects of the Commercial Press with its own resounding success. The most impressive and enduring of the Liangyou projects was surely the ten-volume Zhongguo xinwenxue daxi (Compendium of new Chinese literature) edited by Zhao Jiabi, which after its publication in the early 1930s soon attained canon status. Other ambitious projects, such as Liangyou wenku (Liangyou repository) and Yijiao congshu (Tencent series), were cheap editions composed of works by renowned authors of modern Chinese literature and thought. But certainly the major legacy of modern Chinese print culture was its pictorial pages, which literally and figuratively contributed to the making of a modern Chinese imaginary.
Throughout the essay I have used the term imaginary in the sense of a cluster of linked images that collectively represent an imagined ideal (of Chinese modernity). An imaginary is different from a theory because it also concerns the way ordinary people imagine their surroundings; intellectual theory is the creation of a small intellectual elite, whereas social or cultural imaginary can be shared by large groups of people through the circulation of print and visual media. It aims at a common understanding that makes possible common practices and a sense of legitimacy. Throughout this essay I have also emphasized the process of cultural construction rather than consumption, for reasons that should by now be clear. For I believe that this imaginary of modernity was still in the making during the early Republican period. I have further suggested that, following Anderson, such a modern imaginary was also related to the formation of the modern Chinese nation first as an imagined community. That this imagined community was being legitimized with the organization of a social imaginary can be evidenced in Liangyou's weighty pictorial album Zhonghua jingxiang (originally translated as China as She Is: A Comprehensive Album) published in 1934. What lies behind this photographed collection of national scenery (jingxiang) seems to be a clear impulse to define the boundaries of the new nation. Further research is necessary to establish the exact relationship between this cultural and commercial enterprise and the policies of the modern Chinese state, particularly in education. It would not
Likewise, we need to explore further the connection and interplay between editors and readers, producers and consumers. What was the composition of the urban readership? How diverse was it? Would different kinds of readers respond to different content in different journals? So far my evidence is merely textual: I have tried to gauge the range and size of the readerships from the printed articles and advertisements in the journals themselves, though there is danger that the journals are guilty of self-serving exaggeration. However, my purpose in this essay is not to describe empirical research but to explore the possibilities of a new approach, that of cultural history. Some of my interpretations can be taken as hypotheses subject to further proof. However, not all interpretations are based on empirical evidence, and no amount of research can ever establish the final picture. I hope that I have at least blazed a small trail by shifting our scholarly attention from the elitist domain of lofty ideas and grand narratives to a more popular realm of urban print culture.