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1— The Rise of Modern Popular Culture
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The Rise of Modern Popular Culture

The battle of Shanghai, which began on 13 August 1937, ended swiftly in Chinese defeat in early November when the Japanese landed a surprise amphibious force in Hangzhou Bay, fifty miles southwest of Shanghai, and attacked China's leading metropolis from the rear. Despite their early heroic defense of the city, the GMD forces now withdrew westward to the capital of Nanjing, demoralized and in disarray. By the time Wuhan fell in October 1938, the Japanese effectively controlled some 10 percent of the territory in north and central China—mostly major cities and areas adjacent to the railway lines. If the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in early July signaled the beginning of China's resistance, the subsequent loss of Shanghai and other major cities made it clear just where this resistance would take place: in China's vast hinterland. The need for a new campaign to rally the support of the rural masses for the war cause thus became self-evident.

As was true elsewhere (such as Vichy France),[1] China's resistance movement was a coalition of various individuals and groups markedly different in political affinity, regional ties, and professional orientation. But willingly or unwillingly, they had a shared goal of resisting foreign aggression, and that tied their fates temporarily together. It became obvious that an unprecedented national crisis demanded unity and cooperation; internal difference and personal feuding had to be set aside. Despite debates over the exact course resistance should take, there seemed to be a consensus among Chinese intellectuals that certain forms of urban culture—particularly spoken dramas, cartoons, and newspapers—because of their popularity, could be of enormous value to facilitate communication and indoctrination in the rural hinterland. If carefully popularized and systematically disseminated, it


was argued, these media could make a major difference in the outcome of the war. However, as the resisters soon found out, putting these urban forms to effective use in the rural interior was not to be an easy task. China's myriad problems—a backward hinterland, a primitive transportation system, high illiteracy, and extreme regional variation—constituted an enormous hindrance to any large-scale propaganda drive. If the resisters were to succeed, they would need more than courage and determination; they would have to mount a campaign comprehensible and convincing to the largely illiterate peasantry—a difficult job at best. The wartime popular culture campaign thus became the saga of transforming a host of urban culture forms into lucid vehicles able to rally support for the war cause among all Chinese, regardless of their educational or cultural background. To understand how these urban culture genres were refashioned into political tools and their subsequent impact, we need to examine their origin and rise in the cities in the early decades of twentieth-century China.

Treaty Ports and Shanghai

Before the war many Chinese cities, especially major treaty ports such as Shanghai and Tianjin, furnished a unique economic and social milieu within which myriad popular culture forms, including spoken dramas, newspapers, and cartoons, flourished.

The emergence of modern cities in China has been well studied.[2] By the early twentieth century China's treaty ports had developed into major commercial, industrial, and trade centers with a virtual monopoly on foreign trade.[3] Foreigners—British, French, and Japanese in particular—played a dominant role in shaping these cities' economic and political futures, largely as a result of certain privileges, such as low tariffs, special residential enclaves, and rights of extraterritoriality, accorded them in numerous treaties and agreements signed since the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. On the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, the major treaty ports were characterized by their enormous population, social complexity, economic dominance, and cultural cosmopolitanism. In 1936, for example, Shanghai had 3.7 million inhabitants (of whom 57,000 were foreigners), while Tianjin had a population of 1.2 million (of whom 13,000 were foreigners).[4] Because of their role as trade and industrial centers, treaty ports drew scores of bankers, merchants, and entrepreneurs, native and foreign alike; they also attracted newcomers from China's countryside seeking a better life in a new environment. The cities thus hosted an ethnically diverse population, one often marked by deep intergroup antagonisms and re-


gional biases.[5] In the cities, too, foreigners not only were a conspicuous presence because of their different appearance, language, and life-style, but with their new ideas they also created sharp cultural tensions.

Urbanization and industrialization quickened changes, precipitated anxieties, and bred social problems such as crimes and labor strikes. At the same time, material progress gave rise to a curious, acquisitive middle class that hankered for novelty and entertainment. Social life in the city was colorful and had a special hold on imagination. It was against this backdrop that a wealth of new urban culture forms emerged.

Perry Link has shown that cultural dilemmas and anxieties caused by a rapidly modernizing society, coupled with technological change (such as new methods of printing), the lower cost of such media as books and films, and rising literacy rates, all contributed to the rise of popular fiction in early-twentieth-century cities.[6] The emergence and popularity of spoken dramas, newspapers, and cartoon magazines in the cities can be attributed to these same reasons. But other factors came into play as well: a desire for novelty and sensationalism, cosmopolitanism, avant-garde attitudes, commercialism, professionalism, and decadence—all characteristics of modern urban society. Among major treaty ports, Shanghai set the agenda for these urban culture forms and decided their priorities.

Shanghai in the 1930s, with a population of over 3 million, was a place brimming with artistic achievement and a newfound sophistication. But it was also a city of sharp contradictions and contrasts, an oasis of modernity in a vast land of emerald rice fields and sleepy villages. With its foreign-ruled enclaves (the International Settlement and the French Concession), its booming commerce, its thriving film industry, and its numerous "street cars, neon signs, electric lights, and jazzy dances," as a New York Times reporter described it in 1931,[7] Shanghai was a city of opportunities and allure, an ideal world for young moderns to travel on the fast track and for businessmen to seal a lucrative deal. Shanghai drew artists, merchants, and dreamers like a magnet. Although Shanghainese might find little of interest in government intrigues, they could be easily aroused by the suicide of a movie star.[8] To many, Shanghai was the "Paris of the East."[9]

But Shanghai was not without its detractors. For some, the presence of so many unruly foreigners was a bitter reminder of China's humiliating past; in the eyes of many, moreover, the city's manifold temptations bred only greed and corruption. For the majority of residents, in


fact, Shanghai was a world of Hobbesian brutes where mercilessness reigned supreme. The city was "like a monstrous hell … and a vassal state of foreign countries," bemoaned the well-known actress Wang Ying (1915–1974). "People dream of nothing else except gobbling up others all the time."[10]

Shanghai's contemptible process of cultural "commodification" provoked the wrath of traditional elites, especially the Beijingese. To the Beijingese, Shanghai was a metropolis of decadence and vice. Beijingese derided their southern cousins as nothing more than nouveaux riches—vulgar, profit-seeking people consumed by materialism and vanity—rootless and confused because of the influx of depraved Western ideas. The Shanghainese retorted that the Beijingese were simply out of touch with the times. Their old, genteel style belonged to a bygone era; they loved to savor vanished glory but refused to embrace necessary changes brought about by the advancement of civilization. Beijing (changed to "Beiping" by the Nationalists in 1928; the Communists reverted to its old name in 1949) might be the seat of power, they said, but Shanghai was the financial capital of the nation and the city of the future. It was here where the newest tastes were being shaped and opinions formed. The rivalry between the "Beijing style" (Jing pai) and the "Shanghai style" (Hai pai) was actually more than a difference in style. Similar to the rivalry between Moscow (the ideological home of the Slavophiles and the city linked to the past) and St. Petersburg (the modern city so loved by Westernizers) in nineteenth-century Russia,[11] it was also a confrontation between two opposing values—traditionalism and modernity—and a debate between two cultures—high and popular.[12]

In the 1930s, Shanghai had become the heart of China's intellectual avant-garde and the spawning ground for new ideas. The port city had nearly monopolized the country's learning and publishing, to an even greater extent than did Paris in France.[13] Predictably, there was no dearth of magazines and novelettes, which, like penny periodicals in Victorian England, thrived on themes of sex, crime, and thwarted love.[14] Yet Shanghai was also dotted with excellent bookstores and elegant theaters, in addition to its celebrated cafés and restaurants. The famous Fourth Road (Sima lu, officially known as Fuzhou Road)—the "Cultural Street" (Wenhua jie), as it was commonly called[15] —was the home of many nationally known bookstores, including Kaiming Bookstore, Beixin Bookstore, and World Bookstore (Shijie shuju), and vying for readers just around the corner were the


legendary Commercial Press and Zhonghua Bookstore.[16] All this cultural activity encouraged scores of would-be writers and artists, not wishing to live a life of destitution and obscurity in the provinces, to come or send their works to this port city in search of money and fame. Shanghai might devour people, but to these aspiring artists it offered opportunities and held the promise of a better life. Consider the earlier success story of Wu Woyao (1866–1910), a Cantonese who came to the city in the late nineteenth century to work in newspapers and find a new life. He eventually made his name as a novelist by producing many highly acclaimed works, including Strange Events Seen in the Past Twenty Years (Ershi nian mudu zhi guai xianzhuang). In the mid-1930s, another Cantonese followed in his footsteps, though in a slightly different fashion. The cartoonist Liao Bingxiong (1915-) sent his works from Guangzhou to the well-known magazine Modern Cartoons (Shidai manhua) in Shanghai for publication. As a result of these opportunities Liao quickly established himself as one of the best talents in the field.[17]

Shanghai became a pacesetter of modern popular culture. This was particularly evident in the proliferation of drama clubs, cartoon magazines, and newspapers in the city, all urban culture forms with their own unique history.

A New Drama in Urban China

Chinese spoken drama (huaju, lit. "speaking play," a name used to distinguish it from traditional operas), a genre born out of the influence of Western drama, began as a marginal cultural activity in the opening years of the century. Because of its simplicity and flexibility, however, it grew quickly in popularity, ultimately occupying the center stage in China's cultural defense against the aggressors during the war.

In 1907 in Tokyo, the Spring Willow Society (Chunliu she), formed by the young Chinese theater enthusiasts Zeng Xiaogu, Li Shutong (1880–1942), and Ouyang Yuqian (1889–1962), staged Chahua nü, an adaption of La dame aux camélias by Dumas fils, and Black Slave's Cry to Heaven (Heinu yutian lu), based on the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.[18] These two plays, despite their performance by an all-male group of amateurs in a foreign land, marked the inception of Western-style drama by the Chinese.

The choice of La dame aux camélias and Uncle Tom's Cabin for the basis of these productions was not entirely accidental, for both had already gained enormous popularity in China through the elegant


translations of Lin Shu (1852–1924).[19] The denunciation of racial prejudice in Stowe's novel found particularly strong resonance among young nationalistic Chinese. To the group of Chinese student dramatists who came to a more modernized Japan to acquire new knowledge that would strengthen their own country, the mistreatment of blacks in America aroused memory of the recent violence and discrimination Chinese laborers had experienced in the same country from the 1880s to the early 1900s. The anti-Chinese movement in America reminded them of the evils of racism and the impotence of the Qing government to protect its citizens abroad.[20]

The novelty of the new art form generated curiosity and drew many admirers. Nevertheless, the introduction of spoken drama into China must be understood within a larger context of rapid social and political change during the waning years of the Qing dynasty. This was an era when the old political hierarchy was crumbling and Confucian tradition eroding. The Manchu government's weakness and its inability to fend off any advances from the West aroused increasing criticism of traditional norms and caused youths to embrace new ways of thinking. Under the sway of nationalism, young Chinese dramatists yearned for their country to gain the strength to withstand oppression both at home (by the Manchus) and abroad (by the imperialist powers).

Ironically, the West also became a source of inspiration for Chinese youth. In the two decades after 1907, the plays of Shakespeare, Shaw, Wilde, Chekhov, Ibsen, and other Western masters were introduced,[21] joined by such native pieces as Hu Shi's (1891–1962) The Greatest Event in Life (Zhongshen dashi, 1919).[22] In the end, however, the new stage was used more as a pulpit to express radical social views and iconoclastic ideas than as a forum for artistic, theatrical experimentation. "In China," the writer Xiao Qian (1910-) observed, "Ibsen is looked upon as a social surgeon rather than as a playwright."[23] Indeed, young Chinese dramatists felt obliged with their art to reach a large audience and to shape social values. This sentiment was particularly evident in the manifesto of the People's Drama Society (Minzhong xijushe), founded in May 1921. It reads in part:

The theatre occupies an important place in modern society. It is a wheel rolling society forward. It is an X-ray searching out the root of society's maladies. It is also a just and impartial mirror, and the standards of everybody in the nation are stripped stark naked when reflected in this great mirror…. This kind of theatre is precisely what does not exist in China at present, but it is what we, feeble though we are, want to strive to create.[24]


Such a commitment proved useful later, during the war, when dramatists turned their plays into political and educational vehicles for defending their nation against outside aggression.

The use of drama to educate an audience was, of course, not unique to China. The Greeks had a long history of using the theater to instruct citizens about communal values: Athenians went to the theater of Dionysus several times a year, to enjoy a popular traditional story and, in the process, receive reinforcement in an accepted ethic. In more recent times, Schiller expressed his view of the stage as a moral institution, an attitude echoed by Diderot; and playwrights from Ibsen to Shaw and Brecht all used the stage as a pulpit.[25] In Southeast Asia, too, the theater has long been used as an educational and political device. Wayang drama, for example, was the main vehicle by which Javanese and Balinese religion and philosophy were transmitted to the people.[26] What is notable about Chinese spoken drama, though, was the scope of its subsequent influence, the variety of its forms, and the energy that creators of spoken drama put into communicating with the masses during the war.

Young dramatists believed that the spoken drama heralded the dawning of a new age in Chinese art. They were drawn together by a common enthusiasm for something new and exciting. Yet their goal was not to mount an artistic endeavor per se; for them, rather, embracing something new was a way of breaking with the past. Unlike in the West, where the rise of realist dramas in the mid-nineteenth century was a conscious revolt against romanticism, Chinese spoken dramas targeted the spiritual ailments of the Confucian past. What appealed to young playwrights most about this new-style dramatic form was its ability to speak directly to the present—a far cry from its traditional counterpart. In their eyes, not only was the traditional theater hostile to new ideas, but its archaic language, techniques, and plots also bore little relevance to contemporary social and political issues. The old-style theater was a highly elegant art locked in time; embodying nothing more than a concoction of Confucian paragons and trite events, it had lost its ability to change. As one critic categorically stated, "It is a poison."[27] Many iconoclastic intellectuals echoed this opinion in the May Fourth era when they challenged traditional norms and sought to free the people's will from the confinement of the past. Hu Shi and Zhou Zuoren (1885–1967) both deemed old-style opera obsolete and called for its complete abandonment. This radical stand, in contrast to the more moderate view of Ouyang Yuqian and the drama critic Song Chufang (1892–1938), who instead suggested


far-reaching reform, gained the upper hand during the May Fourth drama debate.[28] During the war, however, even the radical view was tempered as the resistors embraced every possible means to combat the Japanese, including the previously condemned traditional operas.

Clearly, the revolt against tradition called for a different kind of art. It is true that in the early years of Chinese spoken drama, actors such as Ouyang Yuqian still relied heavily on the techniques of traditional opera for their interpretation; but the fact that this new performing art was Western-inspired gave it a novel look as well as a cosmopolitan flavor. In contrast to old-style opera with its standard repertoire of music and singing, formal character types, and established story lines, the spoken drama introduced naturalistic dialogue, curtains, and original plots. And more important, spoken drama allowed actors to portray realistic situations and enabled them to deliver their messages with unprecedented directness. Traditional opera's avoidance of tragedy was now corrected. For the first time in the history of Chinese theater, the stage was peopled with authentic characters reflecting life's contradictions and complexity: a mixture of good and evil, joy and sorrow, prosperity and privation. The new dialogue used in the plays was more down-to-earth and flexible, better equipped to mirror contemporary social problems and more open to artistic experimentation.

With the spoken drama came other innovations. More attention was paid to the details of setting and characterization, with the distinctiveness of individual characters being particularly emphasized. These innovations were exactly what Hu Shi had in mind when he wrote The Greatest Event in Life, a one-act play dealing with antitraditionalism, in 1919. The work ridiculed the old ways—embodied here in the twin evils of astrology and antiquated Confucian norms—that led the parents of a young woman to forbid her marriage to a well-educated young man she had met in Japan. The influence of Ibsen was readily apparent in Hu's play. Like the Norwegian master, whose influential play A Doll's House (1879) he translated into Chinese in 1918, Hu championed the ideals of individualism and a woman's right to arrange her own marriage. Moreover, both laid as much stress on the individual qualities of their characters as on the cause for which they argued.

Despite a promising start, Chinese spoken dramas in their first two decades remained amateurish, with few dramatic organizations to support production and limited audiences. Initial efforts to popularize the


spoken drama thus proved difficult and frustrating. In this early period. Western-style theater fare was referred to as "new plays"(xinju) or "civilized plays" (wenmingxi) —so named because the term wenming, as Ouyang Yuqian noted, implied "progress."[29] Indeed, initially the new"civilized plays" strongly decried social ills, openly seeking to foster political reforms. Western drama "created a sensation when it reached Hankou," drama critic Xiong Foxi (1900–1965) wrote, recalling the early 1910s when he was a middle school student in this inland Yangzi River treaty port.[30] By the end of the next decade, however, "civilized plays" had degenerated into low-quality productions, filled with vulgar details, occasionally "to the extent of pandering to prurient interest."[31] Such plays, often lacking a unified plot, hastily composed, and performed on an impromptu basis, brought a negative notoriety to the new art. Even for those who were committed to mounting a respectable show, things were no easier: the majority of players were amateurs and their troupes poorly funded, if not already deep in debt.[32]

Worse still, the new art faced a formidable challenge from the traditional theater. Although many young dramatists ridiculed the usefulness and some even predicted the quick demise of old-style opera, it remained the favorite of most Chinese theatergoers, especially with the towering presence of such renowned actors as Mei Lanfang (1894–1961) and Cheng Yanqiu (1904–1958). To be sure, the new-style theater lacked actors of such elevated status. More important, however, was the fact that young dramatists were novices in a field long dominated by the Beijing opera and numerous other regional theaters. A new-style play could not be more alien to audiences accustomed to the traditional drama's familiar delivery and production—bare stage, structured rhythmic movements, standardized roles, magnificent acrobatics, and the unbridled noise in the theater.[33] Old-style theater devotees found the spoken drama's original plots, dialogue, absence of singing roles, and division into acts, with the accompanying curtains and intervals, unpalatable. They shunned the new theater. The debut of Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession in Shanghai in the spring of 1921, for example, proved a dismal failure despite heavy publicity. Audience reactions, which ranged from "totally incomprehensible" to "too many superfluous words," were a big disappointment to the sponsors.[34]

Despite the uncertain start of the new drama, young dramatists continued to fight for recognition in the mainstream theatrical world. Finally in the late 1920s spoken drama began to gain acceptance in


urban areas, especially in cities like Shanghai, thanks largely to the efforts of a number of drama associations, particularly the People's Drama Society and the South China Society (Nanguo she).

The People's Drama Society was formed in 1921 in Shanghai by a heterogeneous group of thirteen people, including the actor Wang Youyou, the novelist Mao Dun (1896–1981), the literary historian Zheng Zhenduo (1898–1958), the drama critic Xiong Foxi, and Ouyang Yuqian. The name, inspired by Romain Rolland's People's Theater,[35] indicated the members' desire to bring the new art to the populace. Artistically, the society proposed creating all new sets and costumes—in short, rejecting the trappings of traditional opera. Intellectually, it advocated originality in production: rather than relying on translations of European works, the creation of native works was encouraged. "Only when we can produce a few plays that are comparable or even superior to their Western counterparts can we claim that they are genuine 'new plays," wrote Wang Youyou.[36] While the society's aim was to search out "the root of society's maladies," it never belittled the value of spoken drama as an entertainment medium. Indeed, the subtle blending of education with entertainment, they insisted, was required if spoken dramas were to gain wide acceptance. The society also issued a journal entitled Drama (Xiju), the first Chinese magazine devoted exclusively to the discussion and propagation of the new genre. Its brief existence notwithstanding (ten issues were printed from May 1921 to April 1922), the journal provided a much-needed theoretical justification for spoken drama.[37]

The South China Society was another major force in the early history of this new art form. Unlike the People's Drama Society, it had a charismatic leader: Tian Han (1898–1968), a gifted writer and also an erstwhile member of the renowned Creation Society. An early devotee of spoken dramas, Tian called himself "a budding Chinese Ibsen" when he was a student in Japan in 1920.[38] He was the first to coin the term huaju (spoken drama) in 1927, rechristening xinju (new plays) in order to emphasize the medium's use of dialogue and its nonmusical nature.[39]

Tian Han launched a new magazine South China Fortnightly (Nanguo banyuekan), in January 1924 in Shanghai "to breathe a little bit of artistic fresh air into the depressed Chinese literary scene."[40] The journal became the first of many endeavors by Tian to promote spoken drama in China. In the summer of 1926, for instance, he established the South China Film and Drama Society (Nanguo dianying jushe; later renamed the South China Society). And in January 1928


he founded the South China Art Institute (Nanguo yishu xueyuan), artistic home to a score of future celebrated playwrights, including Chen Baichen (1908-).[41]

Tian Han's genius lay not so much in his role as an enthusiastic educator as in his determined spirit and his talent as a playwright. Within the eight-year period 1922–1930, he published sixteen spoken dramas, setting a high standard and giving the budding spoken drama movement an eloquent boost. Plays such as Night Talk in Suzhou (Suzhou yehua, 1927) and Return to the South (Nan gui, 1929), tinged with the familiar melancholy and sentimentalism of his earlier works, won high acclaim and brought the new-style drama wide recognition. Tian's productions suggested the influence of Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov, but they were not without contemporary themes specific to China: the desire, however futile it might be, to reform the nation through art (as in Night Talk in Suzhou) and the longing for a bright new world (as in Return to the South).[ 42]

Inadequately funded, Tian struggled to secure enough financial resources to keep his organization afloat. But adversity only seemed to solidify his young followers' resolve. They were captivated by Tian Han's charm, his willingness to take risks in uncharted dramatic waters, and, above all, his single-minded devotion to art. Such devotion became the very model of artistic dedication, instilling a spirit of harmony in this group of idealistic youths.[43] Tian, a man sensitive to social ills and who gradually subscribed to the leftist ideology of his day (he helped found the League of Left-Wing Dramatists in 1930 and joined the CCP in 1932), encouraged his fledgling dramatists to embrace life with art. To bring his students into closer contact with the public Tian arranged a performing tour in 1929, which featured new plays and included such cities as Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou, and Wuxi. The tour proved a great success, and the warm reception that the group received was gratifying. As one female student put it after their performance in Nanjing, "Although we are still poor, nevertheless we have left a good impression in the minds of the Nanjing viewers."[44] The self-supporting principles preached by the society also helped to bond the group together. Chen Baichen summed it up thus in his recent memoirs: "We worked closely as a team."[45]

Spoken drama finally came of age in the 1930s when the Western devices that so marked the genre, such as realistic sets, stage curtains, the division of a production into acts, and the employment of both men and women actors (an idea first suggested by Hong Shen [1894–1955], a noted playwright and drama critic who was trained in the


United States),[46] finally gained acceptance among Chinese audiences. In that decade, sensational plays such as Cao Yu's (1910-) Thunderstorm (Leiyu, 1934) reaped instant success both in intellectual circles and at the box office. Professional drama troupes also emerged, such as Tang Huaiqiu's (1898–1954) China Traveling Drama Troupe (Zhongguo lüxing jutuan)—the first professional traveling group in China, established in 1933 in Shanghai.[47] Nevertheless, despite the genre's increasing status, spoken drama remained very much an urban phenomenon.

Even in the cities, the plots of the new drama were familiar only to the sophisticated few. Its artistic form simply did not fit well with traditional aesthetics. The fact that many companies continued to rely heavily on translations of foreign plays (such as Hong Shen's 1924 adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan) was alienating to the general public. Ticket prices were also formidable. An average theater seat generally cost from 20 to 40 fen, a better one from 60 fen to 1 yuan —the equivalent of almost a day's wages for a skilled worker.[48] Moreover, the cinema was growing in popularity during this time and competed with spoken drama in the cities as well.[49] As a consequence of these factors, the new drama attracted largely the elite, especially those who had come under the influence of the West. It was therefore the educated who nurtured the new drama with financial and moral support.

Limited audiences notwithstanding, spoken drama companies proliferated in major cities: in Beijing, there was the Venus Drama Society (Weina jushe); in Xi'an, the Chang'an Popular Drama Troupe (Chang'an minzhong jutuan); and in Tianjin, the famous Nankai School Drama Club, in which the future Communist leader Zhou Enlai (1898–1976) participated.[50] But it was in Shanghai that the new drama received the greatest attention. As the veteran playwright Xia Yan (1900-) recalled, that city in the 1930s was the indisputable capital of the new drama movement, becoming home to numerous professional and semiprofessional clubs and attracting flocks of young hopefuls.[51]

Before the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, numerous drama clubs sprouted in Shanghai, including the Great Way Drama Club (Dadao jushe, 1931) and the Virgin Land Drama Club (Xindi jushe, 1933).[52] Yet the formation in August 1930 of the League of Left-Wing Dramatists (Zuoyi jutuan lianmeng), which brought together a number of drama associations such as the Art Drama Association (Yishu jushe) and Modern Society (Modeng she), signaled a new twist: the growing radicalization of the art. The new drama now began to assume a


more overtly political look, becoming a battleground on which the Communist and the Nationalists endeavored to settle their ideological differences.

The profusion of published articles on the spoken drama was another sign of the growing maturity of the art. New plays, essays, and debates about the genre appeared regularly in noted newspapers and journals, including "Unfettered Talk" ("Ziyou tan"), the literary supplement of the Shanghai News (Shen bao), as well as literary magazines such as Modern Times (Xiandai) and Literature Monthly (Wenxue yuebao). Scholars also proposed to establish spoken drama as a serious professional discipline by subjecting it to a judicious and timely review process.[53]

Nor was the new drama confined to professional or semiprofessional drama troupes, for it quickly took hold on school and university campuses—the locus of revolutionary ideas ever since the May Fourth era.[54] The spoken drama was looked upon by student activists as an ideal means for igniting social and political change. In June 1931 in Shanghai alone, a local magazine reported, there were over twenty university and middle school drama clubs. In that same year, the Ji'nan Drama Club (Ji'nan jushe) of Ji'nan University put on nineteen different plays, a mixture of translated works and originals that included Tian Han's Seven Women in the Tempest (Baofengyu zhong deqige nüxing), in which the growing nationalism following the Manchurian Incident of 18 September 1931 was a strong element.[55]

Sensing the increasing popularity of the new drama, more and more Shanghai theater owners—including the proprietors of the popular Gold (Huangjin daxiyuan) and Carlton (Kaerdeng xiyuan) theaters[56] —agreed to stage such productions, a decision deemed a financial risk but a short while before. The 1937 conversion of the Carlton from a cinema into a drama theater was, as A. C. Scott correctly notes, "a significant indication of the way the wind was blowing."[57] Prewar drama in Shanghai reached its zenith when a number of drama clubs jointly staged an unprecedented series of performances that spring at the Carlton Theater.[58]

As we have seen, before the war the emerging popularity of modern drama was confined to urban centers and the educated minority of the Chinese people. Even Tang Huaiqiu's China Traveling Drama Troupe performed almost exclusively in large cities.[59] All that changed when war broke out. Most significantly, the film industry in Shanghai collapsed, a circumstance that presented a unique opportunity for spoken drama. Not only did numerous screen actors join the traveling drama


propaganda troupes in the interior, but in the absence of cinema, spoken drama became recognized as a particularly suitable vehicle for communicating with the people in a time of national crisis.

The Emergence of Chinese Cartoons

The term manhua (cartoon) was borrowed from Japan and first used in China by Feng Zikai (1898–1975) in May 1925,[60] though the art and its techniques were known as early as the late Qing era. As was the case with spoken drama, cartoons were very much an urban phenomenon before the war, their rise closely associated with the emergence of the urban press.

The Chinese periodical press emerged in the late nineteenth century from a blending of the styles of traditional periodicals such as the Beijing gazettes (known as Jing bao) and Western-style newspapers and magazines.[61] As the Western-style commercial newspapers arose in the treaty ports of late Qing China, a new type of political press was launched by such pioneers as Wang Tao (1828–1897) and Liang Qichao (1873–1929) to introduce new ideas and call for radical reforms.[62] Borrowing novel approaches from the West to enhance its prestige and sales, the Chinese press underwent various changes in both format and content. The fact that the Western press often supplemented articles with illustrations had a special impact.[63] Such a feature, as the editor of The 1908 Pictorial (Wushen quannian huabao) frankly admitted, "can greatly enhance the people's wisdom and broaden their horizons."[64] Within short order, illustrations began to appear in profusion in Chinese newspapers and magazines. Many focusing on current events and drawing on popular sources for their appeal, had a distinct social and political overtone. Wu Youru's famous drawings in Dianshi Studio Pictorial (Dianshizhai huabao —the first Chinese pictorial, founded in 1884) were a case in point.[65] A visual record of the decay of Qing society and the political conflicts of the time, his work added a new and refreshing dimension to the Chinese press. Yet despite the pioneering quality of Wu's efforts, in the end his illustrations were, as cartoonist Ye Qianyu (1907-) pointed out, merely a kind of "recording picture" (jilu hua):[66] they portrayed current scenes in a realistic fashion and incorporated little of the exaggeration and satire commonly associated with cartoons today.

Like the English word cartoon,[67] the Chinese term manhua defies simple definition. Both before the war and since, it has been endowed with a wide range of meaning. To some, the manhua was a satirical graphic art form that used distortion and exaggeration to lay bare


life's absurdities.[68] But to others, a cartoon was a kind of "social art" whose content related closely to the life of the common people.[69] Despite this ambiguity, however, cartoonists seemed to agree on three essential, albeit rather general, ingredients of the manhua. First, cartoons were a new graphic art form drawn with economy of line but replete with powerful ideas. Second, they typically featured exaggerated or ludicrous representations of events or persons. And finally, a cartoon's success lay in the thought it embodied, not artistic adroitness As Feng Zikai put it, "To draw a cartoon, you must first have ideas, and then practice your brush."[70]

The rise of cartoons in twentieth-century China grew also from an older tradition, traceable to various unorthodox paintings of early times.[71] Yet cartoons' modern traits and distinctive techniques received their greatest inspiration from Japan and the West. Since the days of William Hogarth (1697–1764), James Gillray (1756–1815), and Honoré Daumier (1808–1879), cartoonists have taken on the task of recording major events of their time. For cartoonists are not only artists but also critical social observers and commentators, displaying in their works a great sensitivity to contemporary issues. Just as Daumier, the "Historian of the Bourgeois Government," for example, vividly depicted the decadent life of nineteenth-century French monarchists, clerics, and parvenus, so did Chinese cartoonists faithfully record the turmoils of their nation in the early twentieth century. Their drawings provide a remarkable social history of China during the waning days of the Qing, reflecting a deep national malaise brought on by government ineptitude and continuing foreign imperialism. Known by such names as "satirical drawings" (fengci hua) or "allegorical pictures" (yuyi hua),[72] cartoons were vociferous in their denunciations of the moribund Qing government (fig. 1).

With the publication of its first cartoon magazine, Shanghai Punch (Shanghai poke), in September 1918, China saw the art of the cartoon come of age. The magazine's founder and editor, Shen Bochen (1889–1920), was, along with Huang Wennong (1903–1934), one of the most influential cartoonists of his generation. A passionate and patriotic man, Shen used his cartoons to attack the warlord government and portray the social and political upheavals of the early Republican era.[73]

Chinese cartoons made great strides in the 1920s and 1930s. An array of specialized magazines such as Modern Cartoons (Shidai manhua; originally titled Modern Sketch) and Independent Cartoons (Duli manhua) thrived in Shanghai, and cartoons also began to appear


Fig. 1.
"Two Faces: Domestic and International." The cartoon ridicules
the Manchu government's double-dealing policy of brutal
suppression at home but abject submission to foreign powers.
From Bi Keguan,"Jindai baokan manhua,"
XWYJZL 8 (November 1981): 74;
originally printed in The 1908

in major general-interest journals, including the Eastern Miscellany (Dongfang zazhi), Analects (Lunyu), and Cosmic Wind (Yuzhou feng).[74] Newspapers added special cartoon sections, and magazines actively solicited submissions from their readers.[75] Simultaneously, in the mid-1920s a new breed of cartoonists began to emerge. The Cartoon Association (Manhua hui), China's first society dedicated to the art form, made its debut in the autumn of 1927 in Shanghai. Founded by Ding Song (1891–1972), Zhang Guangyu (1900–1964), Wang Dunqing (1899-), and Ye Qianyu, the association had eleven members initially, most of whom were novices who shared a common interest in trying a new technique and testing a new field. These young artists used their exuberant creative energy to establish caricature as an acceptable art form, hoping to gain recognition from the established an circle. Indeed, the launching of the Cartoon Association was an important event in the history of Chinese cartoons. Not only did the association nurture a certain esprit de corps among an otherwise


loosely organized group of artists, but also, through its adoption of the term manhua, it sought to give its new craft a standard name, hoping to sweep away the various other terms that had been used for "cartoon"[76] By so doing, the association hoped to raise, in Wang Dunqing's words, "the standard of the cartoon art.[77] The Cartoon Association was the first of many such organizations to emerge in China before the war.[78] The rise in the 1920s and 1930s of many training classes and correspondence schools dedicated to the art of the cartoon, oriented to the next generation of artists, was a further reflection of interest.[79]

With the publication in 1935 of Personal Essays and Cartoons (Xiaopinwen he manhua), a special anthology commissioned by the respected literary journal Venus (Taibai) in Shanghai,[80] cartoons seemed finally to come into their own. Edited by Chen Wangdao (1890–1977; best known for his translation of Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto into Chinese in April 1920) and with more than fifty contributors, the book was important to cartoonists in two respects. First, it recognized the cartoon as an important art form equal to that of the personal essay (xiaopinwen). Second, it attracted important writers like Lu Xun (1881–1936) and cartoonists like Feng Zikai to engage in thoughtful exchanges about what had formerly been regarded as an unworthy art. Lu Xun, long an avid advocate of such "lowbrow" art as woodcuts and serial illustrations, praised cartoons highly in his two articles for the anthology. Cartoons dealt with realistic aspects of life, Lu Xun said, "and because they are realistic, they are extremely powerful."[81]

The 1930s can be considered the golden age of Chinese cartoons. In the short span of less than three years from September 1934 to the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, nineteen cartoon publications sprang up in Shanghai.[82] Although many were relatively short-lived, lasting only one or two issues, cartoon magazines enjoyed increasing popularity. Often exquisitely designed or adorned with color covers (Independent Cartoons, for example), each vied with the others for readers and advertisers. The two best-known magazines were certainly Modern Cartoons and Independent Cartoons, edited respectively by Lu Shaofei (1903-) and Zhang Guangyu. The former lasted thirty-nine issues (January 1934–June 1937), becoming the longest-running cartoon magazine before the war. It enjoyed a national reputation, publishing works by cartoonists all over China.[83]

Like new spoken dramas, cartoons thrived in Western-influenced urban centers, providing a pleasant diversion for the acquisitive mid-


dle class. And as was true for spoken dramas, Shanghai became the center for Chinese cartoonists, attracting just about every aspiring talent in the country. In fact, very few cartoon magazines were published outside Shanghai, Tianjin Cartoons (Tianjin manhua) and Guangzhou's Half-Angle Cartoons (Banjiao manhua) being two well-known exceptions.[84] These publications, one cartoonist wrote in 1938, were directed at "xiao shimin [merchants, clerks, or urbanities in general] and intellectuals."[85]

Another sign of maturity of Chinese cartoons was the increasing emphasis among cartoonists on developing individual styles, both to gain recognition and to capture the public's attention. In the 1930s, many cartoonists—notably Ye Qianyu and Zhang Leping (1910–1992)—attempted to create their own unique styles through their fictional characters, endowing them with a new personality and placing them within a specific social context. Ye Qianyu's famous comic strip "Mr. Wang" ("Wang xiansheng"), for example, which debuted in Shanghai Cartoons (Shanghai manhua; originally titled Shanghai Sketch) in 1928, enjoyed enormous popularity. Mr. Wang and his foil Little Chen were typical middle-class Chinese who, living in a rapidly changing world, seemed to experience the whole gamut of sensations offered by the modern city life—luxury, gluttony, pleasure seeking, even deceit (fig. 2).[86] Ye's equally famous sequel "The Unofficial History of Little Chen in Nanjing" ("Xiao Chen liu Jing waishi"), appearing in 1936, was a devastating exposeé of a corrupt government.[87] In contrast to the work of Ye Qianyu, Zhang Leping's comic strip "San Mao" focused on the downtrodden. It depicted the woeful life of a vagrant urchin roaming the streets of Shanghai. Through this city boy's myriad mishaps, Zhang expressed the anguish of the common people caught in a morass of misfortune.[88]

The popularity of prewar cartoons climaxed when the First National Cartoon Exhibition was held in Shanghai in September 1936. The show, initiated by Lu Shaofei, Ye Qianyu, and Zhang Guangyu,


Fig. 2.
Ye Qianyu, "Avoiding Creditors at the New Year" (from "Mr. Wang"). Mr. Wang
finds himself heavily in debt with the New Year approaching. To avoid his creditors,
especially the biggest one, Little Chen, he and his wife decide to plant an
advertisement in the newspaper. Issued in Mrs. Wang's name, the ad gives the
impression that Mr. Wang has left home without a trace. When Little Chen departs
after comforting Mrs. Wang, Mr. Wang emerges from his hideout, the sutra
chanting room. From Ye Qianyu, Ye Qianyu manhua xuan—sanshi niandai dao
sishi niandai (Shanghai: Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1985), pp. 1–2.


displayed well over six hundred cartoons from artists all over the country. The overwhelming success of the exhibition prompted the cartoonists to form a National Association of Chinese Cartoonists (Zhonghua quanguo manhua zuojia xiehui) in the spring of 1937. The association was intended to "unite all cartoonists in the nation, to promote cartoons as an art form, and to use them as an educational tool."[89] A few months later, however, the war brought a temporary halt to the blossoming cartoon movement.

As the specter of the Japanese invasion loomed ever larger in the early 1930s cartoonists began to focus attention on the exact nature and role of their art. Should the cartoon be looked upon merely as a diverting commercial product of mass consumption? Or should it carry specific social messages, perhaps serving as a propaganda tool to resist outside aggression? Nowhere was this concern more evident than in the cartoonists' intensifying campaigns against what Lu Xun called "erotic cartoons" (seqing manhua).[90] In the 1930s, to meet the city dwellers' growing appetite for entertainment and pleasure, publishers came out with ever more drawings of women displaying their breasts and couples making[91] Low-cost books such as Shanghai in Cartoons (Manhua Shanghai), which portrayed numerous scenes of debauchery in that city, also gained popularity.[92] Even pioneers like Ye Qianyu and Lu Shaofei occasionally indulged in this genre in their early careers. Ye's piece "Snake and Woman" ("She yu furen"), for example, which appeared on the cover of Shanghai Cartoons in 1928, showed a naked, voluptuous woman caressing a python.[93]

As these erotic images began to flood the market, critics denounced them as a decadent art and began to call loudly for an end to pornography.[94] To many Chinese cartoonists, the burgeoning of erotic cartoons was indeed an alarming sign. This art, they felt, in openly preaching moral degradation and advocating sexual dalliance, was causing irreparable harm to society. Not only did these cartoons sully the integrity of artists, but they also corrupted the minds of the younger generation. At a time when the Japanese invasion seemed imminent, cartoonist Zhang E (1910-) wrote, instead of producing vulgar pictures (in his words, "displaying women's alluring thighs and soft bosoms") to satisfy the voyeuristic needs of readers, cartoonists should use their craft to portray the harsh social reality and expose the "imperialists' conspiracy to carve up China."[95] To Zhang E, radical cartoonist who later went to Yan'an, the cartoon's main function was to enlighten, not to entertain.[96]

Erotic cartoons were not without their defenders, however. Wang


Dunqing, a pivotal figure in the early cartoon movement, was one of the few who questioned this campaign against so-called degenerate art. The obscenity charge, he said, was often exaggerated and inaccurate. Consider how much of Western art dealt with themes that were overtly or covertly erotic, Wang reminded his fellow artists. The Western tradition had produced many great painters of the nude. At a certain level, it was extremely difficult to distinguish between art and pornography. Moreover, "sex was part of natural human desire" and one should not feel ashamed to discuss it.[97] Yet Wang's voice, which echoed the May Fourth Movement's romantic glorification of subjective human passions, was soon drowned out by fervent demands that cartoons be put at the disposal of politics. Although the campaign against erotic cartoons came to an end when the war erupted in July 1937, the central issues raised in this debate—what was the role of a cartoonist and what was the purpose of cartoons—continued to occupy the minds of Chinese artists. And part of the answer came from the West.

The West and Japan clearly exerted a strong influence on the modern Chinese cartoon movement. Examples abound: Shen Bochen's Western-inspired works, drawn with a pen and in distinct black-and-white style, for one.[98] While Feng Zikai's lyrical cartoons are reminiscent of the drawings of such Japanese painters as Hokusai (1760–1849) and Takehisa Yumeji (1884–1934), Zhang Guangyu's hero was Miguel Covarrubias (1904–1957), Cai Ruohong (1910-) admired George Grosz (1893–1959), and Te Wei (1915-) named David Low (1891–1963) as his chief influence. A large array of Western cartoons began to appear in Chinese magazines and newspapers in the early decades of this century.[99] The editor of Shanghai's prestigious Modern Cartoons, Lu Shaofei, a man more noted for his organizing skill than for his craft, was tireless in introducing both Western cartoons and theories to his readers.[100] The publication of works by Francisco de Goya (1746–1828), Daumier, Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), Covarrubias, Low, and others—artists who, in addition to having innovative techniques, also held strong social and political views—spurred a Western craze among young Chinese artists.[101] It was a time of borrowing and assimilation, with aspiring cartoonists zealously imitating and identifying with individual Western masters. The result was a genuine transformation not only of their art but also of their way of looking at life and ultimately their method of presenting it.

Although young Chinese cartoonists were assiduous students of the West, they were by no means servile followers. In the 1930s,


motivated by a desire to be independent and sparked by growing nationalistic sentiments, they emphasized appropriation rather than blind imitation. Many later emerged as distinguished artists themselves, demonstrating a high degree of originality and ingenuity in their blending of Eastern and Western traditions. These Chinese artists also placed a high value on the social accountability of the Western masters they studied.

Francisco de Goya, for example, was more than a great Spanish painter; he was also a resolute antiwar hero, a revolutionary artist who used his craft to vent his wrath against the follies and cruelty of mankind. Goya's work was introduced into China when the Japanese invasion was looming. Understandably, therefore, it was not Goya the successful court painter who drew the attention of his Chinese followers, but Goya the depicter of haunting images of senseless killing and human misery in wartime.

Goya's most influential piece of work in China was unquestionably The Disasters of War (1810–1820).[102] A set of eighty-two etchings concerning Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808, The Disasters of War is a masterpiece about death, destruction, and the violence of warfare. In the eyes of Lu Xun and others, Goya was at his best when depicting, through the use of visceral visual imagery, a world ruled by terror and chaos.[103] Perhaps even more inspiring to them was the fact that Goya, despite his numerous painful scenes in The Disasters of War, was able to paint the defiant Spanish people mounting fierce resistance against the invaders. These heroic pictures (in which women are often portrayed with greater valor than men) no doubt served as a morale booster to the beleaguered Chinese people.[104]

"Goya's style was a model to be emulated," wrote art critic Chen Yifan (Jack Chen, 1908-).[105] But it was the German artist Käthe Kollwitz who related war to life and redefined the concept of art as a tool for social change. Her work proved especially appealing to young Chinese artists. While Goya depicted the tragedy of war, Kollwitz dwelt on the plight of the common people suffering hunger, sickness, and social wrongs. Influenced by Goya and like the great Spanish artist, Kollwitz is not a cartoonist in the modern sense of the word. Her major contributions lay in etching, lithography, and woodcuts, and her influence in China during the war was primarily in the last area. Such young woodcut artists as Li Hua (1907-) and Wang Qi (1918-) count among the disciples of the German artist.[106]

Lu Xun first introduced Kollwitz's work into China in September 1931 when he published her woodcut Sacrifice in the journal The Big


Dipper (Beidou) to commemorate the death of Rou Shi (1901–1931), a young woodcut student and writer who had been executed by the GMD.[107] Lu Xun never hesitated to express his admiration for the German graphic artist. Not only did he share Kollwitz's ideas on war and peace, but he also felt the same frustrations at living in a society beset by political violence and social injustice. According to Lu Xun, Kollwitz's prints evinced a close emotional affinity with all those who were "being humiliated and persecuted."[108] Kollwitz's radical art and her advocacy for the victims of injustice won her wide admiration among left-wing artists. To them, Kollwitz's artistic achievement far surpassed that of Goya. After all, Goya never idealized the Spanish proletariat.[109]

Before and during the war, Chinese artists embraced the German cartoonist Grosz as a keen observer of society and a courageous opponent of fascism.[110] Grosz, whose drawings chronicle the crumbling of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism, believed that the role of the artist was to depict societal and political problems as accurately as possible. His criticism of the resurgence of militarism in Germany and his blistering attacks on Nazism proved a great inspiration to Chinese cartoonists. His works were widely reprinted in Chinese magazines, including his famous piece The White General (1922), which portrays a vicious Nazi general brandishing his long sword and brutally slaughtering innocent people.[111] The cartoonist Zhang Ding (1917-) called Grosz "a patriotic rebel who dares to expose the evils of Nazism."[112]

Grosz had many followers in China, most notably Cai Ruohong and Lu Zhixiang (1910-1992). Using a scratchy pointed pen similar to Grosz's, both Cai and Lu combined simple, coarse, but powerful graphic lines to achieve a forceful composition. Cai's style resembled Grosz's so closely that he was nicknamed "China's new Grosz."[113] Yet Cai did have his own personal style. More than his German mentor, for example, he employed large areas of black hatching to give his cartoons a solemn, bitter tone. One of the few cartoonists who received traditional art training at the Shanghai Art School (Shanghai meishu zhuanke xuexiao), Cai came under the influence of socialism early in his life.[114] He joined the League of the Left-Wing Artists in 1930, and in 1939 he went to Yan'an to teach at the Lu Xun Academy of Art.

If Grosz taught a unique way to depict societal problems, David Low demonstrated how to produce biting cartoons about international events.[115] In both style and content, Chinese wartime cartoonists were perhaps more heavily influenced by David Low than by George


Grosz. His criticisms of fascism in general and the Nazi regime in particular certainly won Low world fame, as well as the special hatred of Adolf Hitler.[116]

Extolled by the cartoon critic Huang Mao (1918-) as "the world's greatest cartoonist," Low was introduced into China in the 1920s.[117] Yet it was not until the War of Resistance that "Dawei Luo" became almost a household name.[118] Low's impact in China was considerable. His art proved especially influential in a number of ways. First, Low focused primarily on international issues, a new area for Chinese artists and one for which they had few models. Second, a surprisingly large number of cartoons produced by Low during the war years (the "years of wrath," as Low called them) were about East Asia.[119] In particular, his vivid chronicle of Japanese brutality in China provided the tormented Chinese with much-needed psychological support, reminding them that their suffering did not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. Third, Low's bold black-and-white brushwork, combined with a simple yet assertive style, bore a close resemblance to the techniques of East Asian painting. Finally, Low was more than just a cartoonist: he was a cartoon theorist as well, one of the few artists who made people think seriously about caricature. His discussion of the close relation between literature and the cartoon bolstered Chinese cartoonists in their fight to elevate their art.[120] Perhaps what appealed to the Chinese most was Low's determination to impart new life into the cartoon, completely reshaping the nature of this important visual art. Like Grosz, Low had many followers in China, Te Wei being perhaps the best known.[121] Te Wei's forte was depicting international conflicts and Axis-camp barbarism, and his favorite targets were, predictably, Japanese militarists and Hitler.[122]

The Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias offered something very different to his Chinese readers: a pure artistic style rich in variation and intensity. Covarrubias's caricatures, which bore the unmistakable imprint of both Pablo Picasso and other Cubists and the geometric motifs of Mexican Indian decorative arts, were introduced into China in the 1920s. To budding Chinese cartoonists, Covarrubias's work provided a refreshing contrast to that of Grosz and Low. His cartoons had a rich, flamboyant style rare in his generation. His portraits, always executed with great care, had a distinct three-dimensional, sculptural presence, providing an animated visual history of famous figures from around the world (as in his celebrated series "Impossible Interviews").[123] In sharp contrast to Grosz's sarcastic social commentary and Low's powerful political images, Covarrubias's pieces were


elegant and graceful. They were looked upon by the Chinese, and correctly so, as a polished art form rather than as an instrument of political satire and social reform.[124] The fact that Covarrubias was the only noted Western cartoonist to have visited China (in the fall of 1933) made his impact even more immediate.[125] Young artists such as Zhang Guangyu, Ye Qianyu, and Liao Bingxiong were fascinated by Covarrubias's smooth, ornamental lines.[126]

Among Covarrubias's Chinese followers, none was more prominent than Zhang Guangyu. Indeed Zhang, who strove to elevate the cartoon to the rank of fine art in the 1920s and 1930s, was without question one of the most influential figures in the modern Chinese cartoon movement, founding cartoon magazines (such as Shanghai Cartoons in 1928) and establishing cartoon associations. Zhang initiated his own style by borrowing various ideas, including bright colors and sharply defined elements from Chinese folk art tradition and Covarrubias's geometrical abstraction.[127] Like the Mexican artist, Zhang effected a calculated quality in his work that one does not normally associate with caricature.

When the war with Japan erupted, Covarrubias-style cartoons, which had little political content, were immediately replaced by patriotic drawings. Covarrubias's effort to reestablish the cartoon as an art form rather than as political commentary thus failed miserably in China, a nation now engulfed by fervent nationalism. Chinese cartoonists thus turned for inspiration increasingly to political cartoonists in the West, who had much to teach about witnessing and depicting such horrors as were about to descend.[128]

The New Press and New Journalists

As has been mentioned, the rise of Chinese cartoons was tied closely to the emergence of the modern press. Chinese resistance intellectuals, convinced that the press was an efficient form of communication and that the printed word carried enormous weight, regarded newspapers as a weapon of immense value in spreading patriotic messages and politicizing public opinion.[129] The growing recognition in the 1920s of journalism as a respectable profession also contributed to its rising influence. To understand the effectiveness of the Chinese wartime press and the growing stature of journalists, we must briefly examine the earlier history of Chinese journalism.

The modern press in China had its origins in the Manchu court's humiliating defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War of 1895. From 1895 to the 1911 revolution, the Chinese press experienced a "Golden Period,"


with numerous new political magazines and daily papers clamoring for political and social changes.[130] This phenomenon was important not only in bringing pressure to bear upon the conservative, recalcitrant government officials, but also in helping usher in a new era of mass culture.[131]

The number of newspapers grew by leaps and bounds in the ensuing years. According to Rudolf Löwenthal, a professor of journalism at Yanjing University, there were 19 dailies nationwide in 1895; by 1912, the number had soared to 500; and by 1926, there were 628 daily newspapers.[132] Among major cities in 1926, Beijing topped the list with 125, followed by Hankou with 36, Guangzhou with 29, Tianjin with 28, and Shanghai with 23. The total number of dailies increased to 1,031 in April 1937. As with spoken dramas and cartoons in the same period, Shanghai had taken over as the center of newspaper publishing with a total of 50 newspapers; Beijing had 44, Tianjin 29, and Nanjing and Hankou each had 21.[133] While other cities would be proud to have one or two respectable newspapers, Shanghai had dozens, among them the Shanghai News (Shen bao), the News (Xinwen bao), and the Eastern Times (Shi bao). In 1933 both Shen bao (founded in 1872) and Xinwen bao (founded in 1893) had a daily circulation of 150,000, the largest in the country; two Tianjin newspapers—Dagong bao (L'Impartial, founded in 1902) and Social Welfare (Yishi bao, founded in 1915), a Catholic-sponsored journal—trailed distantly at 35,000 each.[134] The rise of Shen bao and Xinwen bao as the circulation giants of modern Chinese journalism reaffirmed the growing importance of Shanghai as the financial and cultural center of China.

Predictably, newspapers had a distinct flavor depending on their place of publication. While Beijing's newspapers excelled in political reportage and many were closely associated with particular political groups, Shanghai's gave the most comprehensive coverage on economic affairs. Furthermore, since many of Shanghai newspapers (including Shen bao and Xinwen bao) were located in the foreign concessions, they, unlike their Beijing and later Nanjing counterparts, enjoyed a large degree of political freedom.

In the 1920s, Shanghai's newspapers were diversified in content and not dominated by political affairs, unlike the traditional Beijing gazettes, which reported official news and served as a mouthpiece for the government. The new urban papers' commitment to news and adoption of the language of commercialism reflected a changing society where information was a valuable commodity in its own right and


consumerism was increasingly seen to hold the keys to the national economy. News became a source of excitement and imagination. Although international events were covered with facts supplied by foreign news agencies like Reuters, it was local news that held center stage. In the case of Shen bao, for instance, news coverage in 1922 was 96 percent domestic and only 4 percent foreign.[135] Indeed, among Shanghai's established papers Shen bao was noted for its commitment to covering local events. The paper began to issue a special "local supplement" in February 1924, hiring staff reporters to cover local affairs and part-time correspondents in other major cities to file special stories. The supplement garnered much attention and became so popular that other major presses soon followed suit.[136] In sharp contrast to the traditional press, which faithfully transmitted official views, the urban newspapers were a public medium closely intertwined with the people. Not only did they fashion a new popular culture, but they also helped shape a shared universe in which the public sphere took on a new significance.

To draw more readers and increase its profitability, the modern press also instituted a number of new devices—special features, for example (such as educational news and financial reports)—to improve its contents.[137] The press also took a critical look at its distribution methods. Shanghai's major periodical publishers relied largely on the gradually improving postal system and railway networks to distribute their papers to other major cities.[138] In the mid-1930s, Shen bao took the step of acquiring its own delivery vehicles, which allowed papers to be sent to nearby cities such as Suzhou within hours after they came off the press.[139] This practice, however, was limited to Shanghai's vicinity. The great interior remained largely inaccessible, an impediment that proved a major challenge for the resisters when the war broke out.

Modern Chinese newspapers mirrored and reinforced the kaleidoscope of changing urban society. In general, the trend was toward more entertainment as the growth of illustrated material and entertainment news indicates. Shen bao issued a special "Pictorial Weekly" in May 1930. Xinwen bao, Shen bao's chief rival, countered shortly thereafter with its own "News Pictures."[140] The public's thirst for more entertainment news and demand for stories of romance and martial arts also gave rise to a plethora of "mosquito newspapers" (xiaobao) in Shanghai, including Crystal (Jing bao) and Diamond (Jingan zuan).[ 141] Unlike newspaper giants such as Shen bao, which printed two to six big sheets (eight to twenty-four pages) per issue and


was priced usually at 4 fen, mosquito newspapers issued one small sheet, or four pages, and cost only 1 fen. Catering to the general public, they contained serialized fiction and a mosaic of gossip and anecdotes. The publishers, embracing the notion that entertainment and sensationalism meant money, prided themselves not on accuracy but on diversity and amusement. In this they were certainly shrewd businessmen; as the journalist Zhao Junhao put it, they had a solid understanding of "mass psychology."[142] They watched changing tastes and moods with a keen eye and successfully exploited them. Besides mosquito newspapers, Shanghainese were also drawn toward the more visual, even titillating, medium of the pictorial publications such as Good Companion Pictorial (Liangyou huabao) and China Pictorial (Zhongguo huabao), which made their appearance in the 1920s in Shanghai. With current news photos and beautiful movie star portraits gracing their pages, they won a quick following in the booming publication industry.[143]

The modern Chinese press clearly had an influence on the intellectual ferment of China. This was particularly evident in the literary supplements (fukan) issued by major newspapers. Shen bao's "Unfettered Talk," which began in August 1911, was one of the oldest and most prestigious of these supplements. Its preeminence as a bastion of new literature, however, did not actually begin until December 1932, when Li Liewen (1904–1972), a returned student from France, took the helm as editor from Zhou Shoujuan (1894–1968), a writer of the "Mandarin Duck-and-Butterfly School" known for producing romantic and sentimental entertainment fiction. Li's "Unfettered Talk" followed quite faithfully the distinguished tradition established earlier in the 1910s by the literary supplements of the Beijing Morning News (Chen bao) and Shanghai's China Times (Shishi xinbao).[144] Nonetheless, Li's supplement was unique in a number of ways. It was launched at a time when Shanghai was replacing Beijing as China's most exciting cultural center. In that period, too, the GMD was clamping down hard on dissension, which meant that left-leaning contributors such as Lu Xun and Mao Dun had to write under a wide variety of pen names to conceal their identities. As for Li Liewen, he was a liberal (he died in Taiwan in 1972) who strongly believed that different views should be aired and that ideas could thrive only in an uninhibited atmosphere. Thus he turned his literary supplement into one of the most exciting forums of the early 1930s for all men of letters, left and right alike.[145]

Predictably, the increasing popularity of the new medium and its growing circulation caught the eye of advertisers, and revenues from


advertising soon became a major source of income for the press. Most newspaper advertisements were business-related (commercial transactions, finance, medical affairs). In the 1920s, for example, 51 percent of Shen bao's pages were given over to business advertisements; Tianjin's Yishi bao was even higher, at 84 percent.[146]Shen bao's chief rival, Shanghai's Xinwen bao, which was aimed specifically at businessmen, issued a special section on "economic news" to underscore its unique qualification to speak on that subject.[147] Though a relatively novel concept in Chinese journalism, advertising turned out to be a crucial factor in determining a newspaper's overall financial health, including such giants as Shen bao, Xinwen bao, and Yishi bao.[148] Still, there seemed to be few guidelines for what could be advertised. Newspapers were willing to print anything as long as the advertiser could pay. For instance, Shen bao's "medical advertisements," which constituted the largest portion of business-related advertisements, abounded with quack doctors' unabashed claims of their ability to cure every conceivable venereal disease. Similar to the mass journalism of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in late-nineteenth-century America, the 1930s Shanghai press was marked by an increasing commercialization, which was strongly reflected in the plethora of advertising.

For Chinese intellectuals, the unbalanced mix of commercialism and news was a cause for major concern. To them, the practice of selling advertising space on an indiscriminate, profit-only basis represented a lowering of the quality and even dignity of a newspaper. The press could easily lose its dedication to "transmit basic information," a purpose described by the journalism professor Xu Baohuang (1894–1930) as fundamental.[149] An even more alarming sign indicating the ascendancy of business interests over news reporting was the taking over of the front page by advertisers.

Commercial advertisement notwithstanding, the Chinese press drew a huge number of readers who considered newspapers a credible source of information and an inexpensive avenue of entertainment. This rising popularity of the press also coincided with the growing stature of the journalists, who, while trying to establish their own identity, became increasingly uncomfortable with what they considered the wrong direction of the modern Chinese press.

In the past, despite the potential influence of their occupation, journalists, or "kings without crowns" (wumian huangdi), enjoyed little social esteem.[150] In fact, journalism was generally condemned as "the miserable end of a literatus,"[151] and journalists, most of whom were


unsalaried, were considered men without principles, whose views could be easily swayed. They parroted official policies, using journalism as a mere tool, a stepping stone on the path to officialdom. They were, in short, a loose group whose identity was ambiguous at best.[152] To improve this lowly image, many journalists in the 1920s and 1930s argued that a new identity had to be found. "We must try to establish the sacred, esteemed status of the Chinese reporter, so that when people utter the name 'reporter' [xinwen jizhe ], they will do so with a sense of sincere admiration and great respect," Fan Changjiang (1909–1970), a noted reporter of Dagong bao, urged.[153]

To enhance their social status and engender respect for their craft, Chinese journalists in the 1920s and 1930s began to call for greater independence in their work and more objectivity in their reportage. Terms such as zhiyehua (professionalization), zhuanmenhua (specialization), and keguan (objectivity) began to take on new meaning, becoming synonymous with good journalistic practice.[154] Professionalization and specialization meant more than financial security; they meant a clear division of labor—news reporter, columnist, editor, and publisher: a far cry from old-style journalism, where generalists with broad but superficial knowledge of a variety of subjects reigned.[155] Objectivity meant reportage that was accurate, balanced, detached, and dispassionate.[156] These ideas of the new journalism stemmed in part from the increasing popularity and influence of newspapers as an information and entertainment medium, but also from the journalists' growing awareness of their craft as "a special occupation."[157]

The establishment of journalistic institutions was a major step toward professionalization. Inspired by the ideas of Walter Williams, dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Joseph Pulitzer, the American publisher whose $2 million endowment helped to build a journalism school at Columbia University in 1903,[158] journalism education officially began in China in 1918, when National Beijing University set up the Institute of Journalism (Xinwenxue yanjiuhui). Shao Piaoping (1884–1926), editor of the Beijing News (Jing bao), was hired as an instructor—among whose many students was a young man named Mao Zedong.[159] In 1920, the first department of journalism in China was founded at Shanghai's St. John's University. Yanjing University (1924) and Fudan University (1929) followed suit.[160] Yanjing University also hired foreign faculty, many recruited from Williams's program at Missouri. Vernon Nash, the head of the department at Yanjing, was an example. Other foreign experts included the journalist Edgar Snow and Rudolf Löwenthal, a German


who specialized in comparative journalism.[161] Several newspapers also started their own training programs. The Beiping School of Journalism (Beiping xinwen zhuanke xuexiao), founded in 1933 by Cheng Shewo (1898–1991), then editor of Beijing's World Daily News (Shijie ribao) and Nanjing's People's Livelihood News (Minsheng bao), is perhaps the most notable example. Similar to a professional school, this institute provided workshop experience for young aspirants.[162] The inclusion of journalism in university curricula was important in at least two ways: it provided a regular setting for neophytes to learn the ropes, and, more important, it was a long-awaited sign of approval by the intelligentsia, who finally recognized this ignored field as a legitimate, worthy endeavor.[163]

The launching of professional associations and journals, which provided reporters with a common language and a certain esprit de corps, further elevated their social status and strengthened their new identity. One of the earliest reporters' associations was the Shanghai Reporters Club (Shanghai xinwen jizhe lianhuanhui), founded in late 1921.[164] By the 1930s, similar organizations had sprung up in almost every major city in China.[165] Along with the sprouting of professional associations came the proliferation of professional journals. Notable among them were Journalism (Xinwen xuekan, issued by the Beijing Journalism Association [Beijing xinwen xuehui]) in the mid-1920s and Journalism Quarterly (Baoxue jikan, the journal of the Shenshi News Agency in Shanghai) in the 1930s.

To further cement group solidarity and to win widespread social recognition, in August 1934 the Hangzhou Reporters Association (Hangzhou jizhe gonghui) proposed that September 1 be designated "Journalists' Day" (Jizhe jie), an idea that was enthusiastically embraced.[166] Fan Changjiang helped to launch the Chinese Young Journalists Society (Zhongguo qingnian xinwen jizhe xuehui) in Hankou in March 1938 and a "Reporters' Hostel" (Jizhe zhi jia) shortly thereafter. With these innovations he not only strengthened reporters' identity by giving them a place to gather and exchange ideas, but he also placed them at the forefront of the resistance movement against the Japanese—a position that would have a profoundly paradoxical impact on their professional role.[167] The society also launched an influential journal, The Reporter (Xinwen jizhe), in early April.[168]

Young journalists, in an effort to enhance their social role, also took great pains to distinguish between news (xinwen) and commentary (pinglun). "In our country," one journalist lamented, "the news is often a mixture of news and commentary…. Worse still, there is


often a brief reporter's remark attached to the end of each piece. Such a piece can easily turn into a sensational statement."[169] Under the old tradition of "literati discussing politics" (wenren lunzheng), of which Liang Qichao and Huang Yuansheng (1885–1915) were two of the best-known practitioners, it had indeed been common practice to intermingle news reporting and commentary.[170] In this, both Liang and Huang closely resembled their counterparts in eighteenth-century Europe, where journalism was very much an adjunct of politics.[171] These men's semiclassical and semicolloquial style, however, was comprehensible only to the literate few.

News and commentary were not alike, young journalists insisted. Blending them confused the different function of each. Whereas news could be defined as "a most recent, accurately reported event that sparks the interest of readers," political or social commentary expressed nothing more than one's personal opinion.[172] News stories were detached and balanced records of facts; commentaries involved subjective attitudes and views.[173] "To gain the respect of our readers," one insisted, "we must make a clear distinction between the two."[174] In the face of national crisis, however, that goal grew ever dimmer; as China plunged into war and as reporters assumed the role of patriots, the line between objectivity and subjectivity blurred almost to the point of meaninglessness.

New journalists also repeatedly called for the independence of the press. When Zhang Jiluan (1888–1941), Hu Lin (Hu Zhengzhi, 1893–1949), and Wu Dingchang (1884–1950) took over the faltering Tianjin-based Dagong bao in September 1926, they issued a new editorial manifesto for the paper: "No partisanship, no dependence on outside commercial or political subsidies, no advancement of private interests through the newspaper, and no conformity at the expense of truth" (bu dang, bu mai, bu si, bu mang). These unorthodox ideals ushered in a new era of independent Chinese journalism.[175] For Zhang Jiluan and his associates, a newspaper was not an official party publication, and a reporter had little in common with the politician. Only independence of the press could guarantee nonpartisanship and an absence of ideological and political favoritism. Partiality was incompatible with honest journalism. The rapid rise of Dagong bao as a formidable force in journalism in the late 1920s was testimony to the public's acceptance of the newspaper as an unbiased medium of communication.

Increasingly, young journalists became more outspoken in their criticism of old-style Chinese newspapers. The new guard challenged


established rules and proposed new formats, and in so doing breathed new life into what they regarded as the moribund journalistic tradition. Although Shanghai was the center of Chinese journalism, the new journalists charged that its newspapers and magazines exhibited some of the worst features of old-style journalism: elitism, sensationalism, and unreliability. The curt and detached narrative style of the old journalism, they argued, produced dull and superficial reports, which only alienated the people. By the same token, the old journalists' highbrow approach prevented them from understanding the everyday tribulations of the people, and it certainly was not conducive to fair and objective coverage. The so-called news, one critic pointed out, was nothing more than the daily accounts of politicians or profiles of movie stars and parvenus.[176] Gossip columns abounded, while hard news was neglected. Newspapers were filled with stories about sex and violent crime, accompanied by distasteful graphic descriptions, observed another critic.[177] Even Shanghai's influential Shen bao, Lin Yutang charged, printed irresponsible advertisements at the expense of important news.[178] Newspapers failed to inform the public and had become part of the daily entertainment of society, publishing only trivia to garner increasing profits. For many independent-minded journalists, such compromises were intolerable. To them, quality, integrity, and credibility had to be a paper's most valuable assets. It was imperative to find a new direction and establish a clear distinction between news and sensationalism.

As the reputation of journalism began to rise in the 1920s, journalists developed an ever greater awareness of the importance of their craft. Although both the Jeffersonian belief that the press should be valued above the government and the vast power of the modern American press ("In America the President reigns for four years, but journalism rules forever and ever," remarked Oscar Wilde)[179] were certainly foreign to Chinese journalists, they nonetheless began to realize that their work carried enormous influence. Compared to less public means of communication, the press was extremely effective in disseminating information to a wide audience, shaping their minds and swaying their emotions. It was a powerful instrument for spearheading social change and raising public consciousness. The "king" might still wear no "crown," but he now understood the power of his sword. Gradually journalism became something important: it brought excitement and promised its practitioners high visibility; it provided a frontrow seat at important events and offered an avenue to power and prestige. The new journalists, however, were determined to do something


quite different from their counterparts in the past. Not only were they interested in unlocking the corridors of political power and intrigue in Nanjing, but they also paid more attention to the larger social and economic forces that shaped the lives of most Chinese. In brief, they insisted that the press must be more responsive to public needs.

To establish a truly responsible and responsive press, new journalists argued, reporters must show concern for the general public and ground their stories in reality. Instead of using semiclassical language, they should address the mass audience by means of a new, simple, direct, personal style that relied heavily on eyewitness accounts and on-site investigations. "We must abandon obsolete journalistic practices," Fan Changjiang wrote. "We must do our best to experiment with new methods and to create new things."[180] "Let's educate the masses, guide the masses, and report about the masses," one journalist appealed.[181] In this way, young journalists redefined the role of a reporter. The new down-to-earth approach proved critical not only for gaining a better understanding of the life of the people, but also for inspiring support of the resistance cause. It is with this in mind that we now turn to a more focused discussion of the influence that spoken dramas (chapter 2), cartoons (chapter 3), and newspapers (chapter 4) had during the war.


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