The Spectacle of Representation: Calendar Girls, the Gaze and the Atelier
Dans un premier temps, cet article analyse la réception faite en Chine à l'art populaire du « calendrier » de ses origines au début du vingtième siècle jusqu'à nos jours, et en particulier aux jeunes femmes qui étaient les modèles chinois de ce mode de représentation d'inspiration occidentale. Dans un deuxième temps, sont examinées certaines oeuvres littéraires romanesques de la fin des Qing et du début de la République, en particulier de la période du 4 Mai, portant sur la production d'images féminines et le regard qu'on leur portait.
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1Look at the girl. She is waiting for a friend to go traveling. She is straight and slim, shoulders back, posed under a weeping willow budding in spring green. She is wearing a white cheongsam, embroidered or printed with red chrysanthemums and green leaves, of a silk so soft that the shape of her breasts is visible. She has a soft grey overcoat or shawl draped over her left arm, and her right hand is raised, perhaps in greeting and also to brush a strand of willow away. She is smiling, and looks slightly to the left, her gaze is welcoming. She is saying to someone, “Look, over here, here I am.”
- 1 Ng Chun Bong, et. al., compilers, Chinese Woman and Modernity: Calendar Posters of the 1910s-1930s, (...)
- 2 Ellen Johnston. Laing Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early Twentieth-Cen (...)
2The signature in the lower left hand corner of the poster reads Zhiying. Hang Zhiying 杭穉英(1900-1947) trained at the Commercial Press in Shanghai, but left in the early 1920's to open his own atelier, the Zhiying Studios.1 Specializing in promotional art and packaging, the Studios, with their stable of talented artists, soon held a large share of the commercial art market.2 Their range of posters ran from the most expensive, with calendar (sometimes including both Western and lunar dates), decorative frames, optional smaller landscape insets above or below the main image, poetic inscriptions, reproductions of the product advertised, and sometimes an overlay of gilt; to the cheapest– a "hanger", in which the design of a pretty girl was printed on a plain background with a thin metal strip attached at the top for hanging. Such prints advertised nothing except perhaps a certain aesthetic, but were popular as a cheap form of interior decoration. "Waiting to go traveling" was a hanger, which meant that the image had not been selected for use by advertisers.
3The address under the signature is Sima Lu 四马路, otherwise known as Fuzhou Road 福州路, in the old Chinese section of Shanghai. Famous for its pleasure houses and bookshops, the road was also the city's printing centre. Spatial geography ran parallel to cultural geography–like Fuzhou Road, the advertising art produced there was a space of leisure, desire, temptation and consumption, and therefore perched uneasily on the borders of social acceptance. Highly successful as a marketing tool, accepted by the urban populace as decorative items in their homes, these works posed a problem for, and a challenge to, Chinese intellectuals.
- 3 Interview with Shi Zhecun. Shanghai, spring 1997.
- 4 Interview with Feng Chuyin. Shanghai, spring 1997. According to Zhang's biographers, however, Zhang (...)
4If one listens to the testimony of survivors from this period, these calendars girls were unimportant. When asked his opinion of these posters in the spring of 1997, Shi Zhecun 施蜇存, a modernist writer best known for introducing the works of Freud in China, replied, "These types of things were simply for uneducated people. If we intellectuals wanted to hang something on the wall, we would choose a reproduction of a real artistic work, something more classical, like David's portrait of Napoleon, for example."3 Similarly, in a conversation with Feng Chuyin 冯雏音, widow of Zhang Leping 张乐平, the cartoonist who created San Mao 三毛 in 1935, still one of China's most popular comic book characters, Ms. Feng insisted that she and her husband had nothing to do either with such art or their artists.4
- 5 For an interesting view of how Shanghai's wicked past was presented in early post-Liberation China, (...)
5It would be easy to explain this type of denial by the succession of purges undertaken by the PRC government under Mao Zedong, when any trace of capitalist culture was condemned, punished and erased. In fact, it might be argued that much of the cultural experience of Shanghai in the first half of the 20th century was repressed and silenced, as the city’s past became, even more than Taiwan or any country in the West, a symbol of all that the Chinese Community Party had fought against.5
6It was only in the late 1980s, with the reform of economic policy, that the positive reclamation of Old Shanghai began, including the rediscovery of Shanghai writers, the recovery of films produced in the early Shanghai studios, the celebration of the city's early architecture, graphic design and fashion, and of course, the unearthing of its advertising images.
- 6 Zhang Yanfeng 张燕风, “Lao yuefenpai guanggaohua” 老月份牌廣告画, Hansheng Zazhi 汉声杂志, No. 61. two volumes, (...)
7By the mid-1990s, calendar art was already being reproduced–or rather, counterfeited—in China as a small coterie of collectors from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the West had begun to display and write about these images.6 The impending handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 and the consequent conflation of nostalgias—one already present for a pre-revolutionary Paris of the East; the other anticipated for a post-colonial hybridized urban metropolis about to revert to Chinese rule–created a bigger demand for the posters, and opened a new market for Shanghai advertising recapitulated in the form of books, recordings, postcards, coasters, t-shirts, and other product packaging.
- 7 See Gregory Lee, Dai Wangshu: The Life and Poetry of a Chinese Modernist; Hong Kong: Chinese Univer (...)
8When Shi Zhecun and Feng Chuyin were interviewed in early 1997, Shi, who had taught modern Chinese literature for years at East China Normal University but had never been able to mention his own or his friends’ work in class, was just beginning to see his early short stories studied in China. Foreign researchers had “re-discovered” his work over a decade before.7 The family of Zhang, the comic artist who had been pilloried during the Cultural Revolution, was in the midst of pursuing a groundbreaking lawsuit to protect the copyright of San Mao as a brand image. Still, these intellectuals refused to reserve any space in their cultural memories for calendar art other than in the back alleys and back rooms of the lower classes.
9In January 1919, the latest issue of the popular student magazine New Youth (Xin qingnian 新青年) carried a lead article by Gao Yihang 高一函 on “The Basic Mistake of the Peace Conference” (Heping huiyide genben cuowu 和平会义的根本错误). It was clear by then that negotiations in Versailles at the end of the First World War were not going well for China. Discontent over the signings in April would culminate in the student movements later that May. But tucked away on page 84 was a letter to the editor entitled, “A revolution in the arts” (Meishu geming 美术革命), from a student named Lu Cheng 吕澂.
10Lu begins by drawing a parallel between the literary reform movement promoted by New Youth and the one inaugurated in 1909 by Marinetti in Italy. “Now when people talk about Futurism”, says Lu, “there are even those who forget [that it was] a literary movement.” Why? Because Futurism very quickly turned to the task of revolutionizing visual arts—something which China also desperately needs to address. What becomes clear in Lu’s diatribe, however, is that his main concern is with the growing commercialization and consequent corruption of painting–specifically painting as it is practiced in Shanghai:
- 8 Lu Cheng, “Meishugeming”, in Xin Qingnian, Vol. VI, No. 1, p.85.
“When we speak of painters, very few do not push commercial houses to use paintings of ladies (shinü hua 士女画) as brand images. The blame rests with the artists, and there are few who do not mistake this type of unreasonable painting for ability.”8
11He further notes:
- 9 Lu Cheng, p. 85.
“For Shanghai artists, only this type of painting can succeed, but the faces do not distinguish between masculine and feminine (bubie yinyang 不别阴阳) and the limbs are not in proportion–this is commonplace. There is no knowledge at all of anatomy. As to the subjects, all have been selected according to sex appeal, which is regrettable.”9
12More generally, the problem is that painting is now the province of mass culture and common people cannot distinguish between what is good or bad. Lu calls for the magazine to take up the cause of revolutionizing the arts; only New Youth has the power and influence to do it. “Be the second Italian poetry magazine!” he pleads, again evoking Marinetti and the Futurists, “the benefits will not be limited to just one people or one time.”
- 10 Chen Duxiu, response to “Meishugeming”, in Xin Qingnian, Vol. VI, No. 1, p. 86.
13Editor Chen Duxiu’s 陈独秀response on behalf of the paper is interesting. He admits that he has long wanted to take up the reform of both medicine and the arts. Following Lu’s lead in joining literature to fine arts, he states that like the Chinese literary revolution which has realism at its crux, new Chinese art must take verisimilitude as its standard. It is only by painting what is real that Chinese artists can move away from repetitive forms and genres and be free to use both their creative talent and their descriptive technique.10
14Chen, writing from Beijing, takes as his examples painters who are in vogue in the capital, where the problem is neither the confused absorption of Western style, nor the corrupting power of commerce, but the strict adherence to palace paintings. For him, a proponent of vernacular baihua白话style who has no time for a lament over the loss of high style, and who has led the fight against old literary forms like the eight-legged essay, it is the emphasis placed on copying old artistic forms that is holding back new Chinese art.
- 11 Chen Duxiu, p. 86 :至于上海新流行的仕女画他那幼稚和荒谬的地方，和男女拆白党演的新剧，和不懂西文的桐城派古文宗译的新小说，好像是一母所生的三个怪物。要把这三个怪物当作新文艺不禁为新 (...)
15Chen Duxiu only addresses the issue of calendar art at the very end of his note. He then classifies it as one of the three “strange creatures born of a single mother” – Shanghai, “that immature and absurd place”– which also include mixed-sex new style theatre and the second- and third-hand translations of western works by the Tongcheng 桐城 group into classical Chinese.11 The metaphors of miscegenation and stillbirth are clear. Chen does not bother with Shanghai or its defective hybrid offspring because he does not expect them to last long.
16The New Youth exchange highlights some important issues. First, there is Lu Cheng’s positioning of calendar art in relation to art. Although he protests that its practitioners are not real artists, he also admits that no one is sure anymore what real art is. He tries to draw a distinction between high and low art, by distinguishing art produced by literati from that produced by artisans, but then admits that in the end common people have no way of determining what is beautiful. His reasons for throwing calendar art out of the inner circle are mixed. Western art is too fleshy and lascivious, and appeals to man’s baser instincts. When its power is put to commercial use, the effect is even greater. What is worse in his mind is the growth of spurious and misleading arts education, in the form of courses, magazines, and fake lecturers.
- 12 Lu Cheng, p.85.
“In the magazines they publish, in terms of teaching anything about art, they speak in vague and amorphous terms, sometimes even plagiarizing directly; they also produce all sorts of things, and speak of Western art without distinguishing the different schools in a superficial and arbitrary way, who knows what harm this may do!”12
17What is needed, he suggests, is a clear précis of Chinese art from the Tang dynasty to the present, with all of its schools and trends, and the same again for Western art, so that place, time, and aesthetic trends will not be confused. For the present, there are too many images, they are too popular, and, Lu seems to imply, the Chinese public has no tools with which to negotiate them, or defend against them.
18The importation of Western art has upset traditional epistemological patterns. Foreign knowledge in China has been traditionally the preserve of the intellectual elite, but in the case of Western art it is the commercial artists, pushed by technology and economic demand, who have taken up the techniques first, albeit in an unsystematic and unschooled way. The implication is that because these “artisans” have no commitment to the orthodox order, they have no reason to resist a new one. Moreover, because they are not well educated, they are unable to contain–or have no interest in containing–the dangerous power of this new imported imagery. The result is that Lu could be disturbed by the sexuality of the shinü hua, even while he complained they were badly drawn.
19Lu’s arguments, earnest and sometimes confused, crystallized much of the intellectual anxiety about calendar art and about popular culture in general. To men who sought to learn from the West, the posters represented the dangers of a careless mating. Calendar artists learned from the West, but in a way not mediated by intellectuals. They portrayed modern women, but with no other social agenda except to sell goods and make money. Their works found a ready market, produced in numbers that no intellectual magazine or book could hope to reach. Their images had direct communicative power, but catered to lower instincts instead of higher ones, creating desire instead of assuaging it.
20Not much is known about Lu Cheng. In early 1919 he was young and had had some training in art history. His prose was clumsy, the stodginess of the wenyan he would have practiced in middle school barely containing the impassioned prudishness of a young university student. In contrast, Chen’s reply is almost Olympian, set down in the crystalline new baihua that he himself has helped to formulate. Yet one senses that the 40 year-old professor’s prose, with its elegant parallel logic, is in some ways even more constraining. There is no room in his writing for the mess of popular desire and its expression. Thus his is yet another intellectual strategy towards this new kind of art–to simply ignore it.
- 13 Ellen Johnston Laing, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early-Twentieth-Cen (...)
- 14 Laing, p. 305
21Calendar art did not fade away. In the following two to three decades, the illustrative techniques of calendar art would go from strength to strength, while the images themselves shifted and changed, reflecting an increasingly diverse and demanding market. As Ellen Johnston Laing notes, “nothing could stop the flow of annual calendars…[which] were both advertisements for commodities and themselves commodities to be advertised.”13 Laing, in her definitive work on calendar art, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai,provides an invaluable narrative of the development of these images through an examination of their material context—focusing on the mechanics of production as well as the demands of an evolving marketplace.14 In addition, Laing conducts an impressive exploration into the personalities and lives of the painters who produced the work, a much needed antidote to the easy abstraction of these images as direct romantic reflections of urban Shanghai culture.
22It is easy to be seduced by the content of the posters. The images are obvious material for studies in feminist history or material culture. They are records of contemporary desire, the women meticulously constructed figures, embodying the wish-fulfillment of a consumer culture in which beautifully groomed women dressed in the latest fashions are surrounded by luxurious furnishings and objects imported from around the world.
23Calendar art implies art produced quickly and cheaply, in response to changing tastes and the quickening of modern, clock-kept time. Mass reproduction implies the quick and easy stamping of images, but in the context of Chinese painting, it is art produced by cutting images into stone and applying coats of color in laborious stages (lithography). It lies somewhere in the middle of two traditions, the slow layering of paint in European oils, and the quick breathing strokes of the Chinese watercolor. In addition, the prints were designed to appear “fresh” to the eye for at least a year, since the entire calendar year is printed on the same page. Production process and function thus imbue the posters with a kind of permanence that belies the fashionability (and therefore the ephemerality) of their content.
- 15 Laing, p. 166.
24As a topic of art history, calendar art represents a nexus between the modern commercial imagery of the West, and the long tradition of looking at paintings of beautiful or exemplary women in Chinese art. Although Laing has connected some of the lines between the artists who produced commercial art with the modern fine arts movements of their time, there are still lines of inquiry to be opened up across the obstructive boundaries between high and low art.15 The training of calendar artists often took place in the same classrooms and studios as the training of future Western influenced producers of Chinese modern art, and one can argue that the problematic of depicting the nude, for example, remains the same, whether the image is destined for an art gallery or a printing press.
- 16 Catherine Vance Yeh, Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals, and Entertainment Culture, 1850-1910(...)
25Who are these women? And perhaps an equally valid question— Who are they not? Catherine Vance Yeh's work on the late Qing Shanghai courtesan cultural sphere allows us to extend the historical context of calendar art back into the mid-1800s. In Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals and Entertainment Culture, 1850-1910, Yeh shows us the production of images of women who make the transition from women performers and companions highly valued in the closed world of the high literati to businesswomen who find stages for their arts outside the “flower houses”, in the streets and stages and parks of semi-colonial Shanghai.16 These women became personalities in newspapers, characters in serial novels, images in photographs that advertised their places of business; while their patrons and admirers became –instead of government officials –journalists, freelance novelists and critics. Their images ranged from the line drawings in early illustrated magazines such as Dianshizhai huabao 點石齋畫報(established Shanghai 1884) to photographs in advertising cards and courtesan newspapers. These were the first mass produced images of women, women who had highly individualized media identities, and until the Republican period, women whose company was explicitly for sale.
- 17 Laing, p. 126.
- 18 Hansheng Magazine, No. 61, Taibei:Hansheng zazhishe, 1994. pp. 87-88.
26The transition from courtesan to calendar girl was sporadic and arguably incomplete. Both characters were commercial ones, but in order for images of beautiful girls to be effective as advertising art, they needed a cleaner back-story. To be the screen upon which the viewer’s desires were projected, the figures needed to be desirable but anonymous (or generic, in the case of film stars), and they needed not to be prostitutes. Even within the courtesan world there were standards. The standing of one of the earliest artists Zheng Mantuo 郑曼陀(1888-1961) collapsed, after the model for one of his most successful calendars was revealed to have been a beautiful streetwalker. When it became public higher class prostitutes boycotted his studio and work.17 On the other hand, we have the apocryphal story of his first calendar girl, in which Zhang visits the theatre, and in the audience notices sitting nearby a “sweet and fair” beauty who smiles at him engagingly. The next day he sees an advertisement by the Commercial Press calling for calendar art, and immediately draws her from memory, taking first place.18 What is interesting here is that while the background of the girl might only be slightly ambiguous (what other type of girl would be sitting in a public theatre in 1914 Shanghai), she does not go so far as to pose. The artist recreates her after one sighting, he has no relationship with her other than a smile. Through the 1910’s and into the 1920’s, the image of the calendar girl changes from a pretty girl in the crowd who just may be a courtesan, to a young educated modern girl who enjoys the freedom her wealthy family has granted her. By the 1930s she is back to being a working girl, but as a film star who acts as a prostitute but must guard from becoming one in real life.
- 19 Wu Hung, The Double Screen: Medium and Representation in Chinese Painting. London: Reaktion Books, (...)
- 20 Wu Hung, p. 211.
27There is one other thing she is not. She is not white. She is Chinese. It is an obvious but important distinction. As we will see, men and women students could look dispassionately at representations of European women, dressed or undressed. Representations of Chinese women, however, were something else. It is easy to explain the first by the estrangements of “race”, and the second by the discomforts of sexual familiarity and identity. But we must assume that the tension goes deeper. There exists, after all, a long tradition of looking at images of beautiful women in China. In The Double Screen: Medium and Representation in Chinese Painting, Wu Hung locates the moment when “female images began to change from political and moral symbols to objects of visual appreciates and sexual desire”. He finds it in a handscroll dating from the Northern Wei, The Nymph of the Luo River, “the first Chinese painting devoted to the subject of romantic love.” 19 By the early twentieth century, then, there is already an established ritual of looking at “beautiful woman” paintings (meiren hua 美人画), at “feminine space” (what Wu defines as a “spacial entity” in which a woman, presented to the male gaze, is part of a landscape “in which flowers and plants reflect her radiance and luxury, and mirrors and screens reveal her loneliness and sorrow”) that has lasted for more than a millennium and a half.20
28The male gaze transmits power and desire over a female object. But what is newly disturbing about looking at images of Chinese women at the turn of the century is that the mode of representation is Western. The constructing “eye” of the image, is a foreign one. Even if the painter is Chinese, the newly trained eye with which he looks at the girl is not. The logic is relentless. If any eye colonizes its object, in modern Western portraiture and calendar art in China, the Western eye doubly colonizes the Chinese model. In the transitional context of early twentieth century China, the intensity of the gaze and its effects were amplified in meaning. The artist, whether working in oil paint or lithography, was playing with fire.
29The tenets of effective advertising demanded that commercial images be Chinese so that Chinese audiences would relate to them. The problem was that the images themselves were compromised from their very conception within the context of capitalist modernity and semi-colonialism.
30How were these images looked at then? How are we to look at them now? What did it mean to look at a pretty girl standing frozen in time and in space? What does it mean still?
- 21 See Laing, who cites Lu Xun’s public denunciation at an art lecture in 1920. “Not only are calendar (...)
31Parallel to the technical innovations in the production of these images, was the development of critical responses to them. Periodically, there would be tirades, much like Lu Cheng’s, against the general phenomenon of commercial art. Intellectuals denounced the loss of traditional landscapes increasingly overgrown with building signs, billboards, and posters, just as they ruefully watched the meditative contemplation of art and nature give way to the frenzied consumption that was the response to advertising.21
32What is more interesting is that over time, the penetration of commercial art and design into the public consciousness elicited a response from other forms of representation—in fiction and essays, and in theater and film. The reaction might consist of something as simple as a calendar poster hanging on the wall of a character’s room, or a narrator who compares a woman he meets to a girl in a cigarette advertisement. Through these literary texts, it is possible to see calendar art and its depictions of women as spectacular events, as writers found the imaginary room in which to explore the problematic of posing, looking, (re)producing, considering, consuming and processing these new images.
- 22 Richard Vinograd, Boundaries of the Self: Chinese Portraits, 1600-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge Univer (...)
33The literary depiction of making images of women runs parallel to the production of the images themselves. There is the Yuan dynasty play “Autumn in the Han Palace” (Hangongqiu 汉宫秋, by Ma Zhiyuan 马致远 (1250-1321), taken from “Miscellaneous Anecdotes of the Western Capital” (Xijing zazhi 西京杂志, Han dynasty) in which the Han emperor Yuandi directs his adviser to scour the country for beautiful women, and hire artists to paint portraits so that he can make his choice more conveniently. The advisor is corrupt and asks for money to make the portraits more flattering. The family of the beautiful Wang Zhaojun is poor and cannot afford his fees, and so Wang’s portrait is defaced and she is ignored by the emperor. Later the emperor inadvertently discovers Wang’s beauty and condemns the adviser to death. Wang is sent to the Xiongnu tribes, married to the king there, and later commits suicide. Ultimately, says Richard Vinograd, the story is about the “corruption and destruction of representation.” 22
- 23 Vinograd, p.18.
34The act of representation has enormous power, implying danger but also redemption. In the Ming dynasty play Peony Pavilion (Mudanting 牡丹亭) by Tang Xianzu 汤显祖(1550-1616), the image that the heroine Du Liniang 杜丽娘paints of herself as she is wasting away from lovesickness is the talisman that will rescue her from death. Thin and frail, longing for the image of a young scholar she has seen only in her dreams, she is determined to leave behind an image of herself in healthier times. After she dies, the same scholar finds this self-portrait and after much longing and dreaming, calls her back from the dead, finding her alive in her coffin.23
35In both of these stories, the act of representation is a displacement which allows a kind of slippage through space and time. The making of an image implies the room between duplication and duplicity; between preserving an image, and the sacrifice of its object. But if part of the image is in the making, its power is also in the looking. If “Peony Pavilion” has a happy, supernatural ending, it is because Du Liniang’s portrait finds exactly the audience it was looking for—the very scholar whose image has appeared to her in a dream.
- 24 Craig Clunas, Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China. Princeton: Princeton University Press, (...)
36In “Peony Pavilion”, audience is the difference between a painting lost to lecherous eyes, or a painting that reaches out from death to life, love, and rebirth. In his work on visuality in Ming China, Craig Clunas argues that it might be the viewer of the painting who gives meaning to the work. He asks, “might it not be the case equally that visuality in China is about the centering of seeing in the seer?” He argues that the difference between Chinese and Western painting might not be in the painting itself, but in the seeing, that “seeing” might be about “the production of knowing subjects”.24
- 25 Clunas, p. 149.
- 26 Clunas, p. 158.
37The power and danger inherent in a picture, then, is also in its uncontrolled reception, unmediated by educated men (not women) who know how to read the picture “correctly”. Clunas has written about the deep suspicion of mimetic pictorial representation running through traditional Chinese art criticism.25 Certain types of imagery, religious or pornographic, were deemed dangerous to the social order, because common people could not be counted upon to see a representation for what it was, and might mistake it for reality.26
- 27 Translated as The Story of the Stone by David Hawkes. Vol. I. “The Golden Days”, Harmondsworth: Pen (...)
- 28 See David Hawkes' appendix to his translation, pp. 527-534.
38In the Qing dynasty masterpiece Dream of the Red Chamber (Hongloumeng 红楼梦) by Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹(1715?-63) the problematic of representation—of distinguishing between what is real and what is false–is implicit from the very beginning of the novel.27 Dream and imagery, both pictorial and literary, inhabit both the content and the structure of the work. The story itself is written of a piece, predestined in the relationship between a stone rejected by the goddess Panyu, and a small flower. The text is written on the massive slab, no good for mythic construction but fine as surface for entertaining fiction, then shrunk to the size of a talisman hung around the neck of the novel’s hero Jia Baoyu 贾宝玉. The main female characters, the “Twelve Beauties of Jinling” whose fates are mapped out in the “Dream of Golden Days” song cycle have only a short time in which the confluence of their youth and beauty may bloom.28 The central tragedy of the novel is that the moment must be both celebrated and mourned even as it is being lived. The experience of time is amplified—through representation. In the exchanges of poetry and painted handkerchiefs, the thickly decorated furnishings and clothes, the mirrors of longing, the realism of portraiture, games of theatre, the misunderstanding and misreadings of emotion and conversation, in the existence of the very narrative itself. To determine real from false is perhaps not the point here. To accept that the two may co-exist through the experience of representation, and that life be made richer and more treacherous for it, is.
- 29 Yeh, Shanghai Love, see Chapter Three, “Playground Shanghai: Re-enacting the Dream of the Red Chamb (...)
- 30 Yeh, p. 236.
39A hundred years later, we see Dream of the Red Chamber appropriated and recapitulated as one of the major scripts of Shanghai courtesan culture in the late Qing.29 In this admittedly more populist reading, courtesans and their patrons played out scenes from the Daguanyuan 大观园 garden, and brothels mimicked the luxurious settings and clothing of the Jia mansion. Prostitutes took the names of the female characters, a burial ground for destitute streetwalkers was named the Flower Cemetery after the famous scene in which Lin Daiyu 林黛玉 buries fallen flower petals.30 In the context of late-Qing Shanghai courtesan culture, the novel’s imagery completely overshadows its literary subtleties.
- 31 See Catherine Vance Yeh, “Creating the Urban Beauty: The Shanghai Courtesan in Late Qing Illustrati (...)
- 32 See David Wang Der-wei. Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849-19 (...)
40The same could be said of the fiction produced in the late-Qing. The quality of courtesan novels is mixed at best. In part this has to do with the conditions of production. The great Ming and mid-Qing novels were produced slowly in private and for an audience of friends—reworked, discussed, and reworked again. The serialized fiction at the end of the nineteenth century was produced on order and to a specific time and length, often with little planning, and catering to a semi-literate audience. Thus, while courtesan imagery reached new heights in the late-Qing, the narratives of courtesan life did not address the meaning or implications of these same images. Instead the text seems simply to rest on the page next to the illustrations.31 The narratives are about the political and social transgression of norms and boundaries, on at once extending the space of action out of the courtesan houses and into the streets, and colonizing the brothel into a space of business, culture, and politics.32 Although there is abundant description, situating the action squarely in Shanghai, concretely describing the hybrid East-West materiality of courtesan homes, dress and accessories, the nature of depiction itself is not questioned. References may be made to photographs or illustrations, but only as artifacts.
41In September of 1915, the first issue of New Youth was launched with a call to arms by 36 year-old Chen Duxiu. Sixteen months later, Hu Shi’s 胡适 manifesto “Some Tentative Suggestions for the Reform of Chinese Literature” (Wenxue gailiang chuyi 文学改良刍议) appeared. The literary movement and the literature it produced have been extensively studied. For the purposes of this study, it is enough to observe that student intellectuals, given permission to apply themselves to literary work that was perceived as essential to nation- building, had the means to produce work that was exploratory, the result of readings in Western literature, and the serious contemplation of their own environment. Unlike the late-Qing journalists who produced serialized entertainment fiction to order, the May Fourth writers took up the short story form, publishing finished work in literary journals. Few of them lived by writing alone, many had teaching jobs in universities, or editing positions in publishing companies.
- 33 Yi Ming 逸明, Minguo Yishu: shimin yu shangyehua de shidai 民国艺术：市民与商业化的时代. Beijing: Guoji wenhua chub (...)
- 34 Philippe Hamon, Imageries: littérature et image au XIXème siècle. Paris : Jose Corti, 2001. p. 30.
- 35 See Yeh’s arguments on the localization of Shanghai courtesans images, and the emergence of the cit (...)
42It is after the transition from courtesan art to calendar art, and the shift from late-Qing popular fiction to May Fourth intellectual fiction, that we find the most interesting writing about the looking at, and making of, female images. Not surprisingly, with some exceptions, the strongest work comes out of Shanghai, the acknowledged centre of Western art studies in China, and also the geographical area with the highest exposure to and concentration of commercial art images.33 Philippe Hamon, in writing about the new relationship between image and literature in nineteenth- century French literature, has argued that the abundance of imagery produced by new technologies pushed writers in two directions: first, to localize imagery, situating images firmly within a geographical and then textual context; and second, to move literary developmental work away from the “imitation” of previous literary forms, and to look for models outside of literature, in the representational dynamics of imagery.34 If we apply his observations to the Chinese experience, it is possible to see that the first movement, the building of an “iconotope” in which new courtesan imagery is firmly localized in the texts and geography of Shanghai, is already taking place in late nineteenth-century China. It follows the development of mass-production technologies in the treaty-port cities almost simultaneous, but on a much smaller scale, with what is happening in the West.35 Secondly, although China too had a literary history built on the “imitation” of previous literary forms, there was also already a tradition of looking to other representational models outside of literature—in the Buddhist discourse in Journey to the West, for example, and again in the Taoist questioning of real and unreal in Dream of the Red Chamber. Yet what can be seen, after the carefully constructed break of the Chinese literary revolution in the 1910s, is a kind of restarting, and the play of representational models is taken up again, reaching its apogee in the 1920s and 1930s, not coincidentally when calendar art also had its strongest presence. Thematically, the stories are most fruitful when grouped around particular spaces—spaces where images are produced and received—including the beauty salon (cosmetics and dress), the street (advertising, observation and demonstration), the store (consumption and choice), and the stage (performance, spectacle, disguise), the journal and magazine (the story, news, the serialization), the nightclub (darkness, the dance, assignations). For this paper, we attempt a preliminary exploration of the atelier.
- 36 Gao Yuanbao, “Daoyan” (Introduction), in Teng Gu, Teng Gu xiaoshuo quanpian滕固小说全篇, Shanghai: Xuelin (...)
43Teng Gu (1901-1941), a native of Baoshan (part of present-day Shanghai), was an undergraduate at the Shanghai Arts Institute. In 1921 he went to Japan to study, graduating in 1924 with a degree in literature from Tokyo University. Returning to China, he taught at his alma mater, as well as Nanfang University in Guangzhou and Jinling University in Nanjing. In 1930 he went abroad again, this time to Berlin to study art history, and returned with a doctorate in 1932. Until his early death in 1941, his pursuits were mainly academic and administrative, and he published works in Chinese art history, Chinese painting, traces of European style in the Yuanmingyuan Summer Palace, library science, and, most important for the purposes of this paper, a work on the literature of the Aesthetics movement in Britain.36
- 37 Shih Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern, p. 125-126.
44Loosely affiliated with the Creation Society, Teng’s interests in contemporary art and literature included readings of Oscar Wilde and Théophile Gautier, as well as Tanizaki Junichirô (1886-1965). As co-founder of the literary Sphinx Society, he would have participated in discussions influenced by readings of Baudelaire and Verlaine.37Although we have no precise information on which works by these authors Teng personally read, or in what language, we can guess that he was exposed to the Western writing inundated with imagery – Baudelaire’s evil flowers, perhaps Rosette’s boudoir in Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin, the studio where Dorian Gray was painted, along with the rotting and corruption of the portrait itself.
- 38 Shih Shu-mei, p.126.
45Teng’s best known stories depict the sexual and creative frustration of Chinese art students living in Tokyo. Shih Shu-mei has suggested that, as in the work of Yu Dafu 郁达夫, the national intersects with the libidinal, and that in Teng Gu’s work, the sexual repression imposed by China’s political and military weakness also blocks the flow of artistic creation.38 A reading of “Mural” (Bihua, 1922) also reveals that it is the act of Western representation that intensifies and complicates the dilemma of these students.
46The story opens with a visit the protagonist Cui Taishi 崔太始 makes to his friend T’s rooms. Cui has been in Tokyo five years and is in his final year of art school. Although he never managed to finish anything, he is commonly acknowledged by his peers to be the most gifted and promising among them. This year, he has moved to the Ginza, to a room where the light is good, and hired a model to work on his graduation piece. He reports he is making good progress. But the reason for his visit is literary:
“’T, I have something important to tell you, how about you write a poem for me, to help me vent a little, what do you think?’ He nodded, his brow creased, released a puff of cigarette smoke and looked at T.
- 39 Teng Gu, Teng Gu xiaoshuo quanpian, pp.44-45.
‘What do you mean! I write poems when they come from my own feelings, when I have something to say. How would I know what you’re feeling?’”39
- 40 Teng Gu, p.45.
47Cui goes on to express his indignation at having been ignored by a group of young Japanese girl students handing out pamphlets in a school demonstration. It is the kind of story everyone has heard from him. T tells him to calm down, after all, Cui is married and with a child. Cui is indignant, protesting that both wife and child have been foisted on him by feudal circumstances: ‘“T! You are an intelligent person, and not like the others. If you start to criticize me too, I really have no-one to turn to.” He was gasping for breath now, and was on the verge of tears.”(……T君！你是聪明人，我不以一般朋友看待你，你也苛责我，我真没有地方告诉了。”他说了，便断断续续的一呼一吸，他不禁滴下了一场眼泪。)40
48Cui has been working at his painting for five years, but when he needs to express strong emotion, he turns to poetry—poetry that he must ask someone else to write.
- 41 Teng Gu, p.47.
49Cui is attracted to most of the women with whom he comes into contact, but has no idea how to read their reactions. When his professor visits Tokyo from China, he is smitten with the professor’s daughter Nanbei 南白, a gifted artist of traditional painting in her own right. Interestingly, she is the only artist who displays finished work in the story. At her father’s request the students band together to put on an exhibition, one approaches the Japanese painter’s union for permission, another numbers the paintings, Cui himself arranges the space, another two assemble the catalogues.41 The show is a success, the Japanese press even shows up, and T serves as translator for the professor. Cui is infatuated with Nanbei, thanking her for the few paintings she has given him, and sure that they contain special messages for him.
50The next time T meets Cui, it is a month later, at the end of cherry blossom viewing season. Cui is walking through the park with his painting kit. He complains that he has had no word at all from Nanbei, who instead is writing long letters to another of their fellow students. He also admits that he has given up on his thesis, having fired the model who has refused his advances and moreover preferred the attentions of his studio-mate. T convinces him to try again, and Cui agrees. After another month, T visits the the rooms of S, with whom Cui is sharing the new model. In the elegantly appointed 8-tatami mat space, T watches them paint:
- 42 Teng Gu, p. 53.
There was a girl dressed in a negligee, revealing a smooth snow-white breast: she was sitting sideways in a cane chair, her eyes still and barely blinking. Cui and S moved back a few steps, set up their easels, and concentrated on mixing the colors, moved in to look more closely, then began to paint.42
51At the end of the session, the model asks about the negligee. Cui replies that it is the latest fashion from Paris, and very expensive. The model asks to keep it, and Cui agrees, saying that he will buy a new one for their work. Soon after that, T receives a note from Cui, asking him to accompany him and the model to the movie theatre, but once he gets to the studio, he finds that the model has changed her mind. The two men leave, but out on the street they see her again, this time walking hand in hand with Cui’s painting partner S. Cui is beside himself.
- 43 Teng Gu, p. 55.
52The next day, T receives a visit from Cui’s older relative who delivers an English language paper with a strange note written on it:’ “T, write the contents of my heart into a poem! Not another of my friends knows my heart, but you really know me!“ It was signed, “Taishi’s last note.” (“T兄：你把我的心事做一首诗罢！没有一个朋友知我的心，你是真知我者！太始留笔。”)43
53The note appears to be written with a fingernail, not a pen, and in the color of blood. The relative reports that Cui is in the hospital, after drinking too much and vomiting blood in a restaurant banquet room. The two men go back to the room, and find a couch stained with blood, and a mural painted in blood on the wall behind it. Looking closely, they can make out the figure of a man on the floor, and the figure of a woman dancing on his belly. The title painted next to it reads, “Cui Taishi’s graduate thesis”.
54Teng Gu’s vision of the artist is an early one. The artist is portrayed as a victim of his own desires, but also of his confusion over what his art is for and where its limits lie. Cui continually confuses the living and breathing model with the image he is painting, mistaking the passivity of the posing girl with the acceptance of sexual overtures, and the act of representation with the act of conquest. His insatiable infatuation with every woman he passes on the street can be read as the artist’s eye trying to entrap and appropriate every beautiful object it sees. The intriguing figure of the girl artist is similarly reduced, as Cui mistakes the paintings she gives him for secret messages of romantic complicity; being traditional paintings, Cui assumes they can express emotion. Twice Cui asks T to write his feelings for him in a poem, the second time, after he has used his life’s blood to draw the most primitive expression of his dilemma, a man destroyed by the desire embodied in a dancing woman. But he is also an artist destroyed by a representational dynamic he can neither understand nor control. He scrawls his last pleading note on an English newspaper, erasing the Western words and the news – the most basic expression of modernity – they transmit.
55In the art student world of Tokyo, the atelier is a small tatami room, shared between two students and a model, and a reflection of each character’s neurosis – a place of self-creation, but also of self-destruction. As the education of Western art developed in China, depictions of the atelier evolved accordingly.
- 44 Zhou Liangpei 周良沛, Ding Ling zhuan丁玲传, Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1993, p.135.
- 45 Zhou Liangpei, pp.159-162.
56In the autumn of 1926, a group of young students in Beijing formed a new literary group, the No Need Society (Wuxu she 无须需社). With no need of pity, patronage, or gifts, the group also rejected any kind of constitution, and simply requested that its members write. They put together a book that was never published, but partlyserialized in the supplement (fukan 副刊)of the World Journal (Shijie ribao 世界日报).society. The members of the group were unknown. Without a star like the Threads of Talk group (Yusi she 语丝社) had in writer Lu Xun 鲁迅, or the Crescent Moon Society (Xinyue she 新月社) had in poet Xu Zhimo 徐志摩, their project was at a standstill. With no money coming in, one of the members Jiang Bingzhi 蒋冰之 informed her companion writer Hu Yebin 胡也频 that she was off to Shanghai to work in the movies. Although her friends were writers, Jiang’s own training had been in art and music. In Beijing she had studied oil painting. Unable to gain entrance to an academy, she took lessons at a private studio, painting still lifes and sculptures of the Venus di Milo.44 But her entry into the world of the cinema would be through literature. She contacted playwright and screenwriter Hong Shen 洪深 who agreed to write her an introduction to the Mingxing 明星 Studios in Shanghai. Tian Han 田汉, another playwright, helped her get an audition, and got his friends to put her in a fancy cheongsam and photograph her in a seductive pose that she found exceedingly vulgar. At the studio, she was overwhelmed by the activity and the different types of actors on call. Which type would she be? She resented the stare of the camera and the glare of the lights. Apparently, she refused the three year contract that was offered.45
57A year later, in December of 1927, Jiang would incorporate this experience in her first published short story, under the pen name of Ding Ling (1904-1986). The story, called “Meng Ke” (the phonetic equivalent of the French “mon coeur”), appeared in Short Story Monthly (Xiaoshuo Yuebao 小说月报) under the editorship of Mao Dun. The story opens at the beginning of the school year, in Shanghai, on the sports ground of a middle school where a group of young girls are playing volleyball. Suddenly one of them shouts, “Red nose, it’s red nose!” One of their male teachers, the one with the offending probiscus, walks quickly out of classroom 8 and into the teachers’ lounge. The players desert the game to see what has happened, the scene of sporting vigor quickly shifts to a studio classroom. A group of students stand whispering. Next to some drapery is a low bench covered in red-velvet, and on the velvet sits a model, half dressed in a transparent robe, crying. Near the wall, standing at No. 3 easel, is another girl, a nülang 女郎 maiden, dressed in black–the eponymous Meng Ke.
- 46 Ding Ling, Ding Ling duanpian xiaoshuo xuan丁玲短篇小说选, Vol. 1. Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981 (...)
“Silently, with large brash eyes, she coldly stared at the people in the room. She slowly batted a pair of thick lush eyelashes, and began to move her body, straight as a statue’s, walking over to lift the model’s face up with both hands, staring closely at her, to see the half-nude girl’s tears falling one large teardrop after another.”46
58Meng Ke, having caught the teacher harassing the model before class, tells the girl to stop crying and slowly manages to dress the girl and usher her out of the studio. On the way out, a fellow classmate stops them, announcing he wants to call a meeting to discuss the teacher’s behavior. Meng Ke tells the student to go ahead with the meeting, but she wants nothing more to do with the school and leaves.
- 47 Ding Ling, p.3.
“Afterward, things went back to their customary quiet. Only the school did not see Meng Ke again. The red-nosed teacher continued to walk along the corridor. After about two months, another girl was hired who came twice a week at a salary of 20 yuan a month, to replace the other model.”47
- 48 Ding Ling, p.4.
59Meng Ke’s mother died in childbirth. Her father is a reformed rake, a literary dilettante and connoisseur of Shanghai courtesans in his youth who returned home chastened after an official career ended in a case of sexual scandal. His daughter has been raised in the care of servants and the occasional arts instruction of her father. Preternaturally beautiful, she has grown up “like a orchid, quiveringly lush, slender and graceful, a snow-white face. From her first baby-steps, when her narrow long eyebrows would knit, or those thick luxuriant eyelashes would blink, there would be a long sigh from those watching.”48……长得象一枝兰花，颤蓬蓬的，瘦伶伶的，面孔雪白。天然第一步学会的，便是把那细长细长的眉尖一蹙一蹙，或是把那生有浓密睫毛的眼睑一阖下，就长声的叹息起来。
60The scene in the atelier is the break that marks the start of Meng Ke’s search for her own place in the world. The sobbing girl stripped of clothing and power is a spectre which haunts her quest.
- 49 Ding Ling, p.10.
61Leaving school, Meng Ke stays first with an old school friend and then with wealthy relations. Her aunt, a woman in her forties, is running to fat, but made up to look more youthful. “Her hair was already thinning at the top, but she rubbed oil into it and from far away it wasn’t noticeable. She wore it in two rolls on either side of her face, covering the ears. She was squeezed into a tight fitting long robe, and when she walked there was a rhythmic rustling sound.” 49头顶上已脱了一小撮头发，但搽上油，远看也就看不出什么，两边是拢成鬅头形，盖住一大半耳朵。拖着一幅齐脚的缎子长裙，走路时便会发出一种繂繂沙沙的响声。A fashion devotee, she has surrounded herself with young people, various nieces and nephews and their friends, all living in the same compound. These include her younger son, Meng Ke’s cousin, Xiao Song 晓淞, just returned from his studies in France, who soon becomes her close friend and confidante.
- 50 Ding Ling, p. 12.
62Meng Ke is uncomfortable in her new surroundings. Looking out onto the city from her window: “The sun glinting on the windows across the way, the sound of car horns”, she compares it with the purity of her childhood in the countryside when she could be intimate and friendly with the people in a natural way. She thinks of how she has to force herself to fit in now, and her eyes moisten with shame.50 But through the next weeks and months, Meng Ke becomes more used to her comforts. Her aunt presents her with a new dress, “a coffee-colored lined robe of New York silk.” Afraid of appearing ungrateful, she puts it on, and discovers that:
- 51 Ding Ling, p.13.
“...because she was so unused to the tightness of the narrow robe, the panels kept getting caught behind her legs, and that soft slipperiness of the fabric was so shiny it made her shy and stiff to be around anybody. Especially when she forgot and tried to walk more quickly, the pearl border would crash into the side of a table or a doorframe, and she would hurriedly have to correct her way of walking, worried about whether she had broken off another pearl.”51
- 52 Ding Ling, p.13
63Tan Ming 澹明, a friend of Xiao Song who is teaching at an art academy, is delighted that Meng Ke is an art student. Attracted by her bright eyes and straight shoulders, he presents her with a few reproductions of painted nudes and landscapes he has brought back with him from France and which she places respectfully on her desk to peruse at her leisure. In the evenings, she reads novels given to her by Xiao Song, or listens to Xiao Song and Tan Ming talk about Paris. She loves hearing about the museums, parks, theatres and restaurants, and entertains fantasies of being a waitress in a Parisian café.52
64With their encouragement, she begins to study oil painting, Tan Ming brings over paints and canvas:
- 53 Ding Ling, p.15.
“She would often spend the whole day painting copies of the paintings she loved. Or she would paint the azure sky from her window, the bamboo across the way, the tree growing at the corner of the building…finally, after spending four hours on one painting, she had a scene from her window, it was a corner of the garden, with the grass pavilion from the back moved into the center of the lilac bushes, and in the lawn in front, Lili [Xiao Song’s niece], was playing with a ball. Looking at it, she was pleased, and gave it to [Lili’s mother] as a gift.”53
65Meng Ke begins to work harder at painting, no longer content to stay inside her room painting scenes from her window or, sometimes, her own hand or foot. She moves outdoors, supplied with collapsible easel, and a matching three-legged stool. Xiao Song and Tan Ming accompany her on these outings, driving out to the countryside for painting and a picnic of canned meat, fruit, bread and even wine. Often they talk so much that the paints stay in their case. At such times, Meng Ke feels nurtured and protected, and her behavior becomes almost childlike.
66In the course of the story, Meng Ke is exposed to various public venus where women in the audience are placed on view. There is the New World entertainment center where Meng Ke and her friends are oggled by the men, the Carleton movie theatre where during the intermission the gaze (yanguang眼光) of both men and women is by turns hungry, calculating, and greedy. An old school friend, Ya Nan, also staying in the compound, takes her to an anarchist meeting, in filthy rooms where the girls shock Meng Ke by their casual behavior, shaking hands and kissing the boys in greeting. One of them, “Our Miss Sophia”, invites her to come to following week’s meeting, but Meng Ke desires only to remove herself as rapidly as possible.
67No matter where Meng Ke is, she cannot escape the gaze. One evening she plays a chess game against Tan Ming, with Xiao Song as her advisor:
- 54 Ding Ling, p. 16.
“She sat across from Dan Ming. Xiao Song was sitting next to her, leaning against the back of her chair, insisting on being her advisor. From time to time he would reach over her shoulder to take the chess pieces. When his body leaned over, his soft breath would warm the back of her neck, so she turned her face away. Then Xiao Song could see the shadow of her thick lashes on the curve of her cheek, and turned his face toward her, thinking to look more closely at the dark eye in the shadow of the lamp, and moved his chair closer. Meng Ke was concentrating totally on her pieces on the chessboard, and did not notice that across from here there was also a pair of eyes examining her slender fingers, the evenly filed peach colored nails tipping the pair of snow white hands. Her skin seemed to be translucent. Beneath the clear surface, could be distinguished the hair fine of her pulse and veins.”54
68On another occasion, Xiao Song invites his cousin to the movie theatre and then watches her change in her own room from the terrace:
- 55 Ding Ling, p.18.
“[Xiao Song] sat on the low stool and watched Meng Ke dress. Under her short black silk petticoat peeped out a pair of rounded calves, from beneath the thin silk stockings shone fine white flesh. It seemed as if his gazerested on this leg long enough, he would see something more.”55
69During the winter, Meng Ke drops painting and takes up the study of French. Another cousin’s wife draws her into a discussion of modern girls in China. They discuss old women’s magazine articles, pondering whether to be a prostitute is any better or worse than being a wife. By the spring, despite her reservations, still afraid of growing up into an unknown future, Meng Ke is slowly turning toward Xiao Song, who is courting her slowly but surely.
70The interlude comes to an abrupt end. As a practical joke Meng Ke is brought to a hotel where she and the rest of the group confront Xiao Song in a hotel room where he has been staying with his married mistress. Meng Ke is gone the next day, leaving an excrutiatingly polite thank-you letter for her aunt.
- 56 Likely to have been the 1926 filmic version, of the novel and play, with Norma Talmadge in the star (...)
71Throughout her stay in the compound, Meng Ke has been subjected to the gaze of strangers and friends. She rarely dares to lift her head up and look back, with one important exception—when she accepts Xiao Song’s invitation to see the film Camille.56 Meng Ke, who has already read the Alexandre Dumas fils novel La Dame aux Camélias in translation, is curious. The theatre itself is packed, a public but enclosed space so densely intersected with sightlines that the social hunt and its desires are almost palpable. But when the lights go down, it is Meng Ke who is transfixed:
- 57 Ding Ling, p.19.
“As soon as the camera focused on the woman in the long black skirt standing at the top of the stairs, Meng Ke’s gaze was fixed on the screen, remembering the book she had read on one hand, and on the other completely accepting the actress’s embodiment of the character Camille. Moreover, she felt her tragic pain, as if she herself shared the same fate.”57
72After the intermission, Meng Ke is once again caught up in the story, but leaves before the end when the scenes have become too painful to watch and she is already crying. That evening, she lies in bed thinking about the film:
- 58 Ding Ling, p. 21.
“…she simply loved the actress. The love story and the plot were over quickly, and what remained was simply the lone star, the memory of the actress’s frown, her smile, and a kind of tragic life experience that seemed to be the actress’s own. She tried to remember her name, but couldn’t think of it. She thought of going downstairs to ask Cousin, but was afraid of waking the others. “58
73Too excited to sleep, Meng Ke gets up and plays a few rounds of domino solitaire, and finally writes a poem in her journal:
- 59 Ding Ling, p. 37
“I care nothing for glory,
But cannot sleep. In the deep of this night,
It is because I think of her painful life…”59
74Meng Ke too, it seems, can desire and love an image. But her reaction is different from her male counterparts. Her response is not to possess, but to identify with and to become. When her illusions about Xiao Song are shattered, she looks to her remaining ones, and resolves to apply for a job as an actress at the Yuanyue Drama Society. The company takes her on almost immediately, first subjecting her to a painful scrutiny to determine what type of character she should play:
- 60 Ding Ling, p.38.
“Finally he forced her to accede to an awkward request: she silently lifted both hands and lifted her hair away from her temples, revealing a rounded forehead and two delicately sculpted ears. At that moment, her pain—no, it was as if she was being forced to tears. But she was accepted. He praised her, flattered her, encouraged her, he was willing to help her, the point was that he wanted her to know that he could make her a star.”60
75The final scenes of the story show Meng Ke in the eye of the stage and the camera, being made up and dressed, forced to move around and act to order. She has entered into a world where appearance is contrived and emotion artificial:
- 61 Ding Ling, p.40.
“Today, no matter whether in the reception room, in offices, the cafeteria, on the set, in the make-up room…everywhere she went, there was the vulgar and improper language of the actors, actresses and directors, or the screams of women after being pinched in the ass, and all sorts of mutual glances [yanguang] between them–everyone did as they pleased, laughing, happily chatting, playing. It was only her—she was surprised, suspicious, as if she herself had become like a prostitute to bear the disrespectful gazes of this place.”61
76On her way to her first take, she looks in the full length mirror and sees that the makeup man has made her up to look exactly like the streetwalkers on Fuzhou Road. Playing a minor role this time, she takes her place on the set while the lead actress chats happily with the crew. The director yells “Action!” and at that moment there is a slight thump. Everyone turns to discover that the new actress has fainted dead away.
- 62 Ding Ling, p.42.
77In the final passages of the story, we learn that Meng Ke, now known as Lin Lang, has become a star who specializes in silent suffering, one who, it is hoped, “can, through her body, bring about the satisfaction of each person’s desires, or let them derive a bit of happiness from these desires.”62
78Beginning with the atelier, and closing with the movie studio, it is tempting to think that Ding Ling leaves Meng Ke worse off than when she finds her, finally succumbing to the imperatives of the insistent subjugating male gaze that defines pre-1949 Shanghai culture. Yet, it is obvious that once she leaves the family compound, she increases the range of her own gaze. She “loves” the actress in Camille, and she chooses to be like her, including assuming the pain that she sees in the woman’s performance.
79The leap she makes in going to the theatre is only surprising in its courage. The only other time she behaves so straightforwardly is when she protects the artist’s model and marches out of the school with her. This time, she walks directly into the gaze of the camera.
80When she meets with the director, she fixes her large eyes on him, assessing every detail of his appearance:
“On that cleanly shaven face, were very sensitive nostrils; between the small red lips, a row of shiny white teeth could be seen when he spoke. The left hand was fine and smooth, fiddling with the chain of his watch fob. Hmm, the necktie pin was very nice! She stared at this person unwaveringly, thinking about other things, and so didn’t hear clearly what he was saying. Only when she saw that his gaze on her own face seemed to expect her to say something, she then began to speak slowly about why she had come. She began in a roundabout way, gradually she began to get braver and finally said,
- 63 Ding Ling, p.37.
‘…Now of course I don’t have to explain so much about myself, later you will understand it’s because of my inner conflicts and needs. I believe I won’t disappoint you.’”63
81Having made an appointment for an audition the next day, Meng Ke goes home to prepare. That night she sits in front of the mirror, gazing (wangjian 望见) at her own image, and her soft fingertips:
- 64 Ding Ling, pp.38-39.
“She brought them together and polished them on her chest, showing off. By now she was already rapt in hope, forgetting the day’s problems. She threw an a charming glance (yanguang) at the mirror, then a leisurely smile, then began to act by herself. This performance didn’t have a particular story or setting, it was the many different expressions she made in front of that eight inch high mirror. At the beginning she seemed to be pretending to be a singsong or dancing girl, so she put on affected airs for the person in the mirror, raising her eyebrows and looking at the ceiling. Other times she had the dignity and luxury of a noblewoman…but the noblewoman and dancing girl’s fates were all extremely unlucky, so that in the end those two eyes staring straight ahead at the mirror began to fill with tears. She truly cried, and then afterward laughed contentedly, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief: ‘Who would have thought it? I didn’t know myself I could cry like that!’”64
82Of course, Meng Ke has already cried bitterly over the discovery of Xiao Song’s affair–what she means is that she didn’t know she could cry like that and not mean it. Meng Ke is becoming less afraid to look because she has learned, like Ding Ling herself, to make stories, to play with representations. She has tried painting, reading, learning French, playing chess, watching movies–all mediums for building alternate representations and images. In the end, she turns herself into an instrument of representation. She will be model and artist, prostitute and client, be looked at and look.
83In her deployment of the atelier space, Ding Ling is exploring the spectacle of being a woman. There is the school room where the painter’s model is humiliated, the private contemplative space where Meng Ke does her first experimentation with oils, the limitless boundaries of the outdoors (where little or no painting happens), the small space of the “eight-inch high mirror” where the fledgling actress practices her faces, and the cavernous sound stage of the movie studio. Similarly, the constructions of femininity–as nude, “mo-deng” 摩登 girl, virginal victim, as creator/artist, as actress, are dissected into their respective parts—flesh under gossamer, the constriction of the cheongsam, the retreat into childhood memories and behaviors, the application of paint on canvas, the painting of cosmetics, lighting and feigned expression on the body.
84Finally, there is one other space—the textual one. When men focus on the contours of Meng Ke’s beautiful face, they do so at Ding Ling’s behest, for the reader’s consumption. Ding Ling the writer has made herself the eye and the pen. She will look, and she will be looked at. Her next story, the famous construction of a woman’s psyche as a textual space, “Diary of Miss Sophie” (Shafei nüshi de riji, 1927), confirms that destiny. For the rest of her life she would be identified with the character.
85For Ding Ling, representation is not emotion. Representation is the gaze, and most usually, a gaze directed at women. What she gives us is an unfolding catalogue of defense strategies. Meng Ke finally turns to face the gaze, to direct it at others and beam it on herself. The stare she trains on the director is a distinctly male one, reducing him to a series of soft sensual surfaces, and she is not even listening to him. This is Ding Ling’s secret joke. She dares to apply the constructions of femininity she builds to anyone.
- 65 Yang Yi 杨义, ed. Zhang Henshui mingzuo xinshang 张恨水名作欣赏. Beijing: Zhongguo heping chubanshe, 1996, (...)
86In the spring of 1930, Zhang Henshui (1895-1967), already an established writer of serialized fiction, began a new work, Aixiao yinyuan啼笑姻缘 (A Match for Tears and Laughter), about a young student in Beijing and his relationships with two women; the fashionable westernized Lina, and the traditional street artist Fengxi. The story appeared in the supplement of the newspaper Xinwenbao 新闻报, and ran through 22 chapters, ending in the autumn of that same year, and published in book form a few months later. Even before the final installment, it was clear that Zhang had an enormous hit on his hands, and the story was turned successively into popular pingtan ballads, a stage drama, and a film.65
- 66 Zhang Wu 张伍, Yi fuqin Zhang Henshui xiansheng 忆父亲张恨水先生. Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1995, pp.1 (...)
87In 1931, Zhang returned with his family to Beijing and, with the money he had earned from the novel as capital, helped found the North China Arts School (Huabei meishu zhuanmen xuexiao 华北美术专门学校). Because of his reputation he was named president, and took charge of the Chinese classical literature class as well as courses in creative writing. Zhang was himself an enthusiastic painter of traditional landscapes, and recruited famous friends to teach painting, including Qi Baishi 齐白石, Wang Mengbai 王梦白 and Li Kuchan 李苦禅. Liu Bannong 刘半农, a well known experimental poet and essayist, was named as a trustee. The school had an enrollment of more than 200 students, and the curriculum included traditional painting, western-style painting, and art pedagogy.66
- 67 Zhang Wu, p. 160.
88According to his son Zhang Wu 张伍, Zhang Henshui made sure the tuition fees at the Beihua meizhuan were low so that poor students who loved art would have the opportunity to gain entry into the “art palace” previously open only to the rich. The school, situated on Dong Si Road, was an old princely mansion featuring a series of courtyards. Zhang, whose rooms at the back had the best view of the gardens, often spent the night there writing. In his free time, he audited classes in traditional painting, and most enjoyed working on collaborative works with the other professors.67
- 68 Zhang Wu, p. 173.
- 69 Cited by Zhu Hongling in an article on «Yishu zhi gong», appearing in Yang Yi, ed., Zhang Henshui m (...)
89In 1935, in the middle of the Sino-Japanese war, Zhang was forced to leave Beijing, according to his son, after the Japanese complained to General Zhang Xueliang 张学良 about the writer’s anti-Japanese statements.68 Back in Shanghai, Zhang then took a job with the new periodical Libao 立报, as editor of the fukan (supplement). As part of his duties, he began a new serialized novel Yishuzhigong 艺术之宫 (The Art Palace) in the opening issue that October, and produced 24 chapters over the next 20 months until the beginning of June, 1937. Zhang himself recalled, “…the subject was the background of the models. I wrote about an old style girl, who becomes a model in a school because her family is poor. It was in every way a tragedy, and I was confident it would be different from the way other people wrote about models.”69……我并自写了一篇小说，叫《艺术之宫》，这个题材，是以模特为背景的。写一个守旧的女子，为家穷而去学校当模特。完全是以一个悲剧姿态出现的，自信和他人写模特不同。
90The Art Palace is perhaps one of the most closely observed depictions of the modern Chinese art world we have from this period. As a consideration of creative space and the problematic and politics of representation confronting artists in their own time and place, it can be read alongside other writing on the topic, most notably Zola’s The Masterpiece (L’Oeuvre, 1886 ) or Balzac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece” (“Le chef d’oeuvre inconnu”, 1837).
91Zhang’s depiction of the structure and inner politics of a Beijing art school was fiction but extremely well researched, most likely based on his own experience. It is clear from his memoirs and his son’s reminiscences that Zhang’s own preference was for classical painting and his interests lay in artistic innovation that found its sources within the Chinese tradition itself. In the novel, however “art” is an emphatically Western construction. In the hallways of the school, aside from the occasional professor in a long gown, and the distinction between western and “national style painting” on the course schedule in the administrator’s office, traditional art stays firmly behind the closed doors of the school corridors.
92The plot of the novel is fairly straightforward. The heroine, Xiu’er 秀儿 keeps house for her father in a small room off a common courtyard with her widowed father Li Sansheng 李三胜. Li earns his living by maiyi卖艺 (literally, “selling art”), performing as a street entertainer. In the opening scene, the sixty year-old father misses a step and collapses, exhausted by his exertions. He is bedridden and soon the family is destitute, with no way to pay for rent, coal, food, or water.
93As Xiu’er faces the daily humiliations of dire poverty, she notices that new neighbors have moved in across the street. The Wang sisters and their friends Xu Xiuwen 徐秀文 and Ni Changzhen 倪长贞 seem to have business outside the home. They are beautifully dressed and well fed, they live in clean and well appointed rooms. The other neighbors are suspicious, but slowly the girls make friends with Xiu’er, first offering tea and dumplings, later lending money. Finally the girls reveal the source of their income: they are models in an art school. Xiu’er is shocked, but fascinated. As her new friends explain it, the work is simple—she has simply to sit still and let students look at her. The payment–30-40 yuan a month–seems astronomical. Xiu’er is a modest girl, and looks at the question from every possible angle. In a novel of 24 chapters, she does not get to the gates of the Arts Institute until chapter 10.
94Xiu’er is pretty and is soon in demand within the school. She is pursued relentlessly by one of the leading students, Duan Tiande 段天得. One of the instructors, a Professor Jiang 姜, recently returned from France, is also fascinated and asks that she works supplemental hours at the Arts Palace, a private atelier he has set up for fellow artists. Xiu’er has told her father that she works as a servant in the school. He is not happy, having raised his daughter to be a good girl (zuo guniang 做姑娘), to let her work, but sees he has no choice. A close friend of the family, Wan Ziming 万子明, approaches the family with an offer of marriage. Xiu’er wavers, it is a clear choice between money and love, and she is not sure which one is more important to her. But the decision is moot when Li finds out what his daughter has really been doing, and he swears to kill her. Xiu’er is dissuaded from going home and moves in with Duan. Li packs up and leaves the courtyard, determined to go back to street art, this time in Tianjin. His health is not completely recovered, the performances are grueling, he dies of exhaustion. Xiu’er, who knows nothing of her father’s death, discovers that Duan is already married. She decides to return home, determined to face her father. It is only when she arrives at the hutong 胡同 gate that she is told the news of his passing. The art school, meanwhile, is engulfed in scandal, stemming not from the models, but from the abuse of funds used for the still life class displays. The Ministry of Education intervenes, the administration is replaced, certain troublesome students, including Duan, are expelled, and Xiu’er, who has been groundlessly compromised in a sex scandal, is no longer welcome at the Institute. Instead, she is asked to work full time at the Arts Palace where the atmosphere in the atelier has become progressively more dissolute. In the final scene, Xiu’er is wandering around in the half light of midnight, unable to find her way out of a winding hutong, her mind disintegrating into madness.
95The themes running through TheArtPalace are part of Zhang’s standard repertoire. Innocence, often female, always young, is irredeemably lost. The heroine has no choice in the matter, but she is not perfect, and is usually complicit either through ignorance, stubbornness, cowardice, or greed, in her own downfall. There is the camaraderie of hutong life, the decency of some poor families, the way those who have little extend whatever help they can to those worse off than themselves, but also never hesitate to criticize or gossip about the same. There is the selfishness and just barely imaginable luxury of the very rich. And there is of course the confrontation between traditional rural values and urban modernity.
96The ateliers in TheArt Palace, however, are something different, and so is the tension they generate in the narrative. The atelier and the art institute are seen for the first time through Xiu’er’s eyes on the day of her audition:
“She saw a wrought iron fence with a great gate in the middle, and outside there was standing a wooden sentinel box, and a guard with a bully stick walking back and forth. When she saw this she grew frightened, could it be that this was the yamen? But then she noticed groups of young men and women going in and out of the gate, and realized it was the school….
- 70 Zhang Henshui, Yishuzhigong, Beijing:Beijing yanshan chubanshe, 1992, p. 115.
The architecture of this first building was half eastern and half western. Passing through a garden, there was another courtyard, and another, she lost count. Finally, they arrived at the base of a western building. Xiuwen walked up several stairs, and then turned to get Xiu’er, smiling, ‘Come on.’”70
97Xiu’er is led into the administration office where she meets the administrative dean. Her salary is discussed and she learns that she has to meet the approval of first this dean, then the dean of the arts, and finally the painting professor. Following her friend quickly through corridors and staircases, she finally catches her first glimpse of the atelier.
- 71 Zhang Henshui, p.118.
“It was a building about 50 feet across, and walking into the main hall they saw seven or eight male students; all of them stared. Xiu’er, who had never been looked at like that before, began to blush, and ducked her head. The good thing was that although these students were staring at a female, their own faces were completely expressionless, without a single smile. Xiu’er thought, if they are going to be like this, and look at me so respectfully, it will be fine. She began to feel calmer….”71
98Xiu’er is put to work later that afternoon. She still thinks that she will be required only to sit and pose for the students. She is taken to No. 5 classroom. She finds the atelier filled with easels placed every which way, each with its own palette and mounted with white paper.
- 72 Zhang Henshui, p.122.
“The red paintings were of apples, the green of bananas, the grey of bottles and tins. The white and yellow paintings were of human heads or busts. On the wall were tacked several drawings, all of them nude women, both of the Wang sisters, Ni Suzhen and Xu Xiuwen, everything was there, the women’s breasts were painted very vividly. This was really something, could it be that in a place were books were studied, there were such carrying-ons? Wasn’t the teacher paying attention?”72
99She notices that all the windows are carefully covered with white paper, and a big cupboard which was like a kang, with a bedspread on top. In the corner was a four panel screen which seemed to be hiding something. Next to the screen were two low tables covered with fabric and set with items for a still life, including spinach and turnips, a basket of apples, and a dead duck.
- 73 Zhang Henshui, p.122.
100Class begins. Twenty to thirty students file in and take their places at their easels. They look Xiu’er over, and she thinks they will start painting soon. The professor arrives and shuts the door carefully. When he sees Xiu’er he asks, “Why haven’t you undressed yet?”73 He tells her to get behind the screen and undress quickly, people are waiting. When the students snicker, the teacher turns on them, “It’s her first time and she doesn’t know the protocol.” To Xiu’er he advises her, “Go and strip. It’s nothing, it’s for Art, so one can be a little more liberal.”
- 74 Zhang Henshui, p.123.
“Xiu’er had already heard this word “Art” at the Wang’s, and it already seemed quite familiar to her. Although she didn’t know the characters, or what it actually meant, the minute it was mentioned, it seemed hugely important. Even words like loyalty, filiality, humanity and righteousness (zhong xiao ren yi) didn’t have the same perfume. Xiu’er thought, if it was about Art, then she would take her clothes off for that.”74
101The professor shows her behind the screen. Xiu’er can see everyone is waiting quietly and moreover she has already accepted payment. She takes off her outer garments, leaving a pair of short trousers:
- 75 Zhang Henshui, pp.123-124.
“Mr. Chen said, ‘Hey! What are you doing? Please hurry up.’ As he spoke his hand grasped the screen, and he looked over the top. ‘Hurry up and strip, I’ll lose my patience otherwise.’ Xiu’er heard the tension in his voice and had to take off the shorts as well. Underneath there was still a red vest fastened tightly down the front with white bone buttons, binding her bulging breasts. She looked down, her bare arms felt an unaccustomed chill. Because the people outside the screen were in a hurry, she couldn’t dawdle any longer. She steeled herself, she lowered her head and walked out from behind the screen, but as soon as she did, the entire room burst into laughter. Frightened, her arms wrapped around herself, she bolted back behind the screen. Mr. Chen shouted, ‘Are you going to do it or not?’ Xiu’er replied in a low voice, ‘Of course I am, but why are they laughing at me?’ Mr. Chen answered, ‘Who told you to keep your under things on. Listen, your underpants have to come right off, socks and shoes as well. If you’re not going to do it, then you shouldn’t have come. Now that you’re here, and hesitating like this, taking one step forward, two steps back. Have you got anyone else at home? We’ll have to send someone over there and ask them to pay compensation, it’s really perverse, sending someone like this to us!’” 75
102Xiu’er is terrified her father will find out. She reproaches herself bitterly for wanting to earn the thirty yuan per month for the job. Now that she is here, she sees no other choice.
- 76 Zhang Henshui, pp.124-125.
“She was a bit crazed, and also angry, and undid the buttons on her vest, poppoppop, tearing it off in one gesture, throwing it onto the stool, and then stripping off the rest of her underwear. Mr. Chen was walking back and forth on the other side of the screen, looking over to check that she was doing it. When he saw that she was almost ready, he hissed, ‘Hurry up! We’ve waited too long.’ Xiu’er sat on the stool and took off her shoes and socks. Everything was off now, but she was sitting facing the wall, not daring to face the screen. She realized that near the screen were two small stoves heating up the room. It was still early autumn, and normally there was no need for this kind of heating. Now she understood; it was for the models who stripped. She was naked, and she wasn’t sure if it was because her nerves were so overwrought that her body was heating up, or because of the stoves, but even without a stitch of clothing, she felt warmer than she did fully dressed. She finished taking off her shoes. She was still deciding, should she go out from behind the screen or not?”76
103Xiu’er berates herself for being poor, for being in need. She equates her predicament with torture or execution. People who are rich have no need to sin, she thinks. She is still trying to figure out how to leave.
“Suddenly, Mr. Chen moved the screen brusquely away, folded it up and propped it against the wall. Xiu’er was immediately exposed, her back to the students. She turned to look, frightened, she crouched over, her hands covering her lower torso. Her heart felt as though it were on a swing, as if were about to jump up into her mouth. Her thighs began to tremble.
- 77 Zhang Henshui, p.125-126.
She was aware of being naked, but forgot where she was, it was as if she had already died. Mr. Chen said, “Hey, you can turn around now, it won’t do to sit back here, you have to sit on the kang.” It wasn’t clear whether Xiu’er hadn’t heard him, or was too afraid to turn, she just sat there, not moving. Mr. Chen could no longer be polite, he grabbed her by the arm and dragged her over to the kang. Xiu’er didn’t dare to lift her head, and staggered over. In the middle of her panic, she glanced at the students and saw that every single one was staring at her, but without any kind of frivolity, as if a naked woman standing in front of them were no more than a clay statue, a very normal thing. She had no idea how she had come to be sitting on the kang, and didn’t know when Mr. Cheng let go of her and stood back, arms akimbo, looking her over. He seemed to know that Xiu’er had lost her bearings and said to her, ‘turn your body a bit that way, right hand holding the right side of your face, left hand up, holding the back of your head.’ At first Xiu’er didn’t know what he was saying, but he repeated it several times, and finally she understood and did as he asked. Mr. Chen said, ‘Good! Just sit like that, don’t move, your face should be more natural, you don’t have to look so frightened. Hey! are you going to tremble at anything I say?’ It was only when he said this that Xiu’er realized she was shaking.”77
104The description of Xiu’er’s first modeling session is tortuous, and reads like a textual rape. Her undressing is a slow striptease, not only for the students, but for the readers. The exclamation points beat out the rhythms of Xiu’er dilemma and the teacher’s mounting exasperation as he forces her to strip, the dispassionate gaze of the students functions almost like a Greek chorus to the action in the atelier but also to the action of reading the text. In stripping the model, Zhang has also come close to stripping away representation itself, and the reader become complicit in Xiu’er’s exposure. And all, it would seem, for Art.
105In another painting class, the professor, a Mr. Yu, is lately returned from France and has advanced ideas about art.
- 78 Zhang Henshui, p.151-152.
“He had also had a theory, which was that this thing called Art came out of the self and could teach others, and one could thereby influence them. Thus, works of Art had to be exaggerated and stimulating; to paint the human body, according to this theory, was no different. Therefore he did not advocate that models sit, as it was too boring, and wasn’t stimulating. He asked Xiu’er to hold a clean soccer ball, to balance it on her right shoulder, and to put her legs close together. With the ball on her right shoulder he then asked her to raise her left hand behind the neck to hold the ball from the other side. Up to now, in whatever pose she had taken, Xiu’er had had some way of shielding part of herself, but with today’s pose, her entire front was exposed, which was somewhat more embarrassing…..she told herself, I am dead! Let them look at what they want to.”78
106The professor steps back, pleased with his work. While his students paint, he lectures them:
- 79 Zhang Henshui, p.151-152.
“No matter what we are painting, we must paint the lively, not the stiff and still. Put another way, aside from painting the form of beauty, we must paint the beauty within the form. For example, if we painted a lion, and drew in every hair, it would be very accurate, but not skillful. We must depict the lion’s hunger, the lion’s urgency, even the lion’s desire to eat men. In painting humans we must take this even further. We must paint his soul, we must look for the wherewithal of his life. Flesh has nothing to do with it. Just think, to paint someone’s likeness, anyone with a camera can do it, right? We use the gaze of Art to see everything in the universe….Ai! What happened?”79
107Duan Tiande, has fainted at the sight of Xiu’er, his spilled paints lying everywhere around him.
108The lecture of Professor Yu exemplifies the thinking about Art (yishu 艺术) in the atelier. It is a new Western religion, dependent on “inspiration” (yin shi pi li jun in the text–a borrowed English word rather than the Chinese linggan 灵感), but also dependent on the real. Models are “sacrifices” on the altar of art, and as such, treated with respect and objectivity in the atelier. Art is representation, to which the atelier is consecrated as “disciples” gather together at their easels to practice its rituals with an assiduous and solemn asceticism, untouched by base desires. The recourse to realism sounds familiar—it is the echo, or the debasement, of the call that Chen Duxiu and Lu Cheng made sixteen years earlier in the pages of New Youth.
109Because she is pretty, Xiu’er is soon in great demand. A group of second-year students, led by Duan Tiande and his friend Zhang Zhengming, ask to have extra sessions with her. The dean refuses, saying they aren’t ready for it, but as a consolation they can paint anything they like in their still-life class. The students march off to the bursar and hand in a list of items: Three stewed ducks, several strands of American sausages, four loaves of bread, and two bottles of three-star brandy. After their painting session, they will have a mouth-watering feast, all at the dean’s expense. The bemused bursar obtains most of the menu, even going across town for the foreign sausages, but he thinks the brandy is too expensive, and suggests that the students simply paint bottles filled with colored water. Duan Tiande will have none of it:
- 80 Zhang Henshui, p.142.
“’What do you mean it doesn’t matter, do you know how to paint?’ Bursar Ma laughed, ‘What do I know about painting? If I could paint, I wouldn’t be doing what I do now.’ Zhang Zhengming interrupted, ‘Well doesn’t that settle it? If you don’t paint, what are you talking about! Art has its own reality, if one wants to paint brandy, one must really paint brandy; an empty bottle won’t suffice. If an empty bottle would do, when we paint fruit, we would just paint wax ones, why paint real fruit….’”80
- 81 Zhang Henshui, p.146.
110The students bully the bursar and the dean of arts into purchasing the brandy. Meanwhile, the class begins. Professor Wu, a genial man in a long robe daubed with paint, directs the students to paint the table loaded down with food. Suddenly Ma arrives with the brandy. The classroom breaks into pandemonium. Wu, who knows nothing of the previous discussion, is only thinking of how he can take the bottles for himself. The students swarm toward the table, and begin to fight over the duck and the sausages, everyone grabbing for themselves. Only the women students stand aside, watching in stunned silence. Duan Tiande calms the crowd down by reminding them that the food had been ordered as a maneuver to get more life-drawing class time, not to get a meal. Professor Wu is standing by the window, holding the two bottles of brandy and an entire stewed duck. One of the students is suddenly moved to take his photo. He walks out of the classroom, intending to take the liquor with him, but the students stop him and take it back. Affronted, he marches out, declaring that nothing can be done with such students. Ma, who has been standing by the door and seen everything, follows him out, asking, “Mr. Wu, you’re a teacher, and you know ten times as much as the students. Is it true that in order to paint wine bottles, you must have bottles with real wine?” “Who says so,” mutters Wu.81 “先生，您是当先生的人，总比学生高明十倍，画酒瓶子一定还得瓶子里有酒吗？”伍教授道：“那有这话？”
111It is not only the students who want to see more of Xiu’er. One of the instructors Mr. Jiang arranges that she work extra hours at a private arts club he has set up with some friends, the “Art Palace.” The club is set up in a traditional siheyuan house with a courtyard set with four huai pagoda trees and two stone camels. There are no servants and the club members serve themselves. The rooms are sparsely furnished with traditional chairs and desks. At first Xiu’er feels safe, thinking the elegance of the setting connotes serious behavior, but instead of beginning to paint immediately, the men want to talk first, and she becomes more and more uncomfortable. She agrees to model, but only for one hour. When she mounts the platform the men begin painting.
- 82 Zhang Henshui, pp.201-203.
“In the room there was no clock, nor was there anything like the Institute’s classroom bell. Xiu’er sat quietly on the wooden kang, waiting as the four men drew. She was thinking, hasn’t it been an hour yet? As she thought, her brow began to wrinkle, Jiang was looking at her and then painting, back and forth very quickly, when suddenly his brush stopped and he said, ‘What is it, Miss Li, are you worried about something?’ People who are models also have a lot of secrets, but as soon as they’ve taken off their clothes, while people are looking at them, they have to turn themselves into soulless wooden statue, the eyes not seeing anything, the ears hearing nothing, and naturally they don’t speak either. But when Jiang asked, she had to answer, and said, ‘It’s nothing.’ Jiang shook his head, ‘No! I can see it in your face, you’re very worried about something.’”82
112One of them looks his watch and discovers they have been painting for more than two hours. Abashed, they let her go. She has been immobilized by their gaze, held hostage to time. By now, it is not just the nudity that is the problem, it is the control they exert over her, down to the expression on her face.
113In the novel, these two alternate ateliers—the still-life room and the Art Palace—demonstrate the displacements that are the logical conclusions of Art. The connivance of the students to buy their meal, their recourse to speaking of high artistic principals in order to get their way, and the pure greed that overtakes them as they attack the tableau of food, all foreshadow the actions of the art students and professors in their relations with the model Xiu’er. Although they are trained to gaze formally at an object in order to make its image, they ultimately consume their objects without ever, it must be said, creating anything. Aside from the throwaway sketches painted in the past, we never actually see any of the painting that is supposed to be the prime purpose of these artists’ lives. The uproar over the food and liquor could just as easily be mass debauchery in the life drawing class—there are social limits, after all, both in the classroom, and off the page in publishing offices.
- 83 Zhang Henshui, p.310.
114The still life class thus exists in the novel as a kind of reproach. Why not paint wax fruit instead of real fruit, Zhang is asking, why not paint statues instead of real people. Why do real human beings have to be sacrificed as objects for Art? The protestations the students make over the “realism” of the brandy are shown to be hollow and self-serving. When Xiu’er has a breakdown on stage after she realizes her neighbors have found out what she does for a living, the women students are directed to help her back into her clothes. “Don’t worry,” they say, trying to comfort her, “take some time off, we can paint the plaster models.”83 It is the only time they speak.
115At the arts club, the tension between ideal and desire is played out differently, this time reflected in the ambitions of Professor Jiang. In the school, once the image of Xiu’er has caused Duan to faint, she is attributed with a power that fascinates the entire school. Jiang is convinced that if he can translate it into paint, he will have a masterpiece. Although he flirts with her, he is not really interested in possessing her physically. What he wants is to use her as a medium.
- 84 Zhang Henshui, p.207.
“We want to paint our feelings of joy, anger, grief and delight, and for that we need human subjects. If we can use objective ways of getting subject matter, and then use subjective judgment to construct the painting, it becomes a good work. Anyone who can use a brush can paint a body. If we paint, it is only if we paint the model’s soul that we can put our emotions in the right place, and then let our art influence people. If we want our art to succeed, we must use this method, we must work hard from this angle.”84
- 85 Zhang Henshui, p.210.
116When he realizes he will have to go back to the school to finish his portrait of her, he rolls it up the canvas “and in a strange gesture, [brings] the roll up to his nose and took a deep sniff.”85 To get more modeling time with Xiu’er, he shows the painting to Dean Liu:
“Look, this is a painting I have meticulously constructed (jingxin jiegou 精心结结构). I’ve been looking a long time for a woman with this kind of face, the problem was there was no one with a soul. For the last couple of years, I’ve worked with so many models, none of them were right. Now, finding her, I’m ecstatic. She’s let me paint only a part of her and won’t let me finish, it’s very disappointing for me.”
- 86 Zhang Henshui, p.213.
117Liu can’t resist holding up the painting to take a good look at it. Jiang stands next to him, chomping on a cigar, “You see! It’s great, isn’t it?” “你看这不是画得很好吗?”86
118The club’s atelier is a deceptive space, constructed of pure traditional elements, reminiscent of the traditional male studio, the zhai, where men met to amuse themselves and communicate over wine, poetry, music and women. Consequently, there is also an element of leisurely voyeurism at the Art Palace. Men arrive, planning not to paint but to watch other men paint, to witness the chemistry of the exchange between model and artist. Without really understanding why, it is this that Xiu’er takes most exception to. Beneath the double gaze, she is doubly stripped, doubly bereft.
- 87 In the sense, the Art Palace club can be seen as a reflection on the context of Zhang’s own writing (...)
119In the private studio, Zhang Henshui brings together the imported modernity of Western representation and the louche urbanity of late-Qing courtesan culture.87 He shows foreign-trained intellectuals deploying old style forms of coercion and exploitation. But the reasons for this manipulation are new. They lie at the crux of this new imported version of representation. Professor Yu in the school atelier insists that Art requires that one paint the rage of the lion, his hunger and his taste for the flesh of man. Professor Jiang insists on gaining more access to Xiu’er because only with her as his model can he paint the painting he has wanted to do for years. He is the only one of the characters to mention the artist’s own emotions, but insists that the model is intrinsic to the expression of them. Yet his practice of these theories is dubious. His colleagues tip their heads and look at his half-finished masterpiece every which way. Despite themselves, they cannot see what he is talking about.
- 88 C.T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, second edition, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1 (...)
- 89 The formulation is taken from Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957), trans., Greenfi (...)
120In TheArt Palace, the focus of mimetic representation has moved away from the painter, away from the process of translating object into surface, and even away from the finished work of art. Instead, the focus is on the object: the model, the bottles of wine, the stewed duck or the dead one. Zhang Henshui is showing the dark side of what happens when intellectuals succumb to what CT Hsia has classically formulated as “an obsession with China.”88 For the artists, their obsession with representation is about self-representation as well. The use of the model is a kind of deflection, the kind of slippage that blinds the artist to what is in front of him, pushes him to project his own desires on passive ground, to indulge in wrong proportions and lascivious emotions, and to pursue useless illusions. He takes too much power, using the tools of Western representation to produce art that will represent China. The woman in the picture is no longer a gendered being, but a national object. The model is colonized, reduced to victim, but both sides will be destroyed by this imbalance.89
121In contrast, traditional Chinese street entertainers, the men and women, like Xiu’er’s father, who maiyi—sell their art—give their lives to their work. Li Sansheng enacts his art for almost no recompense, and dies of exhaustion and chagrin. For Zhang Henshui, who is concerned with the conflict between tradition and the West, and the unequal evaluation of high and low art, this is the crux of the matter. One can simply place Art on a pedestal and paint it, or one can enact art with one’s own body. He is unequivocal about which strategy he prefers.
122For Zhang Henshui, the purpose of representation is ultimately a moral one and must be conducted in a moral way. It is the only way he can reconcile such suspicious activities. His own storytelling also ultimately aims at “painting reality”, and “capturing the soul”. His character portraits ring true, even if sometimes his plot devices do not. But he does something that in representational terms is extraordinarily modern: he lets his characters go.
- 90 Zhang Henshui, Yishuzhigong, p.290.
“Xiuwen had misfortunes in her life similar to Xiu’er’s and those problems were also still unresolved, but the person she was involved with was not as close to her as Wan Ziming was to Xiu’er. This afternoon, Xiuwen also had a belly full of heartache and unusually, she walked to the main gate of the courtyard and stood at the door, casually looking out onto the hutong.”90
123It is near the end of the novel, and it is the first time we hear about Xiuwen’s love life. We never meet her suitor, and we never know what happens. These loose ends are deliberate. It is important to know that things happen off the page, outside of his story. He takes the characters’ stories, but does not seek to possess them entirely. It is an acknowledgment that art and representation are incomplete entities, and only one way of looking at things. As a writer, Zhang is a painter too. He shows us pain and humiliation, but he also shows us blank space. It is a space that is exhortatory, even celebratory, of what the human condition is.
124In the end, perhaps the art in TheArt Palace finds its proper place, not in the atelier, but in the small rooms the models have made for themselves. The spaces are clean and neat, the walls freshly whitewashed and the windows fitted with smooth unbroken paper. There is even a “fake sofa” (jia shafa 假沙发) made with bricks and planks of wood. Xiuwen is still standing in her doorway:
- 91 Zhang Henshui, p.290.
“In the golden light of the sunset, the hutong splashed with water, suddenly two or three birds flew over, rising above her head straight up into the air. This seemed to amplify her feelings. Xiuwen had worked for over a year as a model. When it came to what had artistic flavor, of course she had deeper feelings than the average person. She looked up to see the wall across the way, hung with thin branches still left with a few sparse leaves. Along with the clear color of the sky and the red of the clouds, it was very beautiful. A big flock of chickens and ducks flew onto the thin branches and perched there, as if the branches were covered in round black fruit. Although Xiuwen had troubles in her heart, she felt happy looking at this scene.”91
125Unlike the traditional and May Fourth intellectuals who worried about the dangers of exposing the masses indiscriminately to pictorial images, Zhang Henshui sees hope in the eyes of a young woman. Unlike the corrupt art students and teachers, Xiuwen is able to recognize and draw direct comfort from the beauty she finds in everyday life. The producers of art are lost in a morass of cultural and sexual confusion, but inadvertently it is the model who has learned to look, to become, in some way, what Clunas terms a “knowing subject”.
126The walls of the models’ rooms are decorated with the leftover sketches they have picked up in the studios. The girls have used what they had to hand. They might just as easily have been calendar posters.
127“Look at the girl,” says my father, peering at the poster finally bought and hung in the living room. “Waiting for a friend to go traveling,” he reads, taking off his glasses to peer at the fine print across the bottom, “it was printed in Fuzhou Road.” “Ah,” says my mother, who has grown up in Shanghai, and the dusty photographs of whom are the reasons I am fascinated with these posters in the first place. “Not a very good street.”
1 Ng Chun Bong, et. al., compilers, Chinese Woman and Modernity: Calendar Posters of the 1910s-1930s, Hong Kong, Joint Publishing Co., Ltd., 1996, p.162.
2 Ellen Johnston. Laing Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early Twentieth-Century Shanghai, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2004, p.205.
3 Interview with Shi Zhecun. Shanghai, spring 1997.
4 Interview with Feng Chuyin. Shanghai, spring 1997. According to Zhang's biographers, however, Zhang did spend some time as a young trainee at an advertising agency in Shanghai that produced nothing but calendar art. The young artist had no interest in painting only beautiful women, preferring to draw ordinary people in their daily lives. He was fired by his opium-smoking boss when he produced a cartoon of two opium addicts inhaling on an opium bed. See: Xiao Ding 萧丁, “Zhang Leping xiao zhuan” 张乐平小传传 (“A brief biography of Zhang Leping”) in Wang Yiqiu 王亦秋, ed., ZhangLeping lianhuan manhua quanji 张乐平连环漫画全集 (The complete comic strips of Zhang Leping). Beijing: Lianhuan manhua chubanshe, 1994, (unpaginated, page 2 of the short biography).
5 For an interesting view of how Shanghai's wicked past was presented in early post-Liberation China, see Shen Ximeng 沈西蒙, et al, Nihongdeng xia de shaobing 霓虹灯下的哨兵(Sentry under the neon lights), a comic book originally produced in 1965, and reprinted in 2004.
6 Zhang Yanfeng 张燕风, “Lao yuefenpai guanggaohua” 老月份牌廣告画, Hansheng Zazhi 汉声杂志, No. 61. two volumes, Taipei, 1994., Cheuk Pak Tong卓伯棠, a television and film producer in HK, produced a series of articles on calendar art which appeared in the Taipei bi-monthly Lianhe Wenxue 联合文学in 1993-4: “Zhongguo yuefenpai de yange” 中国月份牌画的沿革, LHWX, no. 106, August 1993. “Guan Huinong yu Zhonghuo zaoqi shangpin haibao” 关蕙农与中国早期商品海报, LHWX, no. 115, May 1994.
7 See Gregory Lee, Dai Wangshu: The Life and Poetry of a Chinese Modernist; Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1988. Lee interviewed Shi extensively in the early1980s. See also Lee's chapter on Chinese modernism: “Chinese Modernism, Western Colonialism” in Lee, Gregory, Troubadours, Trumpeters, Troubled Makers. London: Hurst & Company, 1996. Isabelle Lee, working in French, produced the first translations of Shi Zhecun's stories in the 1980s.
8 Lu Cheng, “Meishugeming”, in Xin Qingnian, Vol. VI, No. 1, p.85.
9 Lu Cheng, p. 85.
10 Chen Duxiu, response to “Meishugeming”, in Xin Qingnian, Vol. VI, No. 1, p. 86.
11 Chen Duxiu, p. 86 :至于上海新流行的仕女画他那幼稚和荒谬的地方，和男女拆白党演的新剧，和不懂西文的桐城派古文宗译的新小说，好像是一母所生的三个怪物。要把这三个怪物当作新文艺不禁为新文艺放声一哭。此覆还求赐教。
12 Lu Cheng, p.85.
13 Ellen Johnston Laing, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004. p. 61.
14 Laing, p. 305
15 Laing, p. 166.
16 Catherine Vance Yeh, Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals, and Entertainment Culture, 1850-1910. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006. p. 430.
17 Laing, p. 126.
18 Hansheng Magazine, No. 61, Taibei:Hansheng zazhishe, 1994. pp. 87-88.
19 Wu Hung, The Double Screen: Medium and Representation in Chinese Painting. London: Reaktion Books, 1996. p. 95.
20 Wu Hung, p. 211.
21 See Laing, who cites Lu Xun’s public denunciation at an art lecture in 1920. “Not only are calendar painters unskilled but the subjects of their paintings are disgusting and depraved.” p. 37. See also Barme, Geremie R. An Artistic Exile: A Life of Feng Zikai (1898-1975). Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, p. 208: “Zikai railed against these images, which were being passed off as a vital new form of mass commercial art; to his eye they were creations 'remarkable from their poverty of both form and content'”.
22 Richard Vinograd, Boundaries of the Self: Chinese Portraits, 1600-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. p.16.
23 Vinograd, p.18.
24 Craig Clunas, Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 133. See especially his discussion on “Ways of Looking”, pp.111-133.
25 Clunas, p. 149.
26 Clunas, p. 158.
27 Translated as The Story of the Stone by David Hawkes. Vol. I. “The Golden Days”, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.
28 See David Hawkes' appendix to his translation, pp. 527-534.
29 Yeh, Shanghai Love, see Chapter Three, “Playground Shanghai: Re-enacting the Dream of the Red Chamber”, pp. 136-177.
30 Yeh, p. 236.
31 See Catherine Vance Yeh, “Creating the Urban Beauty: The Shanghai Courtesan in Late Qing Illustrations” pp. 397-447, in Zeitlin, Judith, Liu, Lydia H., eds., Writing and Materiality in China: Essays in Honor of Patrick Hanan (Harvard –Yenching Institute Monograph Series). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. See also her chapter six, “The Image of the Shanghai Courtesan in late Qing Illustrated Fiction”, in Shanghai Love, pp. 248-303.
32 See David Wang Der-wei. Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849-1911. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. 433 pp. See especially Chapter Two: “Edifying Depravity: The Courtesan Novel”.
33 Yi Ming 逸明, Minguo Yishu: shimin yu shangyehua de shidai 民国艺术：市民与商业化的时代. Beijing: Guoji wenhua chuban gongsi, 1995, 147 pp. See especially chapter four, “Youhua, xixuedongjian de xiangzheng” 油画西学东渐的象征 (Oil painting, the phenomenon of western learning going east), and chapter five, “Wanli jingshende fuxing” 万历精神的复兴 (The rebirth of the [Ming dynasty] Wanli spirit) on calendar art, the woodblock prints supported by Lu Xun, and the artistic work of Zheng Zhenyi . See also Sherman Cochran (ed.), Inventing Nanjing Road: Commercial Culture in Shanghai, 1900-1945. Ithaca: East Asia Program Cornell University, 1999, 252 pp. Also Karl Gerth,: China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003, 445 pp.
34 Philippe Hamon, Imageries: littérature et image au XIXème siècle. Paris : Jose Corti, 2001. p. 30.
35 See Yeh’s arguments on the localization of Shanghai courtesans images, and the emergence of the city of Shanghai as a character in late-Qing writing in “Creating the Urban Beauty: The Shanghai Courtesan in Late Qing Illustrations” pp. 397-447, in Judith Zeitlin and Lydia H.Liu, eds., Writing and Materiality in China: Essays in Honor of Patrick Hanan (Harvard –Yenching Institute Monograph Series), Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.
36 Gao Yuanbao, “Daoyan” (Introduction), in Teng Gu, Teng Gu xiaoshuo quanpian滕固小说全篇, Shanghai: Xuelin chubanshe, 1997, p.1. See also a brief discussion of Teng Gu in Shih Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern : Writing Modernism in Semicolonial China, 1917-1937. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001, pp. 125-127.
37 Shih Shu-mei, The Lure of the Modern, p. 125-126.
38 Shih Shu-mei, p.126.
39 Teng Gu, Teng Gu xiaoshuo quanpian, pp.44-45.
40 Teng Gu, p.45.
41 Teng Gu, p.47.
42 Teng Gu, p. 53.
43 Teng Gu, p. 55.
44 Zhou Liangpei 周良沛, Ding Ling zhuan丁玲传, Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1993, p.135.
45 Zhou Liangpei, pp.159-162.
46 Ding Ling, Ding Ling duanpian xiaoshuo xuan丁玲短篇小说选, Vol. 1. Beijing: Renmin wenxue chubanshe, 1981.p.2.
47 Ding Ling, p.3.
48 Ding Ling, p.4.
49 Ding Ling, p.10.
50 Ding Ling, p. 12.
51 Ding Ling, p.13.
52 Ding Ling, p.13
53 Ding Ling, p.15.
54 Ding Ling, p. 16.
55 Ding Ling, p.18.
56 Likely to have been the 1926 filmic version, of the novel and play, with Norma Talmadge in the starring role.
57 Ding Ling, p.19.
58 Ding Ling, p. 21.
59 Ding Ling, p. 37
60 Ding Ling, p.38.
61 Ding Ling, p.40.
62 Ding Ling, p.42.
63 Ding Ling, p.37.
64 Ding Ling, pp.38-39.
65 Yang Yi 杨义, ed. Zhang Henshui mingzuo xinshang 张恨水名作欣赏. Beijing: Zhongguo heping chubanshe, 1996, pp. 114-115.
66 Zhang Wu 张伍, Yi fuqin Zhang Henshui xiansheng 忆父亲张恨水先生. Beijing: Shiyue wenyi chubanshe, 1995, pp.159.
67 Zhang Wu, p. 160.
68 Zhang Wu, p. 173.
69 Cited by Zhu Hongling in an article on «Yishu zhi gong», appearing in Yang Yi, ed., Zhang Henshui mingzuo xinshang. Beijing: Zhongguo heping chubanshe, 1996. p. 225.
70 Zhang Henshui, Yishuzhigong, Beijing:Beijing yanshan chubanshe, 1992, p. 115.
71 Zhang Henshui, p.118.
72 Zhang Henshui, p.122.
73 Zhang Henshui, p.122.
74 Zhang Henshui, p.123.
75 Zhang Henshui, pp.123-124.
76 Zhang Henshui, pp.124-125.
77 Zhang Henshui, p.125-126.
78 Zhang Henshui, p.151-152.
79 Zhang Henshui, p.151-152.
80 Zhang Henshui, p.142.
81 Zhang Henshui, p.146.
82 Zhang Henshui, pp.201-203.
83 Zhang Henshui, p.310.
84 Zhang Henshui, p.207.
85 Zhang Henshui, p.210.
86 Zhang Henshui, p.213.
87 In the sense, the Art Palace club can be seen as a reflection on the context of Zhang’s own writing. Although Libao, the paper that serialized his novel, is a new type of periodical, the serialized form of his story is left-over from the late Qing dynasty, and in generic terms this means that Zhang’s work has always been grouped firmly with old-style, mass entertainment.
88 C.T. Hsia, A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, second edition, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971, p.536.
89 The formulation is taken from Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957), trans., Greenfield, Howard. London: Earthscan Publications, 1965, p. 219.
90 Zhang Henshui, Yishuzhigong, p.290.
91 Zhang Henshui, p.290.Haut de page
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Martha E. Huang, « The Spectacle of Representation: Calendar Girls, the Gaze and the Atelier », Transtext(e)s Transcultures 跨文本跨文化, 2 | 2007, 84-131.
Martha E. Huang, « The Spectacle of Representation: Calendar Girls, the Gaze and the Atelier », Transtext(e)s Transcultures 跨文本跨文化 [En ligne], 2 | 2007, mis en ligne le 29 octobre 2009, consulté le 24 mars 2017. URL : http://transtexts.revues.org/87 ; DOI : 10.4000/transtexts.87Haut de page
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