P32. China and the West: Cultural Contacts and Tranformation

Session: Session 5, 10:15 – 11:45 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Individual Papers

Location: Humanities

Chair: Xinge Zhang (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Paper Presenters: Eric Henry (Saint Mary’s University), Shuhao Liang (University of Pennsylvania), Li-Lin Tseng (Pittsburg State University)

Golden Aspirations on the Yangtze: Intercultural Encounters in English-Medium Classrooms at Republican-Era Ginling College

Speaker: Eric Henry
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Saint Mary’s University
Abstract: Buffeted by war and internal strife, the intellectual landscape of China in the Republican era was focused on cultural transformation and national survival; how would China, as a political, cultural, and imagined construct, break from its feudal past and enter the modern world intact? One forum of intense debate were the numerous educational institutions, many founded and supported financially by foreign missionary organizations. These institutions were nominally Christian and served as points of dissemination for foreign cultural ideologies and languages, particularly English. This paper focuses our attention on Ginling (金陵) college in Nanjing during the 1920s and 1930s, the first accredited women’s college in China. Based on a comparison between personal letters of missionary language teachers and writing by Chinese students (preserved in the Yale Divinity School archives), I analyze the cultural encounter between China and its Western other. Using the medium of a foreign language, students attended to foreign discourses of Chinese civilization – its strengths and weaknesses – but crafted novel critiques and solutions of their own. In turn, they laid the groundwork for a uniquely Chinese feminism. I argue that the English language classroom was therefore an important crucible for imagining China’s modern future.

Nationalism and Modern Taste: Chinese Attitudes towards Foreign Cuisines in Republican Shanghai

Speaker: Shuhao Liang
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Pennsylvania
Abstract: This paper explores Chinese attitudes towards foreign cuisines in Republican Shanghai from the 1920s to late 1940. It argues that the Chinese attitude towards foreign cuisines fits into the broader context of Shanghai’s unique cosmopolitan culture and colonial modernity.  The first section analyzes Chinese perceptions of Western cuisines. Despite being familiar with foreign cultures, Chinese elites perceived Western cuisines as “other,” with conscious boundaries between East and West. The restaurant became a new public space for women to socialize, and critiques of Western food’s light taste demonstrates a nationalist stance against Western material cultures.  The second section examines Chinese attitudes toward Japanese cuisine. Contrary to the Chinese nationalist narrative, which portrays local elites as traitors or collaborators during the Second Sino- Japanese War, this paper demonstrates that local elites were inclusive in their attitudes towards Japanese cuisine, complicating our understanding of the wartime society in Shanghai beyond its political tensions. Women working in Japanese restaurants became an attraction for Chinese customers in a patriarchal society.  This research draws on newspapers from the time in Chinese and secondary sources in Japanese, in addition to historical studies on Republican Shanghai. It aims to shed light on the study of nationalism, Chinese understanding of modernity, material cultures, and gender studies. Overall, this paper highlights the importance of exploring local perspectives and the complexity of cultural interactions in a diverse and dynamic contact zone, contributing to our understanding of Chinese attitudes towards foreign cuisines during a time of political and cultural transformation in Shanghai.

“Beijing Opera on the Go: Mei Lan-fang (梅蘭芳) and His Journeys to the West”

Speaker: Li-Lin Tseng
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: Pittsburg State University
Abstract: Beijing opera was an iconic signifier of traditional Chinese culture, renowned for its symbolic, metaphysical style of performance. This orthodox mode of theater, however, was critically challenged in the opening decades of the 20th century when cinema swept through China. To compete with the new technology, opera performers made necessary changes, trying to find ways to balance the inevitable conflicts between the traditional and the modern.   This paper examines the artistic journey of Mei Lan-fang (1894-1961), a leading opera singer famous for his portrayal of female roles and for exploring the possibilities of transforming stage drama into cinema.  Mei also went on transcontinental tour to promote Beijing opera in major cities in Japan, Europe, the Soviet Union, and the U.S. His personal charisma, together with his innovative style and artistic strategies, captivated many inventive theater and film professionals, including Bertolt Brecht, Vsevolod Mayerhold, Sergei Eisenstein, and Charlie Chaplin. On February 16, 1930, after his debut on Broadway, The New York Herald Tribune praised Mei as “The Idol of 500 Million People!” My paper argues that Mei, as an embodiment of Beijing opera, served as a vanguard in advancing the process of China’s cultural renewal and transformation. His stylized, suggestive acting and operatic techniques provided an alternate model for those experimental dramatists who wished to develop a modern theater apart from traditional realism.  Mei’s artistic expression and his encounters with western practitioners offered a unique opportunity for the world to re-imagine China and its people in a new cinematic age.