Workshop Introduction

This workshop explores photography's decisive role in shaping China’s image for both internal and international audiences. Early European, Japanese, and American colonial photography of China’s east coast featured the unchanging nature of people, place, and things. Studio photography often included costume and props to signify profession (large farmer’s hat, rickshaw cart), suggesting a marketplace of pre-modern, handmade commodities—a population incapable of participating in its own modernization. Local time was at a standstill in international imagery of China, but not so in Chinese pictorial and verbal depictions of similar spaces. Shanghai writers and photojournalists highlighted change in social and urban environments and emphasized the emergence of new (xin) cultural practices. Violent acts picturing death and destruction were also a regular feature of China photography and echoed a trans-Atlantic exchange of anti-Chinese discourse.

The impact of this punitive photography of coastal cities on China’s own image remains a critical issue. The central question is: Did China’s own early 20th century mass media internalize the negative, colonial view of its emerging urban culture? Professional Chinese photography of peripheral nationals indicates the impact was profound—a mimicry that is predicated on Euramerican anxiety of China’s role in the modern world. This conference will bring together scholars who will address this question exploring the relationship of coastal photography with China’s own neo-colonial photography of the ‘primitive’ interior. The inquiry extends to Greater China and the impact of photographic practices in Japanese colonization.

Full overview