Paper Abstracts

“Redefining China's Outer Limits: Colonial Photography on Taiwan's Sino-Japanese Frontier, 1895-1940”, Paul D. Barclay, Lafayette College

This paper analyzes Japanese photographs from the region of Taiwan known to Qing officials as the “savage border” and to Japanese colonists as the “guard line.” From the 1860s, outsiders conceptualized Taiwan as a Qing marchland, partly settled by Chinese immigrants but largely inhabited by uncivilized Malay tribes. This externally imposed imaginative geography conflated the limits of Chinese settlement with the extent of Qing authority. Qing officials, on the other hand, did not acknowledge geographic limits to imperial authority. Their spatial model of human difference posited gradations of civility that radiated out from an imperial center to savage peripheries of indeterminate extent. In the 1870s, Japanese statesmen justified the occupation of the Hengchun peninsula by challenging the Qing dispensation. Japan’s apologists argued that Qing sovereignty ended abruptly at a hypothetical boundary line separating Chinese villages and fields from Indigenous population centers. The notion that Taiwan was ethnically bifurcated into discreet territories reasserted itself when Japan assumed the mantle of government in 1895.

Notwithstanding this crude but persistent conception of Taiwan’s human geography, 1890s Japanese travel accounts revealed the existence of a Han-Malay contact zone of unknown proportions. Here, ethnically hybrid “interpreters” and “headmen” held sway. Photographs of tattooed Indigenous women wearing combinations of Chinese and Atayal garments symbolized this contact zone, constituting the most frequently reproduced images of the “savage district.” As the Japanese state transformed this unruly contact zone into a manageable boundary line, photographs of Indigenous women were shorn of indicators of Han affiliation. By the 1930s, the borderland hybrid was revived with the proliferation of photographs of Indigenous women in Japanese attire. Colonial photography thus participated in the redefinition of a former Chinese periphery along the axis of Japanese temporality, presenting the “savage territory” as a suitably pristine site for the enactment of imperial (k?minka) policies.



“Violence and the Photographic Encounter”, Sarah E. Fraser, Northwestern University

Workshop overview



“Photographs of Public Executions in China”, James Hevia, University of Chicago

This paper addresses the production and circulation of photographs taken by European and American photographers of public executions in Beijing, China c. 1895-1905. The specific focus will be on a photograph that appeared on the cover of Leslie's Magazine at the time of the siege of the legations in Beijing (1900) and continued to circulate before and after this event. Discussion will take up not only Hevia’s own work on photography, but the recently published Death by a Thousand Cuts in which the authors discuss the European fascination with executions in China and the uses to which the images have been put subsequently. The paper will also consider some examples of the use of such images in China.



“Sha Fei’s Revisions of the Great Wall in Chinese Wartime Photography”, Eliza Ho, The Ohio State University

In the early-20th century, Chinese photographers began to use symbols of China, including the Great Wall, to represent and re-think its history and its contemporary moment. The work of Sha Fei (1912-1950), arguably the most prolific wartime photographer in Chinese history, is exemplary of this impulse. While Sha Fei worked for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a photojournalist and chronicled the realities of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), he incorporated the Great Wall in several of his war photographs, a few of which remain recognizable today.

This paper examines two famous Sha Fei photographs of the Great Wall to investigate how the photographer utilized this icon to create new identities for the rising communist China. Created in the early phase of the war in 1938 and 1939, Sha Fei’s Great Wall photographs were in dialogue with previous photographs produced by foreigner photographers. Scholars have noted how these Western photographs of the Great Wall, pioneered by such photographers as John Thomson (1837-1921), Donald Mennie (1899-1941), and William Edgar Geil (1865-1925), represented the picturesque mode, one that portrays the Great Wall as an integral part of the country’s majestic landscape, eternally beautiful yet static. Sha Fei, as a Chinese photographer, not only adopted such a mode but also used it to furnish a political proclamation to specifically promote the CCP. In doing so, Sha Fei, through his revisions of the Great Wall, helped legitimize the role of the CCP (as opposed to that of the Nationalist government) as the new guardian for the war-torn Chinese citizenry.

By tracing the lineage of Great Wall photography developed from its origin in the 1860s up to war years, this paper will yield a preliminary iconography of Great Wall photographs with which Sha Fei’s will be compared and contrasted. This method, paired with an investigation of the competing discourses of the Great Wall of that time, will gain us insight into the visual rhetoric that is at play in Sha Fei's photographs of the Great Wall. This paper will demonstrate Sha Fei’s ingenious vision in appropriating the Western aesthetic (and technology of photography) for China’s search of its new identity.



“Invitation to a Beheading: Chinese Identity under Colonial Gaze”, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Lee will compare three historic photos of the spectacle of beheading with Lu Xun's famous news-slide incident. The comparison is narrated in his preface and discussed by many scholars as a starting point to look at the complexities of modern Chinese identity formation under the colonial and imperialist gaze in Hong Kong and elsewhere. The photos are taken from a recent book, Picturing the Chinese.



“Imaging Ideology in Meiji Japan: The Graphic and Photographic Representations of Nation and Empire”, Austin Parks, Northwestern University



“Camerawork as Technical Practice in Colonial India”, Christopher Pinney, University College London

Starting from the Latourian predicate that the idea of technology as ‘autonomous destiny’ and its apparent opposite, technology as ‘neutral tool’, are mutually dependent ‘purifications’, this paper explores what a networked analysis of photography as technical practice in late colonial India might look like. How can we avoid, on the one hand, seeing photography as simply a screen onto which the social and/or the state is projected, or, on the other, an over-determination that valorises photography’s fluid practices as ‘technology’? The analysis assumes that the potentiality of photography, and the objects which it proved capable of picturing, were both initially unknown. Photography did not emerge fully formed as a technology; neither did its putative objects, the visible world, and human subjectivity make themselves apparent in fully determinate form. Contemporary accounts clearly show how blurred and uncertain were these positions. The camera and its objects evolved within a shared space (a ‘corpography’), an experimental, networked zone of technical practice.



“Hybrid China: Early Chinese Industrial Photography”, Chris Reed, The Ohio State University

Many familiar 19th-century China-related photographs seem to document Chinese “lost worlds.” Through the eye of lenses positioned by well-known early photographers Felice Beato, John Thompson, and others, greytone prints extend the gaze of empire from the Islamic and Hindu “Orient” of the Near East and India on to the Confucian, agrarian empires of East Asia. In the work of these named photographers of China, indoor shots of officials and merchants taking their leisure provide a backdrop to outdoor shots of landscape and agrarians overburdened by stoop labor. Together, they reinforce a sense of a timeless but murky social and economic landscape.

However, another category of 19th-century photographs, many of them taken anonymously, presents the “hybrid China” of the Self-Strengthening Movement and merchant-led littoral reformism. These shots, which today are rarely encountered in commercially anthologized books of late imperial Chinese photographs, present an alternative to the realms suggested above. The contrast between, e.g., magua- and “pigtail” attired operators working with Western technology such as the then-new mechanized printing press, anticipates an industrial future rather than pastoral antecedents. Less picturesque, such images sometimes turn out to be more thought-provoking than the “lost world” shots.

Reed’s paper will examine this hybrid China of machines and their operators to hypothesize what early photographers in China might have found of significance in such scenes.



“Picturing Photography, Abstracting Pictures: The Domain of Images in Republican Shanghai”, William Schaefer, University of California, Berkeley

Schaefer’s talk maps the domain of images in the print media of Republican Shanghai, both the wide variety of images that explored the possibilities of picturing at a time of rapid media change and the ways in which different modes of picturing were used to mark off perceived differences in the cultural domains of “East” and “West” at a moment of unevenly and globally circulating image and media cultures and growing international crisis. Critics such as Feng Zikai and Zong Baihua tried to differentiate Chinese from Western modes of picturing on the basis of distinctions between a photographic transcription of reality, fixity, and attention to perspectival depth they ascribed to the West, and various modes of abstraction, mutability and deformation, the visualization of the unseen, and attention to pictorial surface they ascribed to China. And yet such civilizational binary oppositions were completely undone through actual practices of picturing, where the greatest number and variety of pictures were collected and circulated at that time in popular illustrated magazines.

This is most evident not so much in familiar photographs depicting urban and rural scenes in China and abroad as it is in images demonstrating the possibilities of new imaging technologies, picturing the limits of picturing at times to the point of abstraction. Such photographs explored microphotography, high-speed photography, and lens blur; many other photographs demonstrated the plasticity of the medium and the mutability of the world as reconstituted through shadow photography, “design photographs,” and layouts in which through the juxtaposition of photographs anything could be compared to or transformed into anything else. The very pursuit of the transcription of reality in illustrated magazines through a faith in the transparency of pictures—a pursuit and a faith that Zong and Feng derided—led instead to the possibility that the apparent mimeticism of images was itself based in an abstraction of reality rather than a transcription of the world. Photographs were revealed to be characterized not so much by their fixity as by their strange powers of mutability and deformation—the very qualities through which Feng and Zong argued that Chinese pictures came to life. Photography did not demarcate borders between “East” and “West,” but rather was the medium that most readily crossed borders and complicated distinctions so often insisted upon between different civilizational pictorial orders.



“Transferring the Image: The Acceptance of Photography in China” (co-authored by Jeff Cody), Frances Terpak, The Getty Research Institute

Histories of early photography in China generally address how Western officials, travelers, and professional photographers visually “opened up” China to an audience eager for foreign images. This essay will consider how and why photography was also readily taken up by Chinese practitioners and what cultural needs it met or was adapted to. From roughly 1860 to the 1880s, photography permeated Chinese modes of representation, both serving the demands of the court and offering new outlets for popular culture.



“Photographing Peripheral Nationals in China (1928-1936): The Case of Ethnographic Photographs Taken by Institute of History and Philology Scholars”, Wang Ming-ke, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taipei

During the first two decades of the 20th century, Chinese nationalists tried to build the Chinese nation that contains not only the Han, the traditional “people of the central kingdom”, but also the peripheral “barbarians” surrounding them. The revolution of 1911 was only a political step toward this goal. During this period, the knowledge concerning the “peripheries” of the nation was still poor; how many nationalities the nation contained beyond the Han, and the cultural and physical characteristics of these peripheral nationals, were still unknown.

In 1928, the government-sponsored Institute of History & Philology (IHP) was established in Guangzhou. This institute contained four sections: archaeology, history, linguistic/philology, and anthropology; each section recruited the most distinguished scholars in their respective fields as its fellows. In the following 20 years, the IHP played an important role in providing authentic knowledge concerning the Chinese nation—finding “the origin” of the nation’s ancient core (the Han) through archaeology and history and identifying “the varieties” of her peripheries (non-Han nationals) through linguistic and anthropology.

This essay focuses on research activities of the IHP’s early anthropologists Li Guangming, Ling Chunsheng, and Rei Yifu, especially their taking ethnographical photographs and the responses of the natives, based on photographs they took and field reports they submitted to the IHP. The images of these photographs were organized in some highly selective ways and divided into subjects, scenes, and people, therefore forming a schematic genre, complementing ethnographical writings produced in the same field trip. However, in contrast with the ethnographical writings, within which the natives portrayed were unable to act in text, the photographs, to a certain extent, allowed natives to “present” themselves. These “representations in photographs” in context can provide significant data in analyzing the interrelationship and interactions between IHP anthropologists and the peripheral people, and then, the process of the latter becoming minority nationals.



“Ethnic Encounter in the Marketplace: Rui Yifu's Ethnographic Photography in Southwest China”, Wang Peng-hui, National Taiwan University

The recently released ethnographic photography archives in the Institute of History and Philology (IHP), Academia Sinica fully demonstrate photography as part of early Chinese anthropological pursuit. This paper will show ethnographic photographs taken by Rui Yifu, one of the first generation of anthropologists in IHP, in his missions to the Yunnan and Burma borderland in 1935-1936 and Guizhou in 1939-1940. Wang will focus on how Rui photographed peripheral nationals in tribal marketplaces.

Marketplaces—vital meeting grounds where goods circulate and diverse ethnic groups interact—are attractive to anthropologists to photograph natives from within the crowd. Among the IHP archives, marketplace photographs display features different from anthropometric photographs. These photographs contribute to understanding native ways of living as well as the ethnographer’s gaze on its national “other”. Various themes embedded in photographs, i.e. the power relation, gender issue, and anthropological imagination on tribal people, will be elaborated. The advent of ethnographer—an intruder armed with a so-called “soul-stealing box”—often caused curiosity as well as fright among natives—descriptions of how natives avoid cameras is well documented in many fieldwork notes.

Wang will illustrate several marketplace photographs to reveal how natives react under the scrutiny of the camera’s lens. Pang Xunqin, Rui Yifu’s co-worker in Guizhou, created a series of paintings on Guizhou Miao people after his return from the field. The striking contrast of Pang’s paintings with Rui’s photographs offers a great example of the transformation of representing peripheral nationals in the era of technical reproduction. This paper concludes with reflections on anthropological gaze on China’s internal “other” as academic patriotism at a time when its own nation-state was in jeopardy.



“The Camera and the City: Perspectives from Shanghai and Chongqing”, Yeh Wen-hsin, University of California, Berkeley

This paper seeks to place the use of the camera in the urban context of Shanghai in the 1930s and Chongqing in the 1940s so as to examine the production of photographed images of China either in peace or war. In what way did major historical events fashion the production of images of China in the Republican period? Who were the ones wielding the camera and how do we read their agendas and sensitivities? How do we contextualize the iconic images against the thousands of others that were made? How did photographs in Shanghai and Chongqing contribute respectively to the shaping of China’s image?



“The Supremacy of Modern Time: How Shanghai Calendars Re-shaped the Image of China (1860-1920)”, Zhang Shaoqian, Northwestern University