Seeing is (Dis)Believing: Theatricality and Truth Claims in the Photographic Culture of Late Qing China
Shengqing Wu - Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures, Wesleyan University
This talk will explore how photography was understood and utilized in the flourishing urban culture of late Qing China. By surveying pictorial magazines, photo albums of the courtesans in Shanghai, and the poems written about this new cultural practice, Wu addresses issues of how traditional aesthetic ideas were involved in adopting and indigenizing this new medium. These complex interactions reveal that tradition was deeply implicated in the cross-cultural trafficking of technologies and power in the formation of China’s urban culture and visual/literary modernity. While Chinese literati expressed awe at the visual verisimilitude of photography, they also added theatricality to the photographing and viewing experience. Mainly focusing on the sociocultural milieu of late Qing Shanghai, Wu will examine truth claims made through the new medium, in addition to its disguises, the gendered imagination that conjured up and perpetuated female images, and the circulation and mass consumption of such images in the larger urban culture.
Shengqing Wu received her BA and MA from Fudan University and PhD from UCLA, is Associate Professor of Chinese literature at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Modern Archaics: Continuity and Innovation in the Chinese Lyric Tradition, 1900–1937 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2013). With the support of an ACLS Fellowship, she is working on her second book project, which examines the interactions between visual media (photography and innovative painting) and classical-style poetry during China’s turbulent period between the 1890s and the 1930s.