Theses Doctoral

Pictorials and the Transformation of Chinese Fiction in the Era of Photolithography (1900-1910)

Yang, Chung-Wei

This dissertation focuses on fiction and pictorials (huabao, 畫報) in the early twentieth century and its relation with the new visual technologies of the time, mainly photolithography, but also lantern slides and photography. It explores how these visual mediums were self-reflected in fiction and pictorials and how they connected these two literary expressions, as well as their constant transformation. It concludes that this type of intermediality and self-reflexivity came as a response to China’s modernization during the late Qing Empire (1868-1911). Most scholars agreed that photolithography was the catalyst for reproducing visual images in large quantities, which facilitated the hybrid publishing space of pictorials and, in tandem with the other visual mediums, allowed them to act as a multimedia platform. My dissertation demonstrates how fiction also participated in this new visual media ecology created by photolithography and thus contributes to the exploration of an aesthetic, social, and political moment in the late Qing Empire. Major texts discussed in this dissertation include Sequel to Dreams of Shanghai Splendor 續海上繁華夢, The Flower of the Sea of Sin 孽海花, The Tales of the Moon Colony 月球殖民地小說, and The Current News Pictorial 時事畫報, as well as other critical works that also reflect modernization, propaganda, anti-imperialism, and cosmopolitanism.

It is widely assumed that this intermedial experimentation was introduced to China with the global trend of modernism in the 1920s and 1930s. However, my dissertation demonstrates an earlier experiment in the 1900s in the literati’s first attempt to directly respond to modern visual and printing technologies. I argue this early experiment should be understood as one of the last attempts to revitalize the traditional Chinese chapter novels (Zhanghuixiaoshuo, 章回小說) during a time when they were gradually being displaced by Westernized modern fiction.

I further demonstrate that by depicting the material production of the pictorials, the artists made them not merely a static medium that captured the development of the cities, but rather a transformative medium that developed alongside these cities. My approach will challenge the current methodology that views pictorials as the transparent publishing medium that passively recorded the sociopolitical changes, thus redefining the dynamics of the pictorial images, its production and modernization. These discoveries and analyses will illuminate the transformations of both Chinese pictorials and fiction, and the brave experimental spirit of their writers and artists during the technological transition at the turn of the twentieth century.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Shang, Wei
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 24, 2022