Fuelling the “Republican Fever”

Findings from China’s Contemporary (Audio)visual Popular Culture
Wednesday
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room G

  • Organised by Giovanna Puppin
  • Rossella Ferrari, Chair
  • Giovanna Puppin, “(Re)nationalising Consumerism: Metersbonwe’s ‘I Am a New National Product’ (Wo shi xin guohuo 我是新国货, 2011) Advertising Campaign as a Case Study”
  • Katie Hill, “Legacies of The Modern in Contemporary Art from China: Echoes of the Republican in Imagery of the Body”
  • Martina Caschera, “From Modern Comic Strip to Contemporary Animation: Sanmao’s Breaking of Time and Media Boundaries”
  • Sandy Ng, “Be the Change You Wish to See: Femininity, Heritage, and Transformation in the ‘Modern Woman’”

The expression “Republican fever” refers to the upsurge of interest in the legacy of Republican China (1911–1949), and became increasingly popular in 2011, during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic.
The Republican period was characterised by unprecedented academic and media freedom, a positive image of entrepreneurship and creativity, as well as the first tide of consumerism, among others. In this fertile context, new modern forms of (audio)visual popular culture thrived, contributing to the artistic production and consumption of the time. More precisely, visual arts, comic strips and cartoons, advertising, movies, as well as design and photography started to play a crucial role in ongoing debates on rising consumerism, national identity, economic modernisation, and imperialism.
While the existing literature tends to focus on the uses and significance of these (audio)visual forms in the context of Republican China, the papers of this panel adopt either a diachronic or a synchronic “snapshot” perspective to provide some original insights into the different ways in which “Republican fever” is being embedded and brought back to life in a variety of texts, discourses, and practices in contemporary China.
The papers of this panel focus on examples coming from the realms of visual arts, comic strips and cartoons, advertising, cinema-going culture, as well as design and photography, and attempt to critically assess the processes of evolution, adaptation, intertextual reference, and/or (re)production at play, with the final objective of interpreting the renewed ideological role of “Republican fever” in a different historical, social, cultural, and political context—that of contemporary China.

Giovanna Puppin, “(Re)nationalising Consumerism: Metersbonwe’s ‘I Am a New National Product’ (Wo shi xin guohuo 我是新国货, 2011) Advertising Campaign as a Case Study:

In the early 20th-century, the tensions between consumerism and nationalism became central to the creation of China as a modern nation. The National Product Movement aimed at restricting the purchase of foreign products and encouraging the consumption of national products, in an attempt to promote a nationalist consumer culture and new ways of “being Chinese”. In 2011, the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, China’s most popular high street brand, Metersbonwe, launched an advertising campaign evocatively entitled “I Am a New National Product” (Wo shi xin guohuo 我是新国货). This paper provides a critical interpretive analysis of this case study, with a focus on the (audio)visual languages employed and the advertising strategies and appeals at play. This illustrates the revival and adaptation of the concept of “national products” in contemporary China, as well as evaluating its meanings and ideological implications. The campaign comprises eight print and audiovisual executions, each of which features a domestic celebrity from one of China’s emerging creative industries. It is characterised by extensive intertextual references with nationalistic slogans, old animated movies, and underpinned by a recurrent feeling of nostalgia for the past and a sense of pride for the present.  The findings of this analysis shed light on the complex dynamics between consumerism and nationalism, the country’s ongoing search for modernity, its ambivalent relationship with the West and, more importantly, its changing perceptions about itself as embedded in the contemporary advertising discourse.

Katie Hill, “Legacies of The Modern in Contemporary Art from China: Echoes of the Republican in Imagery of the Body

This paper examines representations of the body in contemporary art that appear to echo republican China as central motifs in an extended iteration of cultural modernity. In the 1920s, oil painting became a medium for constructing modern culture through a foreign understanding of the body.  The nude as a trope of modernity via the Western tradition brought into being a dramatic shift of social and physical understandings, in tandem with dress and hairstyles in urbanised society. Contemporary works of art in the twenty-first century have revived this imagery in works by photographers and artists such as Yang Fudong and Birdhead, primarily in the context of Shanghai as an urban centre of modernity continually constructing localised imagery that holds nostalgic or wistful elements. Broad visual cultural contexts are explored to develop a sense of how materiality and the foregrounding of bodily presence in early twentieth-century art are continued with notions of the body as signifier making overt or layered connections to pre-CCP visuality. This development shows a continuum as a key thread of visual modernity that lengthens China’s modernity into the present in different modes. 

Martina Caschera, “From Modern Comic Strip to Contemporary Animation: Sanmao’s Breaking of Time and Media Boundaries

In 2006, an animated series titled Sanmao liulang ji 三毛流浪记 (Wanderings of Sanmao or The Story of Sanmao’s Vagrant Life) was produced and broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV). It revolves around the adventures of the homeless orphan Sanmao (literally, “Three hairs”), and is set in the Republican Era when the little hero was actually created by the artist Zhang Leping (1910–1992). The series, which was uploaded online soon after its broadcast, is still met with great nostalgia on China’s major video sharing platforms (Bilibili, Youku). Despite the abundance of academic literature related to the first decades of Zhang Leping’s production, there is still a significant research gap on the aforementioned 2006 animated series and the so-called “Sanmao Revival.” This paper investigates the historical evolution of the long-lived and beloved child-hero Sanmao from the Republican to the Reform era, by examining the relationship between some selected original comic strips of the 1930s–1940s and the animated series of 2006. The analysis highlights the discursive peculiarities of each text, as well as the strategies of transmedial adaptation, and focuses on how the visual rhetoric employed and the emotions emerging manage to satisfy different ideological agendas. The analysis of Sanmao liulang ji provided here, therefore, leads to original findings related to the complex relationship between the cultural production of modern and contemporary China.

Sandy Ng, “Be the Change You Wish to See: Femininity, Heritage, and Transformation in the ‘Modern Woman‘”

This paper will explore how women asserted their identities through representations that increased their visibility and affirmed their sense of self during the Republican era, thus leading to a redefinition of femininity in contemporary China. It discusses women as objectified subjects and avid consumers, particularly in graphic designs, photographs, and paintings from the Republican era that feature a modern lifestyle. How has consumption transformed women’s appearance and mentality? How have these changes affected the ways they perceived themselves? Did consumption impart a sense of respectability to the Modern Woman? Can we argue that the Modern Woman introduced design, modern lifestyle and taste to Chinese culture as a new form of heritage that redefined women’s social status? The discussion will examine visual evidence that portrays daily life in order to provide an understanding on women’s cultural and social roles—particularly as consumers and urban citizens—in the process of embracing designs and lifestyle in the tumultuous Republican period and in contemporary China.

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Room G
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Findings from China’s Contemporary (Audio)visual Popular Culture