Gender & History ISSN 0953-5233
Gender & History, Vol.30 No.1 March 2018, pp. 290–291.
Joan Judge, Republican Lens: Gender, Visuality, and Experience in the Early
Chinese Periodical Press (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015),
pp. xviii + 348. ISBN: 052-0-28436-4 (hb).
Joan Judge’s Republican Lens is an in-depth exploration of a unique women’s journal,
u shibao (Women’s Eastern Times). Published in Shanghai between 1911 and
1917, the periodical spanned an era that saw the fall of the Manchu empire, the
emergence of a new republic, and a rapid descent into dictatorship. In a brief period
China experienced seismic shifts in its politics and social mores. Contemporaries
debated female suffrage, translated western texts, and began to question the patriarchal
hierarchy of Confucianism. Nowhere was this upheaval more apparent than in urban
centres like Shanghai, which not only stood at the crossroads between East and West,
but also straddled the boundary between old and new.
Thanks in part to Judge’s earlier work, we know a great deal about the potency
of the early Republic’s vibrant press, so what warrants a study of this periodical?
Though the high circulation and wide distribution of the journal make it worthy of
attention, what sets it apart for Judge was its explicit editorial agenda: to capture the
everyday experience of Chinese women in their own words. Yet the publication defies
easy categorisation. Though it catered to the small stratum of literate women it did not
adopt a radical feminist position: New Culture critics tended to dismiss it as frivolous
as a result. Neither was it the kind of commercial magazine that features heavily in
work on the ‘modern women’ of 1920s China. For historians too, then, Fun
u shibao has
fallen between the cracks, and to Judge, her study is an ‘act of retrieval and redemption
and revalorization’ (p. 5). She has certainly succeeded.
A magazine that gave woman a voice was founded and edited by a man: Bao
Tianxiao. He recruited women to recount their experiences, which ranged from revolu-
tion, medicine, marriage, menstruation and childbirth. Such candidness could appear
salacious, especially when he asked his accomplished contributors to provide pho-
tographs of themselves, a practice associated with courtesans and prostitutes, and the
publication drew a male readership too. But Judge argues Bao was driven by reformist
as well as commercial imperatives. His attitude towards women, she points out, was
‘progressive, but circumspect’ (p. 37). He saw educated women as ‘partners’ and agents
of reform, rather than merely a ‘passive field’ awaiting uplift (p. 7), and the journal
reflected his ethos. Though Fun
u shibao often took a familiar didactic path when to
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd