Representing a New Life: Visual Images and Cultural Reform in East Asia

Title: 1101 | Representing a New Life: Visual Images and Cultural Reform in East Asia
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Art/Art History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Shih-Cheng Huang, University of Tsukuba, Japan (organizer, presenter)
Noriko Murai, Sophia University, Japan (chair, discussant)
Ya-Pei Yang, University of Tokyo, Japan (presenter)
I-Fan Chen, University of California, San Diego, United States (presenter)
Chih-Ho Lin, University of California, San Diego, United States (presenter)


This panel will examine the tension between the authority and the visual images of everyday life in the formation of a new culture in Japan and China. Visual images, including but not limited to paintings, magazines, comics, and folk art, provided a repertoire for the authority to absorb, sift, and transform to build a culture that propagates its vision for the future. The panelists present four case studies, each focusing on a critical period when the authority strived to build a new culture through reforming everyday images, and inquire how the production, circulation, and interpretation of the images aided or resisted these projects. Yang focuses on the Hōrai-themed paintings that were circulated in Edo Japan and discusses how the two distinctive styles of Yamato-e (classical Japanese) and Chinese landscape style signify the diverging cultural identity of the Tokugawa shogunate and the literati respectively. Huang examines highly homoerotic images of young males published in popular magazines from the 1930s and investigates the ambivalent role such imagery played in the construction of young male subjects in imperial Japan. Chen focuses on the display of folk crafts and modern design in the 1941 exhibition Objects of National Life and questions how the wartime national narrative recast everyday life. Finally, eyeing on images of lianhuanhua comics, Lin dissects the visual mechanism of the state-controlled entertainment in socialist China that portrayed the process of agricultural collectivization in a style reminiscent of woodblock prints from the late Ming dynasty.

Panel Abstracts:
Transgressions of Bodies: Homoeroticism and Militarism of Japanese Boy Magazines in the 1930s
This presentation examines the young male imagery that appeared in Japanese boys’ magazines in the 1930s and locates its significance at the intersection of the boom in popular culture and the rise of militarism. The cover pages of Shonen kurabu (Boy Club) and Nihon shonen (Japanese Boy) by the artist Takabatake Kasho (1888-1966) reveal how the images of beautiful male body vacillated between homoerotic desire and the celebration of militarism. From the end of the Meiji to the Taisho period, knowledge of psychiatry based on Christian culture that suppresses homosexual desire was introduced to Japan. Nanshoku (male-male sexuality) was prevalent in Tokugawa Japan, but with the translation and publication of the book Psychopathia Sexualis, it came to be associated with sexual perversion. “Male-male sexuality” became discouraged as “useless” and thus “non-(re)productive” to national development, but homosocial institutions such as universities and the military were promoted as a key to Japan’s successful modernization. Homoeroticism also became a popular element in the entertainment of “ero-guro-nansensu” (erotic, grotesque, nonsense) from the 1910s to the 1930s. Popular writers such as Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965) often selected homosocial imperial institutions such as schools and the army as a backdrop for his ero-guro-nansensu stories. This paper discusses how the world of boys’ magazines wove homosocial space and homoerotic desire, and also explores if the resulting representation contained a potential to subvert the normative heterosexual body politics of imperial Japan from within.

Picturing Paradise: Representations of Horai in Tokugawa Japan
Penglai, known in Japanese as Hōrai, is an island where the immortals live according to Chinese mythology. Hōrai, a well-accepted theme in Japan since the Heian period, was commonly adopted as an auspicious subject matter for paintings that were presented on festive occasions during the Edo period. This paper focuses on the diverging cultural identities of the shogunate and the literati that were respectively represented by the two styles of Hōrai paintings, which were the Yamato-e (classical Japanese) and the Chinese landscape style. The presentation argues that the styles not only signified the patrons’ aesthetic preferences but also their ideals of self-cultivation and their different visions for the future. After the 18th century, with the importation of Chinese paintings, Hōrai came to be represented in a style that resembles the Chinese landscape painting of Ming and Qing dynasties. I will discuss Suzuki Gako’s Mt. Hōrai (1861) as an example of Japanese literati painting, which was patronized by the intellectuals who admired Chinese culture. This literati representation will be compared to the more orthodox mode of Hōrai, exemplified by Kanô Tan’yû’s Mt. Hōrai (1667 original, 1750 woodcut print), which represented the preference of the ruling shogunal authority.

Curating "National Life" in Wartime Japan
Focusing on the exhibition of Kokumin Seikatsu Yōhinn (Objects of National Life) in the early 1940s, this paper examines how “National Life” in wartime Japan was curated via household settings by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MCI). Containing furniture, utensils, tableware and miscellaneous household objects, the exhibition displayed a household life of both Kokka (nation) and Kokumin (national subject). Not only were the objects from Mingei (folk arts) mobilized to represent the everyday lives of the people in the country, but Bauhaus-inspired Japanese designers helped to propagate an image of industrialized everyday life for the nation. In Japan’s total-war period, what were the discourses of everyday life? What was the function of the everyday images? To answer these questions, this paper will first review the political interest of the everyday life in 1940 under the political agenda Shintaisei (New Order), and then inspect MCI’s propagandistic pursuit of Seikatsu Kōgei (everyday crafts) between 1940 and 1941. This paper argues that such discursive interest of the everyday life around 1940 leads to the subsequent exhibitions of Objects of National Life in 1941 and 1943, resulting the everyday images in the exhibitions to function as visual validations of the existence of Kokumin, the national subject that discursively emerged in the National Spiritual Mobilization Movement in 1937 and National Mobilization Law in 1938.

Drawing the Socialist Countryside: He Youzhi’s Great Changes in a Mountain Village
This paper focuses on He Youzhi’s (1922-2016) lianhuanhua comic, Great Changes in a Mountain Village (1961-1965), examining how the artist resolved the conflicts within the policies for art productions in socialist China. For example, the conflict between popularization (puji) and raising artistic and political standards (tigao) and the contrast in style between national form (minzu xingshi) and socialist realism. Lianhuanhua is a comic genre that first emerged in Shanghai as an inexpensive urban entertainment in the early twentieth century. In the 1950s, the CCP reformed the lianhuanhua industry to make the medium a vehicle for didacticism and propaganda. Based on a “red classic” novel, Great Changes in a Mountain Village portrays the process of agricultural collectivization in a village in Hunan province. As socialist realism became the only artistic style encouraged by the state, the artist took field trips to the countryside to observe and make accurate sketches, yet he also adopted stylized lines and patterns inspired by woodblock prints made by master artists in the Ming dynasty. The questions I consider include “how the artist’s practice expressed his understanding of socialist art?” and “why the artist adopted the style of Ming prints to depict a socialist story?” Moreover, by comparing the lianhuanhua with the original novel, I will demonstrate that the artist enriched the psychological depth of the story by representing the fine details of the settings and the objects surrounding the characters, yet the visual entertainment provided by the details diluted the political message of the original novel

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