The Trans-Asia Photography Review is pleased to publish summaries and reviews of symposia, conferences, panels and workshops on topics related to photography in Asia. In addition to the symposia summarized here, summaries of the symposia on 19th Century photography in India held at the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts can be found via their website at and abstracts from the Facing Asia conference (National Gallery of Australia, August 2010) can be downloaded at Please send information on other meetings that could be summarized to the Editor at

This issue features three symposia:

  1. The Role of Photography in Shaping China's Image, 1860-1945 (Northwestern University, April 24-25, 2009)

  2. China Seen by the Chinese: Documentary Photography, 1951-2003 (Princeton University, October 24, 2009)

  3. Photographic Practices, Visual Transgression, and National Identity in Meiji Japan and Early Republican China (Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Chicago, March 2009)

1. The Role of Photography in Shaping China’s Image, 1860-1945

Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois

Organized by Sarah E. Fraser, Associate Professor, Department of Art History

April 24-25, 2009

Workshop Overview

This workshop explores photography's decisive role in shaping China’s image for both internal and international audiences. Early European, Japanese, and American colonial photography of China’s east coast featured the unchanging nature of people, place, and things. Studio photography often included costume and props to signify profession (large farmer’s hat, rickshaw cart), suggesting a marketplace of pre-modern, handmade commodities—a population incapable of participating in its own modernization. Local time was at a standstill in international imagery of China, but not so in Chinese pictorial and verbal depictions of similar spaces. Shanghai writers and photojournalists highlighted change in social and urban environments and emphasized the emergence of new (xin) cultural practices. Violent acts picturing death and destruction were also a regular feature of China photography and echoed a trans-Pacific exchange of anti-Chinese discourse.

The impact of this punitive photography of coastal cities on China’s own image remains a critical issue. The central question is: Did China’s own early 20th century mass media internalize the negative, colonial view of its emerging urban culture? Professional Chinese photography of peripheral nationals indicates the impact was profound—a mimicry that is predicated on Euramerican anxiety of China’s role in the modern world. This conference will bring together scholars who will address this question exploring the relationship of coastal photography with China’s own neo-colonial photography of the ‘primitive’ interior. The inquiry extends to Greater China and the impact of photographic practices in Japanese colonization.

Session I: The Violent Turn

“Invitation to a Beheading: Chinese Identity under Colonial Gaze,” Leo Ou-fan Lee

Leo Lee compared three historic photos of the spectacle of beheading with Lu Xun's famous news-slide incident. The comparison is narrated in Lu’s preface and discussed by many scholars as a starting point to look at the complexities of modern Chinese identity formation under the colonial and imperialist gaze in Hong Kong and elsewhere. The photos are taken from a recent book, Picturing the Chinese.

Leo Ou-fan Lee, Professor of Chinese Literature, Chinese University of Hong Kong; M.A., Ph.D., Harvard University

Lee was professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University until he retired in August 2004. In addition, he has taught at UCLA, Chicago, Indiana, and Princeton before becoming professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research interests include modern Chinese literature and cultural studies, contemporary fiction, and cinema in Pan-Chinese regions. Among his representative publications are Shanghai Modern: The Flowering of Urban Culture in China, Voices from the Iron House: A Study of Lu Xun, and The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers.

“Photographs of Public Executions in China,” James Hevia

This paper addressed the production and circulation of photographs taken by European and American photographers of public executions in Beijing, China c. 1895-1905. The specific focus is on a photograph that appeared on the cover of Leslie's Magazine at the time of the siege of the legations in Beijing (1900) and continued to circulate before and after this event. Discussion takes up not only Hevia’s own work on photography, but also the recently published Death by a Thousand Cuts in which the authors discuss the European fascination with executions in China and the uses to which the images have been put subsequently. The paper also considered some examples of the use of such images in China.

James Hevia, Professor of History and Director, International Studies, University of Chicago

Hevia’s research focuses on empire and imperialism in eastern and central Asia, primarily dealing with the British empire in India and southeast Asia and the Qing empire in China. His current research centers on how European empires in Asia developed and became dependent upon the production of useful knowledge about populations and geography to maintain themselves. His books include English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth Century China (Duke; Hong Kong U. Press, 2003) and Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793 (Duke, 1995), which won the 1997 Joseph R. Levenson Book Prize, Association for Asian Studies.

“Violence and the Photographic Encounter,” Sarah E. Fraser

Between the third quarter of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, a politically charged, trans-Pacific dialogue between the U.S. and China played a significant role in transforming the photographic representation of China. The Opium Wars, Boxer Uprising, and anti-Chinese immigration policies in the United States are critical factors that account for the creation of a negative, punitive representation of the Chinese subject. This essay addressed the ways in which photographic types, referencing ethnographic genres, work to construct “China” and develop a category of “the Chinese.” By 1900 these stereotypes were part of a visual culture of colonial Asia in which the modern male Chinese subject was often conveyed in criminal terms based on violence and revenge; this conception becomes imbricated in a modern Chinese sense of self. Trans-Pacific and pan-Asian constructions of the laboring class or the “coolie,” provide the most consistent focal point for tracking the increasingly violent and racist views about communities on China’s coast.

Sarah E. Fraser, Associate Professor of Art History, Northwestern University; Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Fraser published Performing the Visual: Buddhist Wall Painting Practice in China and Central Asia, 618-960 (Stanford, 2004) and an edited volume Merit, Opulence and the Buddhist Network of Wealth on Buddhist material culture (Shanghai Fine Arts Publishers, 2003). She was the chief editor of wall painting and sculpture for the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive (MIDA). Fraser’s major international projects on Buddhist art include a Luce Foundation-supported project on technology and archaeology with the Dunhuang Research Academy. She is currently writing a book-length study on the beginnings of the archaeology field in China in the 1920s and the search for ‘primitive art’ on the frontier. She has also begun a project on late-19th century China photography.

Papers Session II: Technique and Industry

“Camerawork as Technical Practice in Colonial India,” Christopher Pinney

Starting from the Latourian predicate that the idea of technology as ‘autonomous destiny’ and its apparent opposite, technology as ‘neutral tool’, are mutually dependent ‘purifications’, this paper explores what a networked analysis of photography as technical practice in late colonial India might look like. How can we avoid, on the one hand, seeing photography as simply a screen onto which the social and/or the state is projected, or, on the other, an over-determination that valorises photography’s fluid practices as ‘technology’? The analysis assumes that the potentiality of photography, and the objects which it proved capable of picturing, were both initially unknown. Photography did not emerge fully formed as a technology; neither did its putative objects, the visible world, and human subjectivity make themselves apparent in fully determinate form. Contemporary accounts clearly show how blurred and uncertain were these positions. The camera and its objects evolved within a shared space (a ‘corpography’), an experimental, networked zone of technical practice.

Christopher Pinney, Professor of Cultural and Visual Anthropology, University College London; Ph.D., London School of Economics

Pinney’s research has a strong geographic focus in central India: his initial ethnographic research was concerned with village-resident factory workers. Subsequently he researched popular photographic practices and the consumption of Hindu chromolithographs in the same area. His publications combine contemporary ethnography with the historical archaeology of particular media (Camera Indica and Photos of the Gods). He is currently interested in cultural spaces that conventional social theory has tended to neglect—“more than local and less than global”—and spaces of cultural flow that elude the west. Pinney just published The Coming of Photography in India, based on his Panizzi Lectures, British Library, delivered in 2007.

“Hybrid China: Early Chinese Industrial Photography,” Chris Reed

Many familiar 19th-century China-related photographs seem to document Chinese “lost worlds.” Through the eye of lenses positioned by well-known early photographers Felice Beato, John Thompson, and others, grey tone prints extend the gaze of empire from the Islamic and Hindu “Orient” of the Near East and India onto the Confucian, agrarian empires of East Asia. In the work of these photographers of China, indoor views of officials and merchants taking their leisure provide a backdrop to outdoor scenes of landscape and agrarians overburdened by stoop labor. Together, they reinforce a sense of a timeless but murky social and economic landscape.

However, another category of 19th-century photographs, many of them taken anonymously, presents the “hybrid China” of the Self-Strengthening Movement and merchant-led littoral reformism. These shots, which today are rarely encountered in commercially anthologized books of late imperial Chinese photographs, present an alternative to the realms suggested above. The contrast between, e.g., magua- and “pigtail” attired operators working with Western technology such as the then-new mechanized printing press, anticipates an industrial future rather than pastoral antecedents. Less picturesque, such images sometimes turn out to be more thought provoking than the “lost world” shots. Reed’s paper examines this hybrid China of machines and their operators to hypothesize what early photographers in China might have found of significance in such scenes.

Chris Reed, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University; Chief Editor of Twentieth Century China; Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1996

Reed is a specialist in the history of modern China with particular focus on the period from the mid-18th to the mid-20th centuries. His teaching focuses on the Qing, Republican, and People's Republic periods. His research concentrates on China's modern media, print culture, print capitalism, and print communism. His book Gutenberg in Shanghai: Chinese Print Capitalism, 1876-1937 (University of British Columbia Press, 2004) combines the history of technology, business, politics, and culture in the study of modernization in China's largest city. Gutenberg in Shanghai won the 2003-05 ICAS Humanities Book Prize.

“Picturing Photography, Abstracting Pictures: The Domain of Images in Republican Shanghai,” William Schaefer

Schaefer’s talk mapped the domain of images in the print media of Republican Shanghai, both the wide variety of images that explored the possibilities of picturing at a time of rapid media change and the ways in which different modes of picturing were used to mark off perceived differences in the cultural domains of “East” and “West” at a moment of unevenly and globally circulating image and media cultures and growing international crisis. Critics such as Feng Zikai and Zong Baihua tried to differentiate Chinese from Western modes of picturing on the basis of distinctions between a photographic transcription of reality, fixity, and attention to perspectival depth they ascribed to the West, and various modes of abstraction, mutability and deformation, the visualization of the unseen, and attention to pictorial surface they ascribed to China. And yet such civilizational binary oppositions were completely undone through actual practices of picturing, where the greatest number and variety of pictures were collected and circulated at that time in popular illustrated magazines.

This is most evident not so much in familiar photographs depicting urban and rural scenes in China and abroad as it is in images demonstrating the possibilities of new imaging technologies, picturing the limits of picturing at times to the point of abstraction. Such photographs explored microphotography, high-speed photography, and lens blur; many other photographs demonstrated the plasticity of the medium and the mutability of the world as reconstituted through shadow photography, “design photographs,” and layouts in which through the juxtaposition of photographs anything could be compared to or transformed into anything else. The very pursuit of the transcription of reality in illustrated magazines through a faith in the transparency of pictures—a pursuit and a faith that Zong and Feng derided—led instead to the possibility that the apparent mimeticism of images was itself based in an abstraction of reality rather than a transcription of the world. Photography did not demarcate borders between “East” and “West,” but rather was the medium that most readily crossed borders and complicated distinctions so often insisted upon between different civilizational pictorial orders.

William Schaefer, Assistant Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2000

Schaefer's research and teaching interests include modern Chinese literature and culture; histories and theories of photography in China; relations between verbal and visual representations; Chinese and global modernisms; landscape representation and geographies of literature; race, primitivism, and anthropological discourse; and comparative studies of literary, ethnographic, and historical narrative. His most recent publications are "Shanghai Savage" (positions: east asia cultures critique 11:1) and "Shadow Photographs, Ruins, and Shanghai's Projected Past" (PMLA 122:1 [2007]). He is completing a manuscript on photography and modernist literature and art in Shanghai during the 1920s and 1930s. His new research concerns the engagement of contemporary Chinese documentary photographers with rural-urban migration and historical traces, and Chinese photography and image theories during the 19th and early-20th centuries.

Papers Session III: Peripheral Nationals

“Photographing Peripheral Nationals in China (1928-1936): The Case of Ethnographic Photographs Taken by Institute of History and Philology Scholars,” Wang Ming-ke

During the first two decades of the 20th century, Chinese nationalists tried to build the Chinese nation that contained not only the Han, the traditional “people of the central kingdom,” but also the peripheral “barbarians” surrounding them. The revolution of 1911 was only a political step toward this goal. During this period, the knowledge concerning the “peripheries” of the nation was still poor; how many nationalities the nation contained beyond the Han, and the cultural and physical characteristics of these peripheral nationals, were still unknown.

In 1928, the government-sponsored Institute of History & Philology (IHP) was established in Guangzhou. This institute contained four sections: archaeology, history, linguistic/philology, and anthropology; each section recruited the most distinguished scholars in their respective fields as its fellows. In the following 20 years, the IHP played an important role in providing authentic knowledge concerning the Chinese nation—finding “the origin” of the nation’s ancient core (the Han) through archaeology and history and identifying “the varieties” of her peripheries (non-Han nationals) through linguistic and anthropology.

This essay focuses on research activities of the IHP’s early anthropologists Li Guangming, Ling Chunsheng, and Rei Yifu, especially their ethnographic photographs and the responses of the natives and field reports they submitted to the IHP. Their photographs were organized in some highly selective ways and divided into subjects, scenes, and people, therefore forming a schematic genre, complementing their ethnographic field notes. However, in contrast with the ethnographic writing, within which the natives were portrayed as unable to act in text, the photographs, to a certain extent, allowed natives to “present” themselves. These “representations in photographs” in context can provide significant data in analyzing the interrelationship and interactions between IHP anthropologists and the peripheral people, and then, the process of the latter becoming minority nationals.

Wang Ming-ke, Professor and Director of The Chinese Ethnographic Project, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taipei; Ph.D., Harvard

Wang’s research mainly concerns “borders”, such as border space, people, and memory, to represent multiple dimensions of a society and its power hierarchy in order to shed light on cultural conditions between border subjects. He is the author of On Chinese Borders: Historical Memory and Ethnic Identity (Asian Culture Press), The Qiang between the Han and the Tibetans: a Historical Anthropological Study of Chinese Borders (Linking Books), and the newly published The Nomads Choice: First Encounters between Northern Nomads and Han Imperial China.

“Redefining China's Outer Limits: Colonial Photography on Taiwan's Sino-Japanese Frontier, 1895-1940,” Paul D. Barclay

This paper analyzes Japanese photographs from the region of Taiwan known to Qing officials as the “savage border” and to Japanese colonists as the “guard line.” From the 1860s, outsiders conceptualized Taiwan as a Qing marchland, partly settled by Chinese immigrants but largely inhabited by uncivilized Malay tribes. This externally imposed imaginative geography conflated the limits of Chinese settlement with the extent of Qing authority. Qing officials, on the other hand, did not acknowledge geographic limits to imperial authority. Their spatial model of human difference posited gradations of civility that radiated out from an imperial center to savage peripheries of indeterminate extent. In the 1870s, Japanese statesmen justified the occupation of the Hengchun peninsula by challenging the Qing dispensation. Japan’s apologists argued that Qing sovereignty ended abruptly at a hypothetical boundary line separating Chinese villages and fields from Indigenous population centers. The notion that Taiwan was ethnically bifurcated into discreet territories reasserted itself when Japan assumed the mantle of government in 1895.

Notwithstanding this crude but persistent conception of Taiwan’s human geography, 1890s Japanese travel accounts revealed the existence of a Han-Malay contact zone of unknown proportions. Here, ethnically hybrid “interpreters” and “headmen” held sway. Photographs of tattooed Indigenous women wearing combinations of Chinese and Atayal garments symbolized this contact zone, constituting the most frequently reproduced images of the “savage district.” As the Japanese state transformed this unruly contact zone into a manageable boundary line, photographs of Indigenous women were shorn of indicators of Han affiliation. By the 1930s, the borderland hybrid was revived with the proliferation of photographs of Indigenous women in Japanese attire. Colonial photography thus participated in the redefinition of a former Chinese periphery along the axis of Japanese temporality, presenting the “savage territory” as a suitably pristine site for the enactment of imperial policies.

Paul D. Barclay, Associate Professor, Lafayette College; Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1999

Barclay's research focuses on Japanese colonialism in Taiwan, with an emphasis on relations between Japanese colonists and Taiwan's indigenous peoples. Barclay has published work in Humanities Research, Journal of Asian Studies, and Japanese Studies, among others, and is currently revising a manuscript for publication, tentatively titled The Imperial Centrifuge: Japan's Colonial Subalterns and the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan, 1873-1930. The Imperial Centrifuge is a cultural and political economic study of frontier contact, commerce and conflict on imperial Japan's southern extremity. He is also general editor of The Gerald Warner Taiwan Image Collection and recipient of a 2007-08 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.

“Ethnic Encounter in the Marketplace: Rui Yifu's Ethnographic Photography in Southwest China,” Wang Peng-hui

The recently released ethnographic photography archives in the Institute of History and Philology (IHP), Academia Sinica fully demonstrate that photography was part of the early Chinese anthropological pursuit. This paper considers ethnographic photographs taken by Rui Yifu, one of the first generation of anthropologists in IHP, in his missions to the Yunnan and Burma borderland in 1935-1936 and Guizhou in 1939-1940; it focuses on how Rui photographed peripheral nationals in tribal marketplaces.

Marketplaces—vital meeting grounds where goods circulate and diverse ethnic groups interact—are attractive to anthropologists to photograph natives from within the crowd. Among the IHP archives, marketplace photographs display features different from anthropometric photographs. These photographs contribute to understanding native ways of living as well as the ethnographer’s gaze on its national “other”. Various themes embedded in photographs, i.e. power relations, gender issues, and the anthropological imagination of tribal peoples, are elaborated. The advent of ethnographer—an intruder armed with a so-called “soul-stealing box”—often caused curiosity as well as fright among natives—descriptions of how natives avoid cameras is well documented in many fieldwork notes.

Wang’s paper also illustrates several marketplace photographs to reveal how natives react under the scrutiny of the camera’s lens. Pang Xunqin, Rui Yifu’s co-worker in Guizhou, created a series of paintings on Guizhou Miao people after his return from the field. The striking contrast of Pang’s paintings with Rui’s photographs offers a great example of the transformation of representing peripheral nationals in the era of technical reproduction. This paper concludes with reflections on anthropological gaze on China’s internal “other” as academic patriotism at a time when its nation-state was in jeopardy.

Wang Peng-hui, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, National Taiwan University

Wang’s dissertation addresses the development of photography as a tool for ethnographic research and exchange in China’s southwestern regions during the Republican Period. She draws on film and other newly emergent popular media to explore how ‘Chinese character’ develops through new forms of popular media. She focuses on the career of Rui Yifu, China’s first ethnographer, using little known, unpublished archival data from the Institute of History and Philology.

Session IV: The City and Frontier

“Transferring the Image: The Acceptance of Photography in China” (co-authored by Jeff Cody), Frances Terpak

Histories of early photography in China generally address how Western officials, travelers, and professional photographers visually “opened up” China to an audience eager for foreign images. This essay will consider how and why photography was also readily taken up by Chinese practitioners and what cultural needs it met or was adapted to. From roughly 1860 to the 1880s, photography permeated Chinese modes of representation, both serving the demands of the court and offering new outlets for popular culture.

Frances Terpak, Senior Collections Curator (Photography), The Getty Research Institute; Ph.D., Yale

Terpak’s research specialties include popular entertainment and optical devices in the early modern period, and the history of photography, particularly as practiced in the French colonies, the Ottoman Empire, and China. Her work also encompasses international European expositions and photography at and of these events. In 1998, she curated the exhibition "Framing the Asian Shore: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of the Ottoman Empire", and co-curated with Barbara Stafford the 2001 exhibition "Devices of Wonder: From the World in a Box to Images on a Screen", which received numerous awards, including a Katherine Kyes Leab/Daniel J. Leab Award for its catalogue and a Webby Award for its website. Terpak is currently planning several photography exhibitions including shows on the Middle East, colonial Algiers, and 19th-century China, the latter entitled “China in a Frame: Early Photography of the Middle Kingdom,” scheduled for fall 2010.

“Sha Fei’s Revisions of the Great Wall in Chinese Wartime Photography,” Eliza Ho

In the early-20th century, Chinese photographers began to use symbols of China, including the Great Wall, to represent and re-think its history and its contemporary moment. The work of Sha Fei (1912-1950), arguably the most prolific wartime photographer in Chinese history, is exemplary of this impulse. While Sha Fei worked for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a photojournalist and chronicled the realities of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), he incorporated the Great Wall in several of his war photographs, a few of which remain recognizable today.

This paper examines two famous Sha Fei photographs of the Great Wall to investigate how the photographer utilized this icon to create new identities for the rising communist China. Created in the early phase of the war in 1938 and 1939, Sha Fei’s Great Wall photographs were in dialogue with previous photographs produced by foreigner photographers. Scholars have noted how these Western photographs of the Great Wall, pioneered by such photographers as John Thomson (1837-1921), Donald Mennie (1899-1941), and William Edgar Geil (1865-1925), represented the picturesque mode, one that portrays the Great Wall as an integral part of the country’s majestic landscape, eternally beautiful yet static. Sha Fei, as a Chinese photographer, not only adopted such a mode but also used it to furnish a political proclamation to specifically promote the CCP. In doing so, Sha Fei, through his revisions of the Great Wall, helped legitimize the role of the CCP (as opposed to that of the Nationalist government) as the new guardian for the war-torn Chinese citizenry.

By tracing the lineage of Great Wall photography developed from its origin in the 1860s up to war years, this paper will yield a preliminary iconography of Great Wall photographs with which Sha Fei’s will be compared and contrasted. This method, paired with an investigation of the competing discourses of the Great Wall of that time, will gain us insight into the visual rhetoric that is at play in Sha Fei's photographs of the Great Wall. This paper will demonstrate Sha Fei’s ingenious vision in appropriating the Western aesthetic (and technology of photography) for China’s search of its new identity.

Eliza Ho, Ph.D. Candidate, The Ohio State University

Ho’s recent research on Chinese wartime photography and her dissertation topic on Sha Fei (1912-1950), the first photojournalist working for the Chinese Communist Party, reflect her special interest in investigating photography’s role in China’s nation-building project and identity formation during the epoch of the 1930s and 1940s. Her publications include entries for the Encyclopedia of Modern China (forthcoming 2009) on the history of documentary photography, propaganda photography, and pictorial magazines since 1880. Her other essays appear in Chinese-language publications such as A Compendium of Photographic Arts in Guangdong, 1843-2006 (Lingnan Art Publishing House 2008) and Life Magazine (Shenghuo yuekan). In 2009, she will contribute to the first large-scale show on Chinese documentary photography at the China Institute in New York.

Papers Session V: The Photographic Medium

“Imaging Ideology in Meiji Japan: The Graphic and Photographic Representations of Nation and Empire,” Austin Parks

Examining the photographic production of nation and empire in the magazine Graphic (Gurahikku, founded by Yûrakusha, a Tokyo based publishing company in January 1909), sheds light on how individuals with little sense of a national commonality came to participate in the Meiji state’s goals for imperial expansion in even the most innocuous of cultural pastimes. This participation was not necessarily direct or easy to ascertain; it occurred largely through the subtle transference of meaning by cultural mediators such as the photographers employed by the Yûrakusha publishing house. These individuals made certain that, in the case of the Graphic, late-Meiji era consumers imbibed of empire by looking at photographs that reflected both a recognizable reality and an imperial fantasy.

Austin Parks, Ph.D. Candidate, Northwestern University

“The Supremacy of Modern Time: How Shanghai Calendars Re-shaped the Image of China (1860-1920),” Zhang Shaoqian

This paper emphasizes the primary role of urban culture in the construction of the modern Chinese nation and as fundamental elements in its advancement. China was most significantly modernized in terms of changing concepts of time in an age of mass production, by demonstrating how modern time was intended to work both symbolically and practically, to deliver political ideologies and sanctify social relations through function and representation. In other words, a reinterpretation of time was seen as being the basis for the regulation of society itself, and the only possible means of creating a modern Chinese society.

Zhang Shaoqian, Ph.D. Candidate, Northwestern University

Zhang Shaoqian is a graduate student at Northwestern University, where she is completing her dissertation, “Visualizing New Republican China: Pictorial Construction of the Chinese Citizen (1912-49)”. Zhang is the recipient of research grants from Northwestern University in 2005 and 2006, and most recently received a Dissertation Year Fellowship from The Graduate School at Northwestern.

2. China Seen by the Chinese: Documentary Photography, 1951 – 2003

An international symposium in conjunction with the exhibition “Humanism in China: A Contemporary Record of Photography” on view at the China Institute, New York, from 24 September – 13 December 2009 Saturday, 24 October 2009, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Helm Auditorium, McCosh 50. Princeton University

Organized by the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang, Center for East Asian Art. Summaries courtesy of the Tang Center for East Asian Art, Princeton University.


"Problems of Perspective in Chinese Documentary Photography," Bridget Alsodorf

The ethics of perspective are central to Orientalism, both to its images and to its theorization. Westerners are accustomed to images of the East filtered through Western eyes, but is perspective – in all of its conceptual and physical dimensions – still a problem when those images represent an “ insider’s” point of view? Of course. But how? Recent documentary photography in China by Chinese photographers offers a wealth of material to investigate this question. In particular, a number of photographs in the China Institute exhibition thematize and interrogate perspective within the frame of the image, displaying a striking self-consciousness – on the part of the photographers as well as their subjects – of the relationship between desire, power, the human body, and frames of vision. This presentation will look closely at several of these photographs, and will consider them in relation to the work of three other photographers known for their images of the “new China”: German Thomas Struth, Brazilian Sebastião Salgado, and Chinese-American Mark Leong.

Bridget Alsdorf is assistant professor of 19th-century European art at Princeton University. She received her 2008 from the University of California, Berkeley, after spending two years as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Washington. Her most recent publications are an article on Nicolas Poussin and 17th-century allegory, and an essay on the work of contemporary artist Andrea Hornick. An article on Cézanne’s late still lifes is forthcoming in Word & Image, and another on Fantin-Latour will soon appear in The Getty Research Journal. The latter relates to her book manuscript, The Art of Association: Fantin-Latour and the Modern Group Portrait, which examines the resurgence of group portraiture in 19th-century France, with a particular focus on problems of isolation and collectivity.

"Famine and Barefoot Children," D.J. Clark

Printed in the upper left corner of page 440 of the Humanism in China catalogue is Li Feng’s picture of “bare-foot children in rags on the farm.” It is the collection’s only coded reference to a famine that engulfed the country in 1958 – 62, a humanitarian disaster that is widely regarded as the world’s worst, yet one that seemingly passed unrecorded by China’s growing cohort of photographers. This paper discusses Li Feng’s image in relation to a gradual development of Chinese photographic culture and argues that, although the picture does not fit a Western tradition of imaging famine, it was read very differently within the context of photography seen by the audience of the time.

D. J. Clark, who is employed by the University of Bolton in the U.K. and represented by Panos Pictures in London, works as leader of the M.A. photography course (international photojournalism, travel, and documentary photography) in Dalian, China; as director of Visual Journalism at the Asia Center for Journalism in Manila; and as a free-lance multimedia journalist. He researches and writes about photography as a vehicle for social change, the subject that drives both his photographic and academic work. In 2003/4 he took a year’s leave from teaching to write a research paper on 1950s Chinese photo journalism, a study that led to his moving permanently to China in 2006. Clark runs workshops throughout the world, most recently for Xinhua in Beijing; the British Council in Croatia, Mozambique, and Vietnam; and World Press Photo in the Philippines and throughout Africa. In 2008 he gave a keynote speech at the World Press Photo Awards on the growth of Majority World Photojournalism.

"Documentary Photography Projects: Some Observations," James Elkins

This is an informal paper, reporting on five documentary photographyprojects: (1) a large-scale initiative, based in Bergen, Norway, to identify 19th-century Norwegian immigrants to the U.S.; (2) a collection of photographs of Estonia, from the 19th century to the present; (3) a project to study the “lingchi,” the Chinese “death of a thousand cuts,” including a forthcoming book on the subject; (4) a project in the Hochschule für Gestaltung, Basel, to articulate a theory of documentary photography in a visual communications department; and (5) a project in the Jacobs-University, Bremen, aimed at classifying news photographs according to a categories devised by Marion Mueller and based on earlier categories invented by Aby Warburg and Martin Warnke. The paper will present aspects of all five projects, with the purpose of providing some frames for problems that currently present themselves in the study of documentary photography.

James Elkins is E. C. Chadbourne Professor in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He writes on art and non-art images; his recent books include Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction (2003), What Happened to Art Criticism? (2003), On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art (2004), and Master Narratives and Their Discontents (2005). He has edited two book series for Routledge: The Art Seminar (conversations on different subjects in art theory) and Theories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Arts (short monographs on the shape of the 20th century). He is currently organizing a seven-year series of seminars for the Stone Summer Theory Institute (

"Sha Fei and the Beginning of Chinese Social Documentary Photography," Eliza Ho

In the beginning of the 1930s, most Chinese fine-art photographers saw photography as a personal pursuit for art and pleasure. They commonly depicted subject matter conventional to traditional Chinese painting, such as landscape and genre scenes. Although some photographers looked beyond the usual range of topics, focusing their attention on working people and the lower classes, their aim remained to make artistic photographs. Toward the mid-1930s a new trend emerged. This new trend, stemming partly from the deteriorating socialpolitical conditions in China, called for photographers to use their medium to effect social change. In response to this call, some photographers began to use the forum of exhibitions to disseminate social critique embedded in their photographs, establishing for themselves an identity of patriotic, concerned photographers. This paper traces the origin of this new trend first by examining the writings of its proponents, such as He Tiehua and Sha Fei, and then by analyzing a series of Sha Fei’s photographs collectively called Mass Life (Dazhong shenghuo), which were shown in the photographer’s 1937 solo exhibition. Finally, it attempts to provide a working definition of what one might call Chinese social documentary photography.

Eliza Ho received her academic training as an art historian in Hong Kong and the U.S. The experience of growing up in Hong Kong has made her particularly aware of issues such as cultural identity and the dynamics between national and regional politics. Her master’s thesis explores the stereotyping of the Lingnan School, a regional school of modern Chinese painting whose impact and importance, she concludes, extended beyond its presumed regional boundaries. Her recent research on Chinese wartime photography, and on Sha Fei (1912 – 1950), the first photojournalist working for the Chinese Communist Party and the subject of her Ph.D. dissertation, reflects her special interest in investigating photography’s role in China’s nation-building project and identity formation during the 1930s and 1940s. Ho is currently organizing an exhibition on Sha Fei titled Art, Documentary, and Propaganda in Wartime China: The Photography of Sha Fei (1912 – 1950), which is scheduled to open in January 2010 at the Ohio State University’s Urban Arts Space.

"Reclaiming Documentary Photography," Richard K. Kent

Paralleling the growing interest in the history of Chinese photography in general, historians, critics, and curators in China have begun to focus on the resurgence of what has been termed documentary photography (jishi sheying). From the early 1980s onward, concurrent with the transformation of China into a more open society with a market-driven economy, there has been an outpouring of activity by photographers concerned with documenting widespread socio-economic change. This relatively unfettered photographic documentation, which has turned its back on the decades-long propagandistic use of the medium in the service of social realism during Mao Zedong’s rule, may be seen as the delayed burgeoning of seeds of promise for a documentary photographic practice planted during the Republican period. This paper’s objective is twofold. It will examine aspects of amateur fine-art photographic practice in the 1930s that reflected a documentary orientation and laid the foundation for the use of the camera as a means of bringing attention to often ignored or little-known facets of society and lived experience. It will also examine more closely the work of two photographers of the period whose photographs and writings have only recently been rediscovered and publicized: Zhuang Xueben (1909 – 1984), who from 1934 to 1937 worked in present-day Sichuan, Qinghai, and Gansu with an ethnographic interest in documenting the region’s non- Chinese peoples; and Fang Dazeng (1912 – 1937), whose brief career as a photojournalist in Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, and Shanxi province in 1932 through 1937 was cut short by his untimely death shortly after the start of the war with Japan. Both of these photographers, along with Sha Fei (1912 – 1950) and Zhang Zudao (1922), are being elevated to the status of canonical exemplars of early Chinese documentary photography. This paper considers the rationale for their newfound significance.

Richard K. Kent is professor of art history at Franklin & Marshall College, where he teaches East Asian art history and the history of photography. He has published articles on various facets of medieval Chinese painting, especially the Buddhist subject of luohans (senior disciples of the Buddha)from the Song to the Ming dynasties. His current research concerns early-20th-century Chinese photography, and he is publishing a series of articles on this topic, including “Fine-Art Amateur Photography in Republican-Period Shanghai: From Pictorialism to Modernism” (forthcoming in Bridges to Heaven: Essays on East Asian Art in Honor of Professor Wen C. Fong). He recently co-edited, with Christopher Zhu, Embracing the Uncarved Wood: Sculptural Reliefs from Shandong, China (2009), the catalogue that accompanied an exhibition that opened at Franklin & Marshall’s Phillips Museum of Art, then moved to Drexel University’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery. In his role as a photographer, he is the primary contributor of black-and-white photographs to Central Market: Cornerstone of the Lancaster Community, with text by Linda Aleci (2009).

"Ecologies of Photographs," William Schaefer

Among the most pervasive motifs in contemporary Chinese discourses on documentary photography are those that conceptualize photographs in spatial terms, as exploring and depicting “ecologies” and “environments.” Wang Zheng’s grainy photographs of displaced Muslim communities in western China, with their intense attention to the textures and markings of an arid landscape, have been described as exploring a “human ecology.” Lu Yuanmin’s photographs exploring memory in Shanghai, composed of smudges and blurs of light and shadow, have been noted for their attention to urban “props” and “scenes” and their often dilapidated surfaces. And Jiang Jian insists on the terms “scene” and “environmental portrait” to characterize his richly-lit color photographs depicting rural domestic interiors as collections of migrating images and objects worn with use. Such motifs of ecology and environment conceptualize the relations between, on the one hand, the material practices of photography, and, on the other, the pervasive focus of documentary photographs on the interactions of peoples, objects, images, and places, and the markings on surfaces left by the passage of people and time. Together the material practices and thematic concerns of documentary photography are understood as composing complex mediums of history, culture, and memory. This paper examines these disparate photographers’ ecological and environmental conceptions of documentary, and suggests that such conceptions are inseparable from one of the central concerns of contemporary Chinese photography: the changing meanings of place at a historical moment of globalization, mass migration, and displacement.

William Schaefer teaches modern Chinese literary and cultural studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He has completed a book manuscript titled “Shadow Modernism: Photography and Writing in Shanghai, 1925 – 1935” and is currently researching the intersection of rural-urban migration and historical traces in contemporary Chinese photography, a well as the relationships between abstraction and documentary in recent Chinese, Japanese, and Western photography. His publications include “Poor and Blank: History’s Marks and the Photographies of Displacement,” forthcoming in Representations; “Shadow Photographs, Ruins, and Shanghai’s Projected Past,” in PMLA 122:1 (2007); and “Shanghai Savage” (positions: east asia cultures critique 11:1 (2003). He has also edited a special issue of positions: east asia cultures critique entitled, titled “Photography’s Places” (forthcoming).

"China Seen by the Chinese: Documentary Photography, 1951 – 2003," Jerome Silbergeld

What is documentary photography, what does it document, andhow is it different from other genres of photography (artphotographs, news photography, photojournalism, snapshots)? What does it have to do with art and aesthetics? These are questions with many answers but no consensus, whether in China or in the West. Every photograph documents something, or a number of things, including its own act of documentation, and so the term “documentary” might be so broad as to be meaningless. But that is only the beginning of an inquiry, as the term itself remains in widespread use. This paper presents the term “documentary photography” from the point(s) of view of the Chinese curators of this exhibition. It describes their basis for selecting 600 representative photographs for the first museum collection of its kind in China, and it discusses the selection of 100 of these photographs for the China Institute exhibition.

Jerome Silbergeld is P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Professor of Chinese Art at Princeton University and director of Princeton’s Tang Center for East Asian Art. His teaching and publications are in the area of traditional and contemporary Chinese painting, Chinese gardens and architecture, and Chinese cinema. In his teaching and in more than fifty articles and book chapters, he has dealt with such topics as artistic tradition in times of political upheaval, the aesthetics of old age, perceptions and misperceptions of historical change, “bad” art and the articulation of the negative, the historically unstable identity of “China” and its impact on the writing of art history, regional diversity in Chinese gardens, and visual communication in a culture of political censorship. Among his books, edited volumes, and exhibition catalogues are Chinese Painting Style (1982), Mind Landscapes: The Paintings of C. C. Wang (1987), Chinese Painting Colors (1989), Contradictions: Artistic Life, the Socialist State, and the Chinese Painter Li Huasheng (1993), China Into Film (1999), Hitchcock With a Chinese Face (2004), Persistence/ Transformation: Text as Image in the Art of Xu Bing (2005), Body in Question: Image and Illusion in Two Chinese Films by Director Jiang Wen (2008), and Outside In: Contemporary °— Chinese °— American Art (2009).

3. Photographic Practices, Visual Transgression, and National Identity in Meiji Japan and Early Republican China

Panel at Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Chicago, IL, March 2009

Chair: Allen Hockley, Associate Professor of Asian Art, Dartmouth College

This panel explores the significance of photography in the construction of national identity, with a particular emphasis on the complexities in the interactions between photography and other visual media. The role played by images in the construction of the imagined community of nationhood is attracting increasing scholarly attention. To position photography – which was rather marginalized in East Asian studies until the recent decade – in the center of such inquiry, however, entails the issue of visual transgression, which is often lost in the simplified model of interpreting photography either as “influenced by” or “opposing against” traditional visual culture. The panelists attempt to demonstrate how photography and imagery in traditional media such as ukiyo-e prints and brush painting dynamically shaped the production, perception, and conceptualization of each other. Moreover, instead of limiting photography to merely a new medium and technology, the panelists approach photography as a set of practices and ideas, thus investigating its discursive construction and the cultural/historical conditions that enabled such construction. While photography was often associated with “West” due to its origins, the negotiation between photography and traditional visual culture in China and Japan often carried the ideological bearings of asserting a quintessentially “Eastern” identity. With case studies ranging from Meiji-period souvenir photography and photographic reproduction of pre-modern artistic treasures in Early Republican China, this panel showcases the complicated politics of representation – a much needed perspective in our understanding of the construction of national identity.

"Geo-Encyclopedia, Photography and National Representation in Early Meiji Japan," Gyewon Kim

This paper attempts to investigate the tightly interwoven history of photography, world geography and national representation in early Meiji Japan. It particularly attends to Yochi Shiryaku, a geo-encyclopedia compiled by Uchida Masao in the 1870s. As a student dispatched to Europe by the Tokugawa shogunate, Uchida learned Western culture and technology in Holland for five years from 1862. He then retuned to Japan with European oil paintings, photographic albums, and natural history references. Based upon these sources, Uchida began to compile Yochi Shiryaku in 1870, a thirteen-volume of encyclopedia of world geography. Yochi Shiryaku had a then big circulation of over one hundred thousand, which was considered fairly large at the time. Its success was primarily due to the huge number of illustrations that Uchida called “shashin (photography),” the images copied from the Western photographic albums and traveling magazines. What is striking about Yochi Shiryaku is that it doesn’t contain any images to designate ‘Japan’ except one territorial map. Japan thus appears in this encyclopedia as an invisible country, lacking all of its visual images and representations. This paper seeks to address what the visual absence of Japan implies with respect to the structure of national representation in world geography, and how photography was involved in it as part of problem in the formative period of Japanese modernity.

Gyewon Kim, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University (,

"‘Japan’s true views in the imagery of Edo-Meiji artists’: from ukiyo-e famous places images (meisho-e) to landscape photography," Rossella Menegazzo

This paper focuses on early Japanese landscape photography, showing its relation with popular Edo-period ukiyo-e paintings and prints of famous places (meisho-e). Photography represented first of all a technical device that helped artists to capture reality. In this sense it was a step forward from both the uki-e “perspective images” and megane-e “images for lenses”. But photography facilitated quantitative enlargement of the national market for souvenir images of famous places - just very popular between Edo population and regional daimyō– and to open to the new market of foreigners. This inter-connection between the traditional painting and the new visual means of photography, from bakumatsu era, is peculiar to the modernization of Japanese society and its opening to the world.

Rossella Menegazzo, The International Hokusai Research Centre, Milan (

"Female Image as National Icon: Semantic Transformation of bijin in the Kusakabe Kimbei’s Meiji-Souvenir Photography in the Context of Japanese Visual Culture," Mio Wakita

Female images are one of the most prominent genres in the Meiji souvenir photography. In conjunction with an increasing dominance of native photographers as their producers from the 1880s, female images went through an iconographical shift from taxonomic to more bijinga (pictures of beautiful women) oriented types.

In this paper, I aim at re-assessing female images of souvenir photographs of Kusakabe Kimbei in the context of Japanese visual culture, examining the transforming process of semantics of his bijin imagery. My attempt is to demonstrate how the previous semantics of bijinga images with overtly erotic connotation underwent a paradigm change when introduced in the post-1880 Meiji souvenir photography. Main focus of the analysis is set on following aspects: the dominance of geisha as sitter in the photographs and Meiji ideological discourse on her social status; cultural use of bijinga female images in the Japanese visual culture from the Tokugawa well into the Meiji period; the granting of increased significante to female imagery as national icon in the nineteenth-century visual culture. I argue that Kimbei’s female images are to be conceived as figures selling Japan, while their semantics transforms from the status of an erotic commodity and product icon to an objectified national icon with double-sided meanings.

Moving away from the monolithic view as a commercial product and thus catering only to the western expectation towards exotic “Things Japanese” (Chamberlain), I argue that socio-cultural re-contextualisation opens up an alternative nuanced reading of female images of Meiji souvenir photography.

Mio Wakita , PhD Candidate (Japanese Art History), Institute of East Asian Art History, University of Heidelberg (

"National Identity and Photographic Reproductions of Art in Early Twentieth-century China," Yu-jen LIU

The introduction of photographic printing methods from the West into early twentieth-century China provided alternatives to long established means for the practice of art reproduction in China. This opened up a booming age of photographic reproductions of Chinese art. However, while using these modern printing technologies to reproduce traditional Chinese art objects, the publishers of these reproductions came to be aware of certain unique aspects of Chinese art media, which could not be replicated simply by adopting the most up-to-date practices for the enterprise of art reproduction at the time. This paper takes the art periodical Shenzhou guoguangji 神州國光集(1908-1911) as an example to unravel the multifaceted aspirations implicated in the introduction of modern photographic reproduction in early twentieth-century China. By examining the rhetorical strategies in the advertisements for these mechanical reproductions, together with the materiality of these same reproductions, this paper argues that the attempt at reproducing Chinese art objects at this time was not merely aiming at faithful copying of images, but also implied an effort at authentically replicating traditional cultural practices. National identity was therefore embodied not only in an ideological awareness of the difference in the character of art appreciation from that of the 'Other' (in this case the ‘West’), but also in specific replicative practices through which Chinese art publishers endeavoured to make their reproductions equivalent to their originals in aspects other than just of visual verisimilitude, the effect photography was generally believed to master.

Yu-jen LIU , DPhil student in the History of Art, Oxford University (;

“Photographers’ Dream Comes True:” Landscape, Nationalism, and Photographic Representation of Mt. Huang, Yi GU

This paper examines the production and circulation of photographic representation of Mt. Huang in the early Republican era (1912-1949). Mt. Huang, a mountainous site in Southeastern China, acquired the status of national emblem of Chinese landscape in the 1930s, suddenly surpassing other historically famous sites such as Mt. Tai and being compared to the Alps of Switzerland and Mt. Fuji of Japan. The new prestige of Mt. Huang was largely based on claims that its appearance resembled the monumental landscape paintings of the Song and Yuan dynasties, which were then canonized as the golden age of Chinese painting. The study of the photographic representation of Mt. Huang demonstrates the seminal role that photography played in the ascendance of Mt. Huang: photography lent its authority of “being real” to the relentless search of a national landmark that epitomized monumental composition of traditional painting in early Republican China. The construction of Mt. Huang as the physically concrete demonstration of traditional aesthetics not only asserted the glory of traditional culture but also secured a sense of collective ownership of the land of China, which was susceptible to seizure by the Japanese army in the 1930s. By contextualizing the photographic representation of Mt. Huang in the surging nationalism, this paper attempts to illustrate the process in which photography and traditional painting legitimized each other by means of the reification of China's artistic past.

Yi GU, Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Chinese art, Department of Humanities, University of Toronto, Scarborough; Graduate Department of Art,, University of Toronto (

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