Courtesans, Intellectuals, and Entertainment Culture, 1850-1910
- PUBLISHED: January 2006
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies, Art History / Asian Art
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 440 Pages, 7 x 10 in, 172 illus.
- ISBN: 9780295985671
In this fascinating book, Catherine Yeh explores the Shanghai entertainment world at the close of the Qing dynasty. Established in the 1850s outside of the old walled city, the Shanghai Foreign Settlements were administered by Westerners and so were not subject to the strict authority of the Chinese government. At the center of the dynamic new culture that emerged was the courtesan, whose flamboyant public lifestyle and conspicuous consumption of modern goods set a style that was emulated by other women as they emerged from the "inner quarters" of traditional Chinese society.
Many Chinese visitors and sojourners were drawn to the Foreign Settlements. Men of letters seeking a living outside of the government bureaucracy found work in the Settlements’ burgeoning print industry and formed the new class of urban intellectuals. Courtesans fled from oppressive treatment and the turmoil of uprisings elsewhere in China and found unprecedented freedom in Shanghai to redefine themselves and their profession.
As the entertainment industry developed, publications sprang up to report on and promote it. Journalists and courtesans found that their interests increasingly coincided, and the Settlements became a cosmopolitan playground. Ritualized role-play based on novels such as Dream of the Red Chamber elevated the status of courtesan entertainment and led to culturally rich interactions between courtesans and their clients. As participants acted out the stories in public, they introduced modern notions of love and romance that were radically at odds with the traditional roles of men and women. Yet because social change arrived in the form of entertainment, it met with little resistance.
Yeh shows how this fortuitous combination of people and circumstances, rather than official decisions or acts, created the first multicultural modern city in China. With illustrations from newspapers, novels, travel guides, and postcards, as well as contemporary written descriptions of life in foreign-driven, fast-paced, cutting-edge Shanghai, this study traces the mutual influences among courtesans, intellectuals, and the city itself in creating a modern, market-oriented leisure culture in China. Historians, literary specialists, art critics, and social scientists will welcome this captivating foray into the world of late nineteenth-century popular culture.
Authors & Contributors
Catherine Yeh is research associate at the Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Heidelberg, Germany.
1. Modeling the Modern: Courtesan Fashion, Furniture, and Manners in Late-Nineteenth-Century Shanghai
2. Shanghai Love: New Rules of the Game
3. Playground Shanghai: Reenacting Dream of the Red Chamber
4. Image Makers: The Settlements' Men of Letters and Shanghai Print Entertainment
5. The Public Flower of the City and the Media Star
6. The Image of the Shanghai Courtesan in Late Qing Illustrated Fiction
7. Guides to Paradise: Entertainment in the Formation of Shanghai's Identity
In this meticulously researched and beautifully illustrated book, Catherine Yeh celebrates the centrality of the elite courtesan in the transformation of Shanghai to a modern metropolis. Although books about Shanghai abound..Yeh's book is unique in its approach. Shanghai Love is an important contribution to Chinese urban and media history. Readers will profit from Catherine Yeh's insightful analysis of the literature and visual culture that helped fashion this important metropolis in the nineteenth century.- China Review International
Shanghai Love argues for the centrality of elite courtesans to the late Qing Shanghai entertainment industry, to the development of the city more generally, and even more broadly, to the enterprise of 'Chinese modernity' . . . [and] give[s] us a rich sense of the variety and complexity of the techniques and tropes through which the myth of the Shanghai courtesan is constructed . . . . Shanghai Love makes an important contribution to the study of urban history, literature, gender, and visual culture in the late Qing and Republican eras.- The Journal of Asian Studies
Yeh depicts a unique cultural phenomenon in late Qing Shanghai and has discerned its implied paradoxes. This is an extremely rich and fascinating book; it will change the way we think of Chinese literati and courtesan culture under the impact of modernity.- David D. W. Wang, Harvard University