The Birth of a Database of Historical Periodicals: Chinese Women’s Magazines in the Late Qing and Early Republican Period
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The Birth of a Database of Historical Periodicals:
Chinese Women’s Magazines in the Late Qing and Early Republican Period

International, Interinstitutional, Interdisciplinary: A Brief History of the Project

The idea for the database Chinese Women’s Magazines in the Late Qing and Early Republican Period (WoMag) was developed from the research project “A New Approach to the Popular Press in China: Gender and Cultural Production, 1904-1937.”1 Funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the German Humboldt Foundation, the project brought together a group of established researchers in Chinese studies from various academic fields, such as history (Joan Judge, York University), cultural studies (Barbara Mittler, Heidelberg University), literature (Grace Fong, McGill University; Michel Hockx, SOAS), art history (Julia Andrews, Ohio State University), and linguistics (Elisabeth Kaske, Carnegie Mellon University). They formed a network of scholars, or a “humanities lab” as Sean Latham and Robert Scholes called it in their article “The Rise of Periodical Studies.”2 The aim of this network is to combine different disciplinary approaches and develop new methods to examine the understudied gendered journals published in China in the early twentieth century. The team developed what they have begun to call horizontal, vertical, integrated, and situated readings of journals. By horizontal reading they mean close reading of all material (text, images, and advertisements) included in one issue or a series of issues of a particular journal. Vertical reading refers to studying one particular theme in one or several journals over time. Integrated reading means reading journals against other journals, such as those within the same “family of journals” (for example, those published by Shangwu Yinshuguan [Commercial Press]), other women’s journals of the same period or over time, and other journals more generally. Finally, situated reading integrates the study of other source materials, for example, biographical, fictional, visual, or historical/archival sources. A forthcoming edited volume will provide a variety of in-depth essays applying these methods to particular case studies.3 [End Page 227]

Conceptualization and Database Features

The group of scholars selected four important women’s journals as research objects: Nüzi shijie (Women’s world, 1904-1907), Funü shibao (The women’s eastern times, 1911-1917), Funü zazhi (Ladies’ journal, 1915-1931), and Linglong (Elegance, 1931-1937) (see fig. 1). These journals cover an important period of sociocultural change from the 1900s to the 1930s and reflect the rise and development of a gendered periodical culture. While the editorial boards of the four magazines were comprised mostly of male editors—as most journals in the late Qing and early Republican period were—these magazines foregrounded women as their target reader-ship. There were also frequent contributions from female authors and artists in these magazines. With a total of eighteen issues, Nüzi shijie was one of the most widely distributed women’s magazines to emerge in the post-1898 Reform era and before the Revolution of 1911, promoting women’s education and women’s rights as crucial to China’s national survival. As the popular press shifted from intellectual, politically driven journalism, to increasingly market-driven journalism, commercially published women’s magazines started to emerge. Funü shibao was China’s first commercial women’s magazine. Published on the cusp of the 1911 Revolution, which ended some two thousand years of imperial rule, the magazine was mandated to continue to promote China’s new female education and celebrate Chinese women’s talents and their many new roles. Funü zazhi—with a total run of seventeen years—was the longest-running women’s magazine in the Republican period. These commercially published women’s magazines extended the content of the politically minded publications of the first decade of the twentieth century. Other than promoting women’s rights and education, they also emphasized the importance of self-cultivation for women through literature, arts and crafts, and general (new) knowledge. Discussions on women’s health, household economics, and the everyday were also frequently featured in these magazines. As the publishing industry expanded their market of female readership in the 1920s and 1930s, entertainment magazines targeting female readers were also proliferating. Linglong was one...