restricted access 8. Weisheng and the Desire for Modernity
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

8 Weisheng and the Desire for Modernity Health had fled to a remote place. liu na’ou (1900–1939), “Etiquette and Hygiene” (Liyi he weisheng) In the 1930 short story “Etiquette and Hygiene” (Liyi he weisheng), the writer Liu Na’ou created a vision of modern Shanghai embodied in a sexually liberated Chinese woman,Keqing,and her sophisticated lawyer husband, Qiming. Toward the end of the story, Qiming takes a walk from the gleaming International Settlement to the Chinese city. Once Qiming enters the Chinese neighborhood, he has entered a “danger zone.” His nostrils are assailed by “ghastly stenches.” Prostitutes solicit customers in alleys smelling of urine. Liu Na’ou observes that in the Chinese city, “health had fled to a remote place,” and all that was left was a world of noise and smells. Shumei Shih, in her analysis of “Etiquette and Hygiene,” notes that Qiming “willfully alienates himself from the Chinese throng” in order to revel in his own cultural superiority, but in the end his own hygienic habits are also brought into question:The reader learns that Qiming frequents Shanghai’s brothels and may himself harbor the germs of disease.1 The modern life of Shanghai, represented by the buildings on the Bund, is marked by its desirable state of weisheng. Liu Na’ou’s protagonist demonstrates ,through his refined hygienic sensibilities,his ability to separate himself from the impoverished Chinese Other. But by ironically illuminating Qiming’s penchant for frequenting potentially diseased prostitutes, Liu Na’ou seems to question the feasibility of Chinese elites breaking away into a state of hygienic modernity. For both the Chinese city and for the modern Chinese elite, “health had fled to a remote place.” Desire for a hygienic modernity might be thwarted at any turn,by the intractable presence of the poor, or even by the invisible germs of disease inherent within the body of the modern Chinese. Liu Na’ou’s short story, with its fortuitous inclusion of weisheng in the title, provides an illustrative framework for consideration of the discursive 225 uses of weisheng in republican-era Tianjin. During the 1920s and 1930s, Tianjin’s popular media were permeated with similarly paradoxical and complex representations of weisheng. Weisheng resonated through advertisements , lecture halls, movie theaters, wall posters, newspapers, magazine articles ,and government propaganda as a wide variety of actors used the word to help them imagine the condition of modernity.The meaning of weisheng was not fixed,nor was the field of power in which circulation took place dominated by any one element. Ultimately, however, weisheng was intertwined with desire, a desire for a modernity—often marked as foreign—that existed just out of reach.How far away this desired hygienic modernity resided depended on the situation. For the sophisticated middle-class individual, it might be easily obtained through the purchase of a commodity. For elites contemplating the masses of Chinese people, hygienic modernity lay far away, obtainable only through a medical revolution or a moral revolution that could bring the absolute standards of the West to China. Weisheng was even used to decry biological deficiencies hidden within the very genetic material of the Chinese people. By the 1930s, some believed that “health had fled to a remote place,” a hidden, microscopic realm, and could only be obtained by altering the genetic material of the “race” or by conquering the germs that lurked on the skin and in the blood. The standard for this imagined hygienic modernity was always a distant and idealized West/Japan, where all was robust and free of germs. This chapter considers four “cases” of weisheng fromTianjin of the 1920s and 1930s.The first case explores evidence of weisheng in the advertisements fromTianjin’s major republican-era newspaper,Da gong bao (L’Impartial). Here the term weisheng was frequently used to conjure up desire for a wide range of commodities, objects that promised to propel the consumer into the robust and/or sexy but always germ-free condition of modernity. The ambitious plans of the Guomindang (GMD) and the critiques launched by Tianjin’s new medical elite form the center of the second case. The arrival of the GMD in 1928 fueled hopes for the advent of a modern state weisheng regime, but those hopes became more modest as the Nanjing decade (1927– 37) wore on. By the 1930s, a small but diverse group of foreign-educated doctors in Tianjin used weisheng to express their disappointment in both the Nationalist government and...