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Reviewed by:
  • Cosmopolitan Publics: Anglophone Print Culture in Semi-Colonial Shanghai
  • Christopher Lee (bio)
Cosmopolitan Publics: Anglophone Print Culture in Semi-Colonial Shanghai. By Shuang Shen. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009. 190 pp. Cloth $39.95.

In recent years, scholars engaged in the study of Asia Pacific modernities have steadily eroded the intellectual boundaries that used to divide area studies, diaspora studies, ethnic studies, and comparative literature. Shuang Shen's Cosmopolitan Publics opens up new directions for this project by examining what might, at first glance, appear to be a relatively minor cultural phenomena: anglophone periodical culture in semicolonial Shanghai from the late 1920s until the mid-1940s. Shen's book is both a rich archival study and a theoretically astute analysis that demonstrates how translation created a transnational public sphere in a city that was under the control of various colonial powers until the end of the Second World War when it reverted to republican rule.

Shen offers an original approach to the topic of translation by asking how a language associated with colonial domination, namely English, changed and flourished when mobilized by colonized subjects. As Shen notes, this question has been posed in relation to (post) colonial cultures in places such as South Asia and Africa, but while scholars such as Lydia Liu have demonstrated how the Chinese language was affected by translation in modern times, the effect of Chinese on the history of anglophone writing has received little critical attention. Cosmopolitan Publics begins with a set of provocative questions: "Can English be regarded as a Chinese language? What does it mean for English to become a Chinese language? In fact, what is a Chinese language after all?" (1). Shen interrogates conventional alignments among language, ethnicity, and the nation-state by suggesting that boundaries between cultures in semicolonial Shanghai were far more porous than previously understood. [End Page 379]

The four chapters of Cosmopolitan Publics develop these points by way of different case studies. While the publications Shen examines represented different political viewpoints, they were all conceived for transnational audiences comprised of educated Chinese as well as foreigners, a diverse reading public that cannot be accurately described as either anglophone or sinophone. The first chapter analyzes The China Critic, a weekly magazine published from 1928-1945 by intellectuals who criticized imperialism while advocating a gradualist "liberal" politics that set them apart from the radicalism of the May 4th and new culture movements. The editors mobilized notions such as cosmopolitanism and hybridity (using these very words) in order to negotiate the political and cultural limitations of their specific context. In the second chapter, Shen turns to T'ien hsia, a monthly periodical that was published between 1935 and 1941. T'ien hsia's contents were more focused on literature and the arts than The China Critic's. The magazine published cultural criticism and translated works of modernist Chinese literature into English while reflecting diverse political standpoints; by doing so, it provided a unique, albeit short-lived, alternative to publications more closely aligned with either the Nationalists or the Communists. The third chapter focuses on several leftist publications that sought to reframe anticolonial struggles in China in a global context. Having revisited internationalism through the prism of translation, Shen shows how acts of translation shaped the contours of national culture. Even though the cultural publics described in the first three chapters had effectively disappeared by the mid-1940s, their legacies can be seen in various postwar diasporic contexts. The final chapter traces these routes by focusing on the writings of Klaus Mehnert (the German-Russian editor of the magazine The XXth Century, which was published in Japanese-occupied Shanghai), the renowned writer Eileen Chang, cold war-period Hong Kong writer and translator Yao Ke, and Chinese (American) writer Lin Yutang.

The issues raised by Shen's analysis extend well beyond Chinese, diaspora, and postcolonial studies. Cosmopolitan Publics demonstrates how terms such as "cosmopolitanism" and "hybridity," which have acquired tremendous intellectual capital in contemporary literary and cultural studies, were already being deployed, albeit in quite different ways, in republican China. To cite one of Shen's examples, an essay published in 1928 in The China Critic by the U...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 379-381
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-16
Open Access
No
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