Mediasphere Shanghai: The Aesthetics of Cultural Production
320pp. July 2007
Mediasphere Shanghai: The Aesthetics of Cultural Production
Author: Des Forges, Alexander;
For many in the west, "Shanghai" is the quintessence of East Asian modernity, whether imagined as glamorous and exciting, corrupt and impoverishing, or a complex synthesis of the good, the bad, and the ugly. How did "Shanghai" acquire this power? How did people across China and around the world decide that Shanghai was the place to be?

Mediasphere Shanghai shows that partial answers to these questions can be found in the products of Shanghai’s media industry, particularly the Shanghai novel, a distinctive genre of installment fiction that flourished from the 1890s to the 1930s. Shanghai fiction supplies not only the imagery that we now consider typical of the city, but, more significantly, the very forms—simultaneity, interruption, mediation, and excess—through which the city could be experienced as a business and entertainment center and envisioned as the focal point of a mediasphere with a national and transnational reach. Existing paradigms of Shanghai culture tend to explain the city’s distinctive literary and visual aesthetics as merely the predictable result of economic conditions and social processes, but Alexander Des Forges maintains that literary texts and other cultural products themselves constitute a conceptual foundation for the city and construct the frame through which it is perceived.

Working from a wide range of sources, including installment fiction, photographs, lithographic illustrations, maps, guidebooks, newspapers, and film, Des Forges demonstrates the significant social effects of aesthetic forms and practices. Mediasphere Shanghai offers a new perspective on the cultural history of the city and on the literature and culture of modern China in general.

9 illus.

Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University
“A fine and ambitious book. It is admirable not only as a study of the neglected genre of Shanghai installment fiction, but also as an excellent and original inquiry into how this exceedingly complex and fascinating city was and is defined through its cultural products and social practices.” —Journal of Asian Studies (70:1, February 2011)

"Introduces many innovative ideas of how to explain and reread the ‘Shanghai myth,’ thereby illuminating why it has fascinated the contemporary readership of the late Qing and late Republican periods as well as the nostalgic readership of today. Beautifully conceived and produced, Mediasphere Shanghai will stimulate further discussion on the materiality and the ‘mediality’ of Shanghai in dream and reality; it should be read by all those who are out to understand more about this enigmatic city." —Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (69:2, 2009)

"Highly readable. . . . A welcome addition. . . . Whereas other scholars of Shanghai literature and culture tend to read literature from the city based on the assumption that it reflects its historical and socioeconomic status, Des Forges argues for the primacy of the text in shaping people’s relations with the place." —Journal of Chinese Studies (fall 2008)

"Coherently argued, imaginative and thorough, Des Forges’ book is a joy to read. The argument presented is intricate. It overcomes the dichotomy between the aesthetics and the material, linking formal literary conventions to a wider social world. It cuts across time, tracing a genealogy of Shanghai fiction, illuminating not just the circulating literary conventions of the time, but also ideas and the very conditions that produced the Shanghai of today while alluding to the Shanghai of tomorrow. This volume will be of interest to anyone interested in Shanghai." —China Journal (60, 2008)

"Alexander Des Forges’s book is not just another study of late imperial Chinese fiction. It is, rather, an innovative argument about how the wide-ranging engagement with fiction was instrumental in constituting Shanghai as what he terms a mediasphere—an evolving locus and process of social interaction, sustained by the collaboration of hybrid urban forces such as industry, print culture, aesthetic and narrative conventions, a growing consumers’ market, and an active reading public. These forces led to the production not only of material goods but also of the ideological conditions under which that modern time-space known as Shanghai became possible—indeed, was repeatedly imagined and performed in literary, cultural, and sociopolitical (con)texts. An admirably learned and coherently written book; a must-read for all Shanghai lovers." —Rey Chow, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Brown University

Author: Des Forges, Alexander;
Alexander Des Forges is assistant professor of Chinese in the Department of Modern Languages and the Program in East Asian Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Read the introduction (PDF).
conventions and abbreviations

1. Rhetorics of Territory, Mixture, and Displacement
2. From Street Names to Brand Names: The Grid of Reference
3. Synchronized Reading: Installment Aesthetics and the Formation of the Mediasphere
4. Desire Industries: Constant Motion and Endless Narrative
5. Brokers, Authors, "Shanghai People"
6. Marxists and Modern Girls: Shanghai Fiction and the 1930s
7. Lineages of the Contemporary and the Nostalgic

Epilogue: Shanghai 2000

Character Glossary