Visual Modernity in China

The Distorting Mirror: Visual Modernity in China, by Laikwan Pang, analyzes the multiple and complex ways in which urban Chinese subjects saw themselves interacting with the new visual culture that emerged during the turbulent period between the 1880s and the 1930s. The media and visual forms examined include lithography, photography, advertising, film, and theatrical performances. Urbanites actively engaged with and enjoyed this visual culture, which was largely driven by the subjective desire for the empty promises of modernity—promises comprised of such abstract and fleeting concepts as new, exciting, and fashionable.

October 2007 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3093-9 / $55.00 (CLOTH)

“This book presents a careful historicization of the ‘visual.’ Rather than take the act of seeing as natural, Pang brilliantly argues that the visual is a modern phenomenon, linked to but extending and transforming indigenous cultural forms of seeing and looking. Equally meticulous in its theoretical and empirical coordinates, this book is eminently readable and consistently insightful. A wonderful look at how modern Chinese came to see.” —Rebecca E. Karl, New York University