From Public Sympathy to Collective Anger: Media, Emotions, and Politics in 1930s-China

Scholars have been interested in the rise of communal sentiments in the Republican period in China. As Eugenia Lean’s Public Passions has convincingly shown, sympathy once played a significant role in shaping public opinion towards women through Republican China’s media regime. While a woman’s life was saved by public sympathy in her case study, Dr Fan will, instead, tell a story about hate and anger in this talk. In 1934, Chen Hengzhe 陳衡哲 (1890–1976), a feminist writer, a world historian, and a public intellectual, published a series of essays to record her family’s journey to Sichuan, an inland province that was dominated by warlord politics and known for its isolation from the outside world. In identifying with the modernizing state’s agendas, Chen was frustrated with widespread opium addiction, student concubinage, and warlord atrocities in this region, and she offered her honest but well-intended criticism. Yet, to her surprise, this incited vicious attacks from local media. Newspaper columnists and random readers joined a concerted effort to vilify herself and to humiliate her family. Based on archival sources, autographical materials, and local newspaper reports, Dr Fan investigates the mechanism in which political forces exerted influence through media regimes to manipulate public sentiments in inland China in the 1930s. Based on this case study, Dr Fan invites the audience to rethink the relationship between media, politics, and emotions in modern Chinese history.