A suicide scandal in Shanghai reveals the social fault lines of democratic visions in China’s troubled Republic in the early 1920s.
On September 8, 1922, the body of Xi Shangzhen was found hanging in the Shanghai newspaper office where she worked. Although her death occurred outside of Chinese jurisdiction, her US-educated employer, Tang Jiezhi, was kidnapped by Chinese authorities and put on trial. In the unfolding scandal, novelists, filmmakers, suffragists, reformers, and even a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party seized upon the case as emblematic of deep social problems. Xi’s family claimed that Tang had pressured her to be his concubine; his conviction instead for financial fraud only stirred further controversy.
The creation of a republic ten years earlier had inspired a vision of popular sovereignty and citizenship premised upon gender equality and legal reform. After the quick suppression of the first Chinese parliament, commercial circles took up the banner of democracy in their pursuit of wealth. But, Bryna Goodman shows, the suicide of an educated “new woman” exposed the emptiness of republican democracy after a flash of speculative finance gripped the city. In the shadow of economic crisis, Tang’s trial also exposed the frailty of legal mechanisms in a political landscape fragmented by warlords and enclaves of foreign colonial rule.
The Suicide of Miss Xi opens a window onto how urban Chinese in the early twentieth century navigated China’s early passage through democratic populism, in an ill-fated moment of possibility between empire and party dictatorship. Xi Shangzhen became a symbol of the failures of the Chinese Republic as well as the broken promises of citizen’s rights, gender equality, and financial prosperity betokened by liberal democracy and capitalism.
A fascinating and thoughtful analysis of the changing mores of a turbulent but lively period—the early 1920s—in China…The Suicide of Miss Xi is brilliantly written…Some of the pressures on Miss Xi have eerie echoes in today’s China.
Makes a critical contribution by bringing the economy, market, and capitalism into our understanding of May Fourth politics…[A] rich, nuanced, and engaging book, which reflects both an experienced historian’s deep thinking on modern Chinese history and a comprehensive dialogue with previous scholarship.
Compelling…A rich analysis of 1920s China and its fragile democracy…An invaluable contribution to the literature on the early Chinese republic as she masterfully weaves together an analysis of gender, legal, and economic perspectives…Remarkable in its breadth and depth, Goodman’s study is a significant addition to a growing literature on the early republican era that explores changing notions of citizenship and of the republic itself.
A remarkably rich and thought-provoking microanalysis of early Republican Shanghai…Goodman challenges us to reread May Fourth lives and fault lines and to rethink the sources and challenges of democratic quests in the past and present…[A] must-read book.
A wonderfully evocative, beautifully written, and deeply researched account of life in 1920s Shanghai that brings together commerce, capitalism, democracy, and the new republic. We meet ambitious new women, scandalous men gambling on stock exchanges, and corrupt warlords pulling the strings of justice from behind the scenes. And throughout it all is the press, not merely as historical source, but as an active player in all that happens.
We will never be certain why Xi Shangzhen killed herself, but in this masterful study Goodman shows what we can learn from her death. Shanghai emerges more complicated than ever, roiled by a 1920s scandal involving office workers, feminists, civic notables, stock-market speculators, journalists, feckless judges, and military men. A flawless work of scholarship and a mesmerizing read.
In a vivid and compelling book, Goodman uses the workplace suicide of Xi Shangzhen to plumb transforming gender ideals regarding women in the workplace and the greater public realm, the utility and societal effects of financial and commodities markets, and the integrity of the law and the courts. Deeply researched and well written, this is a significant contribution to scholarship on modern Chinese history.
Through a detailed exploration of the scandalous 1922 suicide of the Shanghai female office worker Xi Shangzhen, this elegantly written book illuminates crucial facets of that strange interregnum in Chinese history when, in the absence of any effective government, a variety of experiments in civic sovereignty were put into practice. Goodman looks at commercial and civic organizations, gender, financial speculation, and a complicated legal system in piecing together the latent democratic possibilities in a space she provocatively calls ‘a public without a republic.’
This fascinating study rewrites the history of Chinese democracy by centering it in a robust public culture of print and civic associations. Extensively researched and eloquently presented, it captures republican articulations of citizenship over thorny issues of women and money. This is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the elusive conditions of democracy under Chinese capitalism.
As its title indicates, this book is about the suicide of Xi Shangzhen…This forgotten event, which Bryna Goodman recovered from extensive archival research, provides a prism through which to understand urban society in Republican China during the late 1910s and early 1920s…Despite the deep engagement with existing histories and theories, Goodman manages to keep the voices of the protagonists at the center of her compelling narrative.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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