CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
Nos. 30/31, June/September 2012


The China Critic Today: A Reader's Guide | China Heritage Quarterly

The China Critic Today: A Reader's Guide

Geremie R. Barmé

This issue of China Heritage Quarterly aims not merely to introduce contemporary readers to the background and history of the Republican-era weekly, The China Critic, as a purely academic exercise. We also hope to recreate in these virtual pages something of the ambient experience of reading The Critic at the time, that is during an era of political strife, social change, cultural exuberance, economic uncertainty, national ambition and international stress.

In this the Features section of our journal we first offer something of a 'back-story' to the appearance of The China Critic. In 'Mind the Gap' Rudolf Wagner notes the modern neglect of the libraries of English and non-Chinese newspapers and journals produced in China from the mid-nineteenth century. An appreciation and understanding of this rich and complex cultural terrain is essential to understanding the environment that nurtured, inspired and fired The China Critic in 1928.

Shuang Shen 沈雙, a scholar noted for her work on cosmopolitan culture and publishing in the Republican era, provides a more focused look at the period that saw the appearance of The Critic. She discusses some of the issues related to the complex interweave of local and international culture and publishing at a time both of national transformation and of crisis.

William Sima, whose research into the history and contents of The Critic were the inspiration behind this combined issue of China Heritage Quarterly, has created a Chronology of the weekly that follows its progress from its appearance in May 1928 through the highs and lows of the 'Nanjing Decade', and then in its various wartime permutations. Will's Chronology accounts for the changing fate, and the friable editorial stance, of The Critic. It also provides numerous links to the articles under discussion allowing for them to be read in historical context.

We reprint the various Publication Announcements from The Critic that reflect the changing fortunes of the weekly before turning our attention to the critics themselves—the editors (discussed in detail by William Sima in From the Editor's Desk) and writers, in particular the extraordinary bilingual essayist, translator, humourist and humanist Lin Yutang 林語堂, 'The Little Critic'. The literary scholar Qian Suoqiao 錢鎖橋 discusses the broad group of Critic writers in the context of their time and Christopher Rea focuses on one of the most intriguing and demanding of the great literary figures of the Republican era, Qian Zhongshu 錢鍾書.

The Critic at Work is introduced by a historical discussion of liberalism in early Republican China and the May Fourth legacy by Eugene Lubot, followed by Lin Yutang's own appreciation of the issues related to the potential of liberal thought and civic behaviour to provide an equitable and humane future for a China that was wrestling both to free itself from a residual imperial canker and from modern authoritarian politics. As elsewhere in this issue of China Heritage Quarterly we balance contemporary academic analysis with the writing of prominent Chinese figures active in real historical time that we reproduce in full within a context that allows for a new (or renewed) appreciation of their ideas as well as their lived dilemmas.

Dividing material into twenty separate topics The Critic at Work provides some 110 key articles reproduced from The China Critic along with links to a range of other related material. In this way, we offer the reader a chance to appreciate a range of opinions on such important issues as patriotism, civil liberties, dictatorship, women, Japan, art, literature and so on.

In the final section of Features, Considering The Critic Today, a range of scholars—historians, literary specialists, specialists in art and Chinese thought—offer a re-consideration of some of the ideas, figures and events that shaped the age of The China Critic.

In T'ien Hsia the discussion of the context of The Critic continues with an excerpt from Lin Yutang's 1936 book on censorship— A History of the Press and Public Opinion in China—while Jeffrey Wasserstom's consideration of Emily Hahn gives us an insight into the figure of the foreign ingénue in the 'Adventurer's Paradise' that was Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. In Articles we reprint a chapter from Randall Gould's 1946 book China In the Sun. Gould was a frequent contributor to The Critic in the 1930s and his chapter, 'China Makes Sense', offers a personal view of his years in China and his reflections on its wartime fate. In China Heritage Glossary, Christopher Rea contributes a thoughtful study of the capacious term lun. Our reconsideration of The Critic and its age draws to an end in the final section of the journal, New Scholarship. Here we introduce the work of the young scholar Shuge Wei 魏舒歌 who recently completed a doctoral dissertation on English-language Chinese propaganda during the years 1928-1941.