Historical Significance

Who, then, are the journal’s readers and writers? According to Zhang Ailing, “Every female student had an issue of Linglong 玲瓏 (Elegance/La Petite) magazine in hand during the 1930s.” The magazine cost seven fen of a foreign ounce of silver or 21 copper coins and an extra two fen of a foreign ounce of silver in other cities. The comparatively cheap price  and its wide-spread circulation network including major treaty port cities as well as cities in Southeast Asia, would have made it possible for a substantial number of readers to buy the magazine. Yet the question of who is in fact writing the readers’ letters, for example, a striking feature in Linglong, remains unanswered. A substantial portion of each issue was devoted to articles by readers even including photographs of their daily lives. Yet who are those writing these letters? Who is drawing the caricatures and comic scenes (it is only a short interlude during which famous cartoonist Ye Qianyu serves as arts editor)? We cannot but speculate and must concede that we know very little about those who created Linglong except, perhaps, that they are not all women.

While moderate in price, Linglong targeted and fostered middle class and well-educated readers, who, in turn, interacted with and contributed to the journal. It is not surprising that both Pictorial Weekly and Linglong arranged much space for reports of school/university activities, essays written by school girls, letters discussing “puppy love” and portraits depicting pretty girl students.

Linglong is a polyphonic, sometimes even internally contradictory text, not unlike many of its late Qing or early Republican predecessors. It contains editorials about a woman’s duty to stand up against the Japanese invaders next to portrayals of admirable beauties in—most probably Japanese—silk attire; it features question-and-answer sections on how to prove to a lover that one is a virgin as well as articles accompanied by explanatory pictures on how to kiss. It contains comic-strip-jokes in which women always win out against their male interlocutors as well as serious articles on how to make sure that one’s lover never stops loving one. It teaches the songs, shows the coiffure and attire, and explains the etiquette with which best to entice any attractive man. It contains practical information on how to rear children and decorate one’s family home, but also articles explaining how happy one can be alone, or after a divorce—without the help of man-kind! In short: it teaches the aspirations a proper New Woman should go for.

And yet, however polyphonic, there is one particular feature which makes the new woman in Linglong markedly different from her counterpart in earlier women’s magazines since the turn of the century. The question ‘How to be a perfect woman?’ reappears here as: ‘How to be a perfect woman and thus—naturally—be superior to men?’ Linglong’s new woman is defined at least in part by her ironic and sometimes vitriolic stance vis-à-vis the male gaze and by her self-confidence in an ability to please this gaze (or not care in the least if she doesn’t). Misandria—a distaste for men—in Linglong appears to be a powerful answer to the misogyny sometimes encountered in earlier women’s magazines and other popular print products of the time. Linglong manifests a new way of seeing and relating to the world of mankind. By subtle and humorous subversion the new New Woman in Linglong becomes an alternative cultural icon, radically different from earlier models of womanhood.

Linglong considers itself the ‘one and only tongue (and voice) of women’ as one “Letter from the editor” emphasizes (LL 1932.67/807). It is indeed an outspoken magazine presenting an eloquent, forcefully intelligent, even rantingly aggressive female voice. It does so much more audibly than many earlier and also contemporary women’s magazines. Ironically, the editorial claims, men can only really prove their worthiness to the writers of Linglong by buying a subscription to this misandriac magazine for their wives.

Barbara Mittler, Liying Sun