Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

News Flows

Chinese science fiction critic and author Jia Liyuan (Feidao) has demonstrated how turn of the twentieth century Chinese science fiction novels like The New Era(新纪元) drew on a process of circulation of real news for the arsenal of fantastic armaments that serve China in an imagined war with European powers. Real news on the discovery of elements like radium was translated into Chinese and repeated (often verbatim) in various popular science venues, before being adopted as fabao(法宝) or "magical weapons." Author Bihe Guanzhuren's liberal recycling of Chinese-language science news was married to the semantics and syntax of martial arts fiction in order to narrate a reversal of early twentieth century European military domination of Asia. Depictions of the Mersey Tunnel seem to follow this same pattern.

The pages of Dianshizhai huabao evince a similar process, by which news from foreign sources was translated into Chinese, repeated in various news outlets, and then imagined vividly and quite creatively in lithograph form. This process complicates the notion that cities like Shanghai were geographically and temporally distant from the center of scientific discourse. Fantastic news of trains and world expositions produced in Shanghai, like the image of the Trottoir Roulant is strikingly similar to contemporaneous reportage on the same events in the European "metropole," both of which were engaged in imaginations of future events. Likewise, as we have seen in the case of the Wusong railroad, news appearing in Dianshizhai could be the result of "borrowing" from European sources, but it could also be a case of an event being seen as equally newsworthy in both contexts.

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