A Bilingual Database of Chinese Women’s Magazines in the early Twentieth Century

This post is part of an ongoing Digital Scholarship Ontario series which highlights the research of Ontario’s digital scholars.

by Doris Sung

The idea for the database “Chinese Women’s Magazines in the Late Qing and Early Republican Period” (WoMag) was developed from the research project “A New Approach to the Popular Press in China: Gender and Cultural Production, 1904-1937.” Funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the German Humboldt Foundation, the project brought together a group of established researchers in Chinese studies from various academic fields, such as history, cultural studies, literature, art history, and linguistics. The database was developed and managed by two Data Content Managers (York University and Heidelberg University), a Technical Coordinator, and Programmer (both from Heidelberg). The team works with the scholars to devise research questions and conceptualize functionalities.

The database features four important women’s journals as research objects: Nuzi shijie (Women’s world, 1904-1907), Funu shibao (The women’s eastern times, 1911-1917), Funu zazhi (Ladies’ journal, 1915-1931), and Linglong (Elegance, 1931-1937). These journals cover an important period of sociocultural change from the 1900s to the 1930s and reflect the rise and development of a gendered periodical culture. The early 1910s saw the beginning of the publication of commercial gendered journals in China. The first such journal was published on the cusp of the 1911 Revolution, which ended some two thousand years of imperial rule. The magazines were mandated to continue to promote China’s new female education and celebrate Chinese women’s talents and their many new roles. Numerous articles and images about practical knowledge of the everyday and Chinese and foreign entertainment news were also featured in these magazines, especially in the 1930s.

Copies of these magazines (mostly incomplete) are scattered across libraries in China, Europe, and North America. Reprints of these journals by Chinese institutions often excised important elements, such as front and back matter, and advertisement pages. Aiming to restore the missing pages and recreate a holistic reading experience of the journals, the database presents scanned images of all the pages (from cover to cover) that we could gather through interinstitutional cooperation. One of the most important features that sets this database apart from most databases of Chinese publications is that much of its metadata is bilingual. We aim to provide scholars, including those who are not in the field of Chinese studies, with the means to use the system for comparative purposes.

The titles, captions, and headings of each article, image, and advertisement are keyed in Chinese characters, pinyin (the Chinese phonetic notation system), and English translations. We also tag each entry with metadata such as keyword, article genre, and image subject matter etc. We have developed a separate section in which each person or agent that has been mentioned in the magazines is tagged and linked to a separate entry. These entries contain additional information about the person, such as birth and death dates, alternate names, and professional roles, etc. All of these features provide substantial cross-referencing capability between journals and their contents.

As one of the Database Content Managers, I have the privilege of dwelling deeply into material that benefits my own dissertation research on women artists of early twentieth century China. I am using gendered magazines as one of the main sources for my research for two reasons. First, although the first three decades of the early twentieth century saw a surge in the number of art journals published in China, these publications rarely discussed women’s artworks and art practices. Not only were women’s works less represented, but essays written by women also rarely appeared in these journals. Women’s magazines therefore filled the void created by the underrepresentation of women’s art in art journals published at the time. The cross-referencing capability of the database has definitely expanded my scope of art historical research to include issues such as women’s education, women’s right movements, and global flows of culture—concerns that were prevalent in these magazines.

Below is a link to the “Chinese Women’s Magazines in the Late Qing and Early Republican Period” database: www.womag.uni-hd.de

For more details about the database, please see:

“The Birth of a Database of Historical Periodicals: Chinese Women’s Magazines in the Late Qing and Early Republican Period” by Doris Sung, Liying Sun, Matthias Arnold in
Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 33(2), Fall 2014, pp. 227-237.
https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/tulsa_studies_in_womens_literature/v033/33.2.sung.html

Doris Sung is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program of Humanities at York University. She has been the Database Content Manager for this project since its inception in 2008.

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