A Modern Showcase: Shidai (Modern Miscellany) in 1930s Shanghai

Kuiyi Shen, Professor, Art & Media History, Theory, and Criticism, Department of Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego

The large format monthly Shidai (Modern Miscellany) was published between 1929 and 1935, spanning a period during which the Nationalist government vigorously promoted its agenda of building a new, modern China. After two decades of political chaos that followed overthrow of the last dynasty, the magazine seemed to celebrate the new potential for national progress. It was a showcase of the cultural world of Shanghai, and explored through visual images the many ways in which China had become a modern society. By using striking graphic design, compelling cover images, up-to-date layout, new typography and lettering, and sophisticated printing technology, Shidai both successfully represented, and was itself part of, China’s modernizing visual culture.
The magazine introduced the most visually powerful aspects of contemporary culture to its domestic audience, but at the same time tried to show a modern nation to the outside world. Shidai led a new trend of using stunning images to present current world and national events, news of celebrities and film stars, movie reviews, sports news, art exhibitions, women’s fashion, and comic strips and cartoons.

This paper suggests that Shidai, edited throughout its existence by well-known artists and writers, conveyed the cultural ideals of Shanghai’s literary circles. Its contributors shared the nation’s mission of building a new modern China. What was printed on the pages of Shidai, however, was not government propaganda, but demonstrated the convergence, for a time, of the hopes of Shanghai’s cultural world with the political agenda of the new national government.

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Center for East Asian Studies
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures