It's been a while I wanted to write about Shanghai Sketch, this Shanghai 1930's famous magazine. Shanghai Sketch （上海漫画 or Shanghai Manhua, nearby) was founded in 1928 by a group of eleven artists including Ye Quanyu, Huang Wennong, Lu Shaofei, Zhang Guanyu and Zhang Zhenyu. One of the sponsors was Shao Xunmei, the Chinese and highly controversial lover of Emily Hahn. From the very beginning, it used erotic pictures or dramatic scenes on its front page to attract readers' attention. Inside the magazine, one could find a very modern type of articles for that period, discussing contemporary art or depicting the Shanghai dancing scene. The influence of Surrealism or Freudian psychology is obvious on some of the magazine covers, reflecting a taste for western most unconventional forms of arts or scientific points of view. Articles on American-born singer Josephine Baker's naked performances or comic strips depicting the new Shanghai bourgeois-type life style also contributed to a vivid atmosphere of urban culture. In its particular way, this magazine stood for a symbol of its time. It appealed to the intellectuals elites of this fascinating period who looked for new references for their daily lifes. However, following a dispute, a large part of the initial team left the magazine in 1930 in order to create another one called Modern Sketch (时代漫画 or Shidai Manhua, below).
If I were to find a French equivalent to this Chinese magazine, I would quote "Hara Kiri", although this one was born in a quite different period, in the years following the 1968 student revolt in Paris. However, the focus was the same: to present the readers with rather unconventional articles, use hand sketches to catch the attention and challenge the morals of the time. This period was also one of profound renewal in France when younger generations were eager for social and cultural changes. Quite like Chinese intellectuals in the 1930s! However, the artistic value of Shanghai Sketch is by far higher than this French satirical magazine. Its Art Deco covers were indeed a manifesto in favor of modernity and they are often used to illustrate books and publications about Shanghai crazy years. The world of dance and the power of "wunu" (dance hostesses) on male partners was part of the exciting background of this very innovative and colorful magazine.
So after decades of standardization in Chinese society, flipping into 1930s Shanghai Sketch copies is still a rare and exclusive pleasure! Real modernity is not a matter of time or period, it is an attitude which is never out of fashion!