China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
The modern girl (modeng nüzi) was a key icon of consumerist desire in advertising images in Republican China. She was also the most problematic consumer in the eyes of many social commentators during this era. Countless essays published in the print media in the 1930s and 1940s faulted modern girls for extravagance, materialism, superficiality, and an unpatriotic preference for foreign over domestic products. For many, the modern girl symbolized the vices of capitalist consumer culture. What is more, as other scholars have noted, harsh criticisms of the modern girl came from both progressives and conservatives. Although it may seem that the modern girl was a common target of rebuke, this paper argues that there was plenty of ambivalence in urbanites' attitudes toward the modern girl. In fact, stories and novels about modern girls proliferated during this era, presenting many imaginary scenes of consumption for readers to devour. Were such depictions intended to provoke disapproval, or did they provide pleasure? Arguing one or the other thesis seems simplistic. The consuming modern girl most likely aroused in readers a multitude of feelings—admiration as well as revulsion. This paper examineshow writers/storytellers mobilized disparate viewpoints and ideologies regarding consumption and yet struck a delicate balance to keep readers reading.