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Feminine Orientalism or Modern Enchantment? Peiping and the Graphic Artists Elizabeth Keith and Bertha Lum, 1920s–1930s

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The ideological suppositions, images, and fantasy associated with orientalism has given rise to the conceptualization of a materialist “feminine orientalism.” The term refers to an historical moment in the early twentieth century when white women in Europe and North America defined their social roles and gender by appropriating male orientalist politics and ideology. This article challenges the concept of “feminine orientalism” through the study of the prints and travel writing of two modern graphic artists who sojourned in Republican-era Peiping in the 1920s and 1930s: Bertha Lum and Elizabeth Keith. Through close formal analysis of the new visions of Peiping that the two women conjured in their prints – a vision that relied as heavily on urban ethnography as it did on fantasy – it proposes an alternative concept of “modern enchantment” as a heuristic device to interpret gender. Drawing from Wolfgang Iser’s notions of the “fictive,” “modern enchantment” lays as much weight on Weberian modern rationality as it does on imagination, and critically functions as a means to recuperate cultural boundary crossing in female gender performance and construction.

Affiliations: 1: University of Alberta


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