Cornell University Press

Y. Yvon Wang on the Chinese Pornographic Regime

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We asked author Y. Yvon Wang three questions about their new book, Reinventing Licentiousness, and their research on pornography and modern China.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

There are so many, but probably it was finding a pair of tiny photos of nude women in artistic poses stuck inside a hard copy police file at the Beijing Municipal Archives. These were found under the outside wrappers of a confiscated lot of hard candies that were being peddled as “Modern Beauty Candies.” They really speak to how photographic technology reshaped the landscape of eroticism to focus on female nudity by the late 1920s and early 1930s.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

That I’d have to do so, so many rounds of revisions! 

That it is super important to get the biggest, highest-resolution version of an image that you can. Super important!

And that, though feedback from peers and colleagues and even folks outside academia is very important, writing a book is ultimately a solitary journey and no one can make final decisions for you, which is scary, especially for first-timers. So you really have to find a way to gain some confidence in yourself beyond what you do professionally. 

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

I wish historians could have more robust models/trajectories of collaborative research production. The single-author monograph has been an often valuable form of historical output, but connections, comparisons, and a truly broad perspective seem to be possible only with (well rewarded!) collaborations, especially across geographic and period boundaries. Such collaboration will also help specialists in places that aren’t Western Europe or the US to generate theoretical tools for the field. 

Featured photo: A nude model from the Shanghai Academy of Art. Credit: the family collection of Gretchen Liu.


Y. Yvon Wang is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. Follow them on Twitter @yyvonwang.

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