Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




James A. Flath


This dissertation explores the continuities and ruptures of the nianhua practice and representations in the Suzhou-Shanghai region during the mid-18th – 19th century. It explores a city-based nianhua tradition in Jiangnan’s urban centers that supplements current scholarship, which focuses geographically on northern print centers, economically on village-based production, and thematically on religious, auspicious and moral subjects of universal value. Challenging current scholarship that treats nianhua as a folk tradition rigidly adhering to an established pictorial vocabulary and conventional symbols of religious and moral significance, this study demonstrates the adaptive and innovative energies within the nianhua industry. Taking nianhua as a medium of place-making that actively and innovatively participated in a globalized visual culture and art production, this dissertation explores how 18th century Suzhou nianhua industry developed a special interest in and pictorial language for visualizing its prosperous cityscape, and how that tradition was transformed after the industry was dislocated into post-Taiping Shanghai, where nianhua was adapted to define the treaty-port by addressing issues particularly pertinent to local society. With the importation of Western printing technologies, publishing and image-making practice in late 19th century Shanghai, nianhua’s global interaction was further intensified, and began to develop a style based on pictorial borrowings from China and the West, both contemporary and past. Moreover, an increasing popular awareness of China’s foreign crises created a growing market for depictions of China’s recent wars in late 19th century Shanghai. With the incorporation of battlefields and frontier areas, nianhua’s visual reach iii of territory expanded from the “city” to the “state,” which marked a dramatic departure of the nianhua tradition from a site of city-making to that of nation-making.