Women and Modernity: Female Images in Chinese Cigarette Cards

Conference: The Barcelona Conference on Arts, Media & Culture (BAMC2022)
Title: Women and Modernity: Female Images in Chinese Cigarette Cards
Stream: Cultural Studies
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Selina Gao, Murray State University, United States


Cigarette cards were first introduced to China in Shanghai by Duke Tobacco Company at the end of the 19th century to open its market in Asia. Soon, Chinese tobacco companies also joined in on the competition of the tobacco war. Numerous series of beauties cards were included in cigarette packages as a form of collectible advertisement. These cards were a new and widely viewed vehicle for both selling consumer goods and tacitly endorsing new roles and behaviors for women during a period of great cultural change. The women featured here included renowned beauties, socialites, celebrities, escort girls, movie stars, famous singers, and athletes. These cigarette cards mostly portrayed refined modern beauties sporting new hair styles along with awe-inspiring dresses and accessories. For example, they showed women with curly hair, short haircuts, new fitting Cheongsams, swimsuits, and sportswear, setting fashion trends that were embraced by the female population. The artistic styles of these images transformed along with the changes in Chinese politics, the economy, social fashions, and ethnic values. This paper traces the evolution of female images in these cigarette cards over the first half of the 20th century. In doing so it addresses the relationship between these changes and women’s liberation, illustrating social transformation over the course of different historical periods. It uses visual references to focus on the western impact on public images of Chinese women, women’s roles during the Chinese enlightenment movement, and women’s self-liberation and national salvation.

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