Beauty, Cosmetics, and the Making of the Sinophone in the Twentieth-century
Dr. Elizabeth LaCouture
Awarded three-year General Research Grant (GRF) by the Hong Kong Research Grant Council (RGC)
This research project explores the history of beauty and cosmetics in Chinese communities across Asia. It aims to transform how we understand the trans-regional and global contexts of modern Chinese history. During the twentieth-century, the reproduction and circulation of visual and material culture related to beauty expanded the geographic reach of shared beauty ideals, while also bringing people closer together. Technologies of photographic and cinematic reproduction, along with mass-produced branded commodities traveled along steam shipping, and later air, routes creating a time-space compression. Images and goods could travel widely, expanding space, but they also traveled more quickly allowing consumers to feel as though they were sharing the same time and space as people far away. Thus, did print culture and mass-produced cosmetics forge an “imagined community”? I hypothesize that the global and regional circulations of print culture and commodities related to beauty and cosmetics did not expand the boundaries of the Chinese nation, but instead forged a female Chinese trans-regional community as an alternative to the Chinese nation-state in which a woman living in British colonized Singapore shared Chinese beauty ideals with her counterpart in Japanese colonized Taipei even if they did not identify as citizens or members of the Chinese nation-state. Thus, through examining the history of how Chinese female identity was forged in and outside of mainland China during the twentieth-century, this project aims to contribute to understandings of Chinese identity-formation that continue to shape the Sinophone region today.