The Color-Coded Beauty: The (De-)Racialized Imagery of “Modern Girl” in Colonial Taiwan

Yen-Yu Lin, University of Virginia

Scholars of gender have richly researched the “Modern Girl” phenomenon as a globalized colonial imagery made through consumerism in the early 20th century (Weinbaum et al. 2008; Nicholas 2015). On the other hand, scholars of empires have also theorized global racism and colonialism as the two sides of the same coin (Du Bois 1947; Fanon 1952; Glenn 2015; Go 2004, 2018; Magubane 2016; Said 1978; Steinmetz 2013; Stoler 1989, 1995, 2020). However, the relationship between the making of the “Modern Girl” and the “Global Color Line” (Du Bois 1903) remains vague. This paper argues that the “Modern Girl” phenomenon is a long historical arc of aestheticizing East Asian women to illustrate racially-bounded notions globally. In other words, "Modern Girl" should be theorized as a racial phenomenon, and so should "Global Color Line" be considered as profoundly intersectional. By focusing on the case of Taiwan under Japanese imperial rule, this paper asks: Why is the “Modern Girl” imagery a racial project for a same-race empire such as Japan, and how is this imagery constructed through visual culture? Supported by the visual data in print (including photographs, comics, postcards, and artwork), the core finding of this paper is that the invisibility of skin color results in the (de-)racialized imagery of the “Modern Girl.” The “Modern Girl” is a racial project without being noticed, which should be theorized under the macro structure of the Global Color Line. Connecting the gender and race literatures of postcolonial studies, this paper advances the studies of gender, race, and empires (1) empirically from white empires to same-race empires, (2) theoretically from consumerism to historicism, and (3) methodologically from textual to visual analyses.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 159. Gender: Work in Progress