Elvis is everywhere

Elvis in China

A nice little picture from Shenbao, one of Shanghai’s most important early 20th century newspapers. The caption complains about Chinese women. Specifically it points out that Chinese women have taken up the habit of smoking on the street, and that when Westerners see them doing it they point out that in the West women don’t even smoke at home, much less in the street. Yet another example of how different commodities fit differently in different societies. Smoking is a particularly tricky one (not the most relevant link, but the best film of struggling with use of cigarettes I could find.) The cigarette is the best way to walk around while smoking, and to make smoking a part of all your everyday activities, rather than a separate social space, like gathering around an opium pipe or a complex tobacco pipe. For a western woman to smoke in the street at this point would have been a defiance of gender roles. For a Chinese woman it marks you as modern. The caption-writer seems to be trying to create a less brazen definition of modern Chinese femininity. It seems to have worked, too, since Chinese women today are a lot less likely to smoke in public than men.

Of course the picture is also cool because it seems to be an early Elvis sighting.


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