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Public Passions

The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China

Eugenia Lean (Author)


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In 1935, a Chinese woman by the name of Shi Jianqiao murdered the notorious warlord Sun Chuanfang as he prayed in a Buddhist temple. This riveting work of history examines this well-publicized crime and the highly sensationalized trial of the killer. In a fascinating investigation of the media, political, and judicial records surrounding this cause célèbre, Eugenia Lean shows how Shi Jianqiao planned not only to avenge the death of her father, but also to attract media attention and galvanize public support. Lean traces the rise of a new sentiment—"public sympathy"—in early twentieth-century China, a sentiment that ultimately served to exonerate the assassin. The book sheds new light on the political significance of emotions, the powerful influence of sensational media, modern law in China, and the gendered nature of modernity.
List of Illustrations

1. The Assassin and Her Revenge: A Tale of Moral Heroism and Female Self-Fashioning in an Age of Mass Communication
2. Media Sensation: Public Justice and the Sympathy of an Urban Audience
3. Highbrow Ambivalence: Fear of the Masses and Feminized Sentiment
4. The Trial: Courtroom Spectacle and Ethical Sentiment in the Rule of Law
5. A State Pardon: Sanctioned Violence under Nationalist Rule
6. Beyond the 1930s: From Wartime Patriotism to Counter-Revolutionary Sentiment

Eugenia Lean is Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University.
“Even more compelling than this thrilling story is what Lean does with it.”—The China Beat Blog
“Ambitious.” “Bristles with ideas.”—China Review International
"This book is at the forefront of the next generation of scholarship on early 20th century China. Lean makes a number of important claims about sentiment and modernity, puts forward broader claims that go beyond China Studies, and poses stark questions about the place of 'rationality' in modernity that will compel others to defer to her study for many years to come."—John Fitzgerald, author of Awakening China: Politics, Culture and Class in the Nationalist Revolution

"This ingeniously crafted book provides intriguing ways of linking the past to the present, weaving debates that stretch as far back as the Qin with questions of contemporary Chinese culture and politics. Through exhaustive examinations of media, political, and judicial records, the author vividly shows how the debate on emotions that Shi's case engendered was a manifestation of a 'modern public' in China."—Ruth Rogaski, author of Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China

John K. Fairbank Award, American Historical Association

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