Piotr Strzalkowski (AHRC DTP)

Thesis title: Red Scare in China: Caricatures, Anti-Communist Propaganda, and the Foreign-Press in the Interwar Shanghai, 1924-1937.

Research summary

The Red Scare in China: Caricatures, Anti-Communist Propaganda, and the Foreign Press in the Interwar Shanghai, 1924-1937

One of the most defining processes for China during the early 20th century was the nearly two-decades-long conflict between Nationalists and Communists. To better understand this pivotal rivalry, this thesis explores the development of the anti-Communist caricatures in the Interwar Shanghai, 1924-1937.

The research examines how the colonial foreign press in Shanghai commenced the discourse and tried to use it to protect the interests of the foreign settlers in the city and appeal to the Chinese bourgeoisie with whom they shared multiple interests. Subsequently, the Chinese press in Shanghai also began to issue the anti-Communist caricatures, which followed similar tropes and elicited emotions related to the ones appearing in cartoons printed in the foreign press.

By comparing these two sides of the Red Scare in China, the thesis demonstrates that Shanghai experienced the formation of a transcultural imagined anti-Communist community. In this context, the caricatures explained a need for ongoing measures against the radicals and helped to solidify cooperation against the common enemy that emerged between the two groups in 1927. This similarity visible in Chinese and foreign discourse could strengthen bonds between the two groups. This aspect appears relevant in the light of a substantial amount of evidence on the growing transnational cooperation in the interwar Shanghai.

The visual anti-Communist discourse and its tropes evolved in close relation to multiple events and were often related to that in the overseas discourse. The anti-Communist caricatures started by advocating stances such as avoidance, isolation and then propagated resistance, and in the end, the images began endorsing eradication of the radicals. These stances were inherently related to the emotions that the propaganda tried to evoke. At first, it focused on eliciting anxiety and dislike, then turned towards contempt, and in the end, it focused on blatant dehumanisation and hatred. The propaganda experienced a progression from advising the avoidance of Communists towards blatant endorsement of their eradication.

Except for the intensification of negative emotions, the anti-Communist propaganda in China experienced changes in the prevalence of tropes used to describe Communists and the ongoing situation. The thesis shows that these elements were inherently related to relevant historical processes and served as conceptualisations and frameworks upon which the relevant caricaturists constructed negative emotions towards the ideology and its followers.

Current research interests

Foreigners in China and Shanghai, cultural relations between West and China, visual propaganda, semiotics, social psychology.

Conference details

Humour My Biases! Emotions and Prejudices in Propaganda on the Example of the Anti-Communist Caricatures in the Interwar Shanghai - presented at Humour Me Symposium (The University of Edinburgh, 8 November 2019).

Deceit, Broken Pact, and Red Imperialism: The Sino-Soviet War of 1929 and the anti-Communist Caricatures in the Foreign and Chinese Press in Shanghai - presented at Joint East Asian Studies Conference (The University of Edinburgh, 4-6 September 2019).

A Mortal Red Threat: Cartoons, Anti-Communist Propaganda in the Foreign Press in Shanghai and the Northern Expedition in Early 1927, – presented at AAS 2019 (Denver, 21-24 March 2019).

Pursuing Ideologically Homogeneous China: Cartoons and the Early Red Scare in China, 1924-1925, - presented at the Hetero/Homogeneous China: Connections, Dynamics, and Transformations British Postgraduate Network for Chinese Studies 2018 Conference (Oxford University, 21-22 June 2018).

How to Read Political and Ideological Humour? Anti-Communist Cartoons in Shanghai as an example for the use of Semiotics and the Stereotype Content Model - presented at Humours of the Past: Humour, History, Methodology (Durham University, 26-28 July 2017).