British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 9 No 2 (2019)

A Small Business of Sexual Enlightenment: Zhang Jingsheng’s “Beauty Bookshop”, Shanghai 1927-1929

Leon Rocha
University of Lincoln
Published July 27, 2019
How to Cite
Rocha, L. (2019). A Small Business of Sexual Enlightenment: Zhang Jingsheng’s “Beauty Bookshop”, Shanghai 1927-1929. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 9(2), 1-30.


This paper addresses the history and historiography of sexual knowledge during the May Fourth New Culture Movement (ca. 1910s-1930s) in China. Chinese intellectuals engaged in an ambitious project to build a “New Culture”, translating and appropriating a wide range of foreign ideas including European and American works on sexology, reproduction, and eugenics. I focus on “Dr Sex”, Zhang Jingsheng (1888-1970), well-known for his 1926 publication Sex Histories. Zhang wanted to introduce the scientific study of sex to China and to overthrow what he regarded as repressive Chinese traditions. Between 1927 and 1929, Zhang operated the “Beauty Bookshop” in Fuzhou Road, Shanghai’s “cultural street”, to disseminate his writings and translations. He also published a short-lived journal called New Culture, which carried articles on politics, aesthetics, and most interestingly, readers’ inquiries on sexual and reproductive practices. The case study on Zhang Jingsheng’s “small business of sexual enlightenment”––to adapt a term from Leo Ou-fan Lee (in turn borrowed from Robert Darnton)––sheds light on local entrepreneurial and commercial dynamics in the publishing field of 1920s Shanghai that were crucial to the distribution of knowledge. It also offers an opportunity to see how China’s urban, bourgeois, educated readers engaged with modern medico-scientific knowledge.

  • Zhang Jingshen (1888-1970),
  • sexology,
  • entrepreneurship,
  • bookshops,
  • readers' letters,
  • Shanghai
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