Refining modern beauties: The evolving depiction of Chinese women in cigarette cards, 1900–37 | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 4, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2051-7084
  • E-ISSN: 2051-7092



Early twentieth-century China was awash in new forms of visual advertising, each revealing its own aspirations for the country’s modernization. Along with print media advertising and yuefenpai (calendar posters), cigarette cards represented a new and widely viewed vehicle for both selling consumer goods and tacitly endorsing new roles and behaviours for women during a period of great cultural change. The manner in which women were depicted in these cigarette cards from the late Qing Era to 1937 has not been studied as yet. While cigarette cards were an imported medium, they were tailored to local tastes and addressed many of the most pressing cultural and social changes for women during this period. Images of women in Chinese cigarette cards charted evolving fashion trends, hinted at new sexual mores, challenged regressive old beauty ideals such as foot and breast binding, and promoted physical activity as a means of mobilizing women for national service as war with Japan loomed on the horizon. Cigarette cards disappeared from China as a result of paper shortages during the war and were no longer seen as appropriate under communist rule, but they provide valuable insight into Chinese women’s history in the first four decades of the twentieth century.


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