Title

APPEARANCE POLITICS, PHYSIOGNOMY, AND LEADERSHIP IMAGE: BUILDING POLITICAL LEGITIMACY IN LATE IMPERIAL AND MODERN CHINA

Date of Award

July 2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Embargo Date

9-20-2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor(s)

Norman A. Kutcher

Second Advisor

Mary E. Lovely

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

Exploring the role that physical appearance played in Chinese political culture, this dissertation focuses on leaders’ roles in crafting an appealing and powerful appearance. I argue that Chinese political figures consistently used a strategy I term “appearance politics” to manipulate the construction of their physical appearance in textual, visual, and/or material media, and manage the interpretation of those physical constructions. In so doing, they were able to claim authority, consolidate power, and pursue legitimacy. I find evidence for the use of appearance politics in Chinese physiognomic depictions, imperial portraiture, official resume dossiers, photography, bronze statues, propaganda posters, and leadership images. The variety of these depictions suggest the long span of my study, which stretches from the mid eighteenth to mid twentieth century. By studying the longue durée of appearance politics, I suggest the many important ways in which physical appearance of male leaders mattered in the Chinese past.

The dissertation focuses on four important moments in Chinese history when different cultures came into contact. In these moments, technology and the standards of male beauty changed, but political figures continued to rely on the instruments of appearance politics to empower themselves. In chapters analyzing the secret resume dossier system of the Yongzheng reign, Republican military uniform photographs, Sun Yat-sen bronze statues, and Chinese Communist Party leadership images, I argue that Chinese masculinity and male beauty standards are hybrid constructs, mixing or combining ideal physical features from different political cultures. Chinese male elites used the instruments of appearance politics—and continue to do so—to model themselves on the ideal appearance standards of the time to build legitimacy.

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