Reinventing Criminality: The Complicity between Policing and Modern Image Technologies across the Pacific
2: Disciplining Love: Photography in Detective Fiction and Real Crime Investigation
Sunday, March 27, 2022
10:45am – 12:15pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
New York University Shanghai, China
Photography has been applied to police work in China since the 19th century. The police and the general public believed that this new technology could faithfully record crimes and identify criminals. This paper examines how photography was deployed to create the “truth about a crime” in both actual and fictional investigations in Republican China. I close read two cases about marriage fraud: Cheng Xiaoqing’s detective story “The Second Photograph” (1927) and the report of an actual homicide case in 1948 in a popular journal Big Detective, which was illustrated by crime scene photographs acquired from the police.Through these two cases, I argue that, rather than a transparent media, photography was used to reinforce a moral order through the construction of the visual facts about crimes. The crime reenactment photographs of the 1948 case express a strong moral critique against the unfaithful murderer. The manipulation of photography in crime investigation was questioned in an early detective story. Cheng’s story shows how photography can be manipulated to either create a record of “misconduct” or to verify one’s integrity. The Republican period witnessed a crisis in love and marriage when the Confucian moral order clashed with modern ideas of free love. This paper sheds light on the negotiation between popular literature, police force, and photography to regulate unethical behaviors and sustain a moral social order.