MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Xuenan Cao’s review of The Stone and the Wireless: Mediating China, 1861-1906, by Shaoling Ma. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/the-stone-and-the-wireless/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.
Kirk Denton, MCLC
By Shaoling Ma
Reviewed by Xuenan Cao
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright October, 2021)
The Stone and the Wireless is a convincing critique of the notion that China lacked communication networks before the advent of Western technoscience. The book undermines any simplistic answer to the Needham Question (a.k.a., “the ‘Needham paradigm’ postulating the supposed absence of modern science in China,” 10), instead tracing a complex web of media technologies in the late Qing period (1861-1906). Ma documents the variety of strategies Qing diplomats, writers, poets, and other media practitioners employed in their efforts to make sense of the era by tinkering with existing technologies through the practical use of technoscience. Ma sheds light on imaginary strategies as well—unrealized media scenarios that nonetheless helped shape the narrative of communication in the late Qing, as found in (gendered) Techno-utopian visions of the future.
The book covers the period from 1861, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was established, to 1906, when the Ministry of Posts and Communications centralized all “transmissions.” This unconventional periodization of the late Qing marks the object of study: mediation. Although “media” as a term in Chinese did not exist in the second half of the nineteenth century, devices and technologies weighed heavily on the minds of those who did not have the vocabulary to describe their experience in a time of transition. Ma proposes to synthesize devices, sciences, and sensitivities, defining “mediation” as “the dynamic interactions between the material and technical process or device, and its discursive significations in texts and images” (5). Mediation enacts a “cleaving and bridging of technics and signification,” which Ma describes, citing Xiao Liu, as a “‘worlding’ process” of “temporal and spatial reorganization” and “generates new relations, conflicts, and negotiations” (5). Continue reading