Old and New: Female Bodies and Male Anxieties in Republican China

Wang, Alyssa, East Asian Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Reed, Bradly, Department of History, University of Virginia

With the turn of the century, revolutionaries across ideological lines began to push for a new ideal woman: one who would no longer be restricted by traditional Confucian culture and therefore, be able to strive toward full personhood (人格). Even though there was an increasingly number of calls for significant gender reform, the aim of these efforts was not to make women equal to men in the public sphere; instead, most prominent intellectuals argued that given their many years of historical subordination, women were not prepared to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. Therefore, they needed to remain under the guidance of revolutionary-minded male elites. Given this context, it is clear that women occupied a complicated position in Republican China. Beyond serving as a symbol of the public’s continued oppression by past cultural and political forms that needed to be overthrown, they were also incapable of being fully liberated without the help of enlightened male intervention. As such, the goal of this paper is to examine these two contradictory frameworks through an analysis of two female suicides during the early 20th century.

MA (Master of Arts)
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