The Invention of a Discourse: Women's Poetry from Contemporary China

By Lee, Mabel | The China Journal, January 2006 | Go to article overview

The Invention of a Discourse: Women's Poetry from Contemporary China


Lee, Mabel, The China Journal


The Invention of a Discourse: Women's Poetry from Contemporary China, by Jeanne Hong Zhang (Zhang Xiaohong). Leiden: CNWS Publications, 2004. 304 pp. euro27.00 (paperback).

Gender-based poetry by women writers became a significant force within Chinese literature from the mid-1980s. Jeanne Hong Zhang's book is the first comprehensive study of this phenomenon. She states that the "study focuses on the way the discourse of contemporary Chinese women's poetry has been invented, particularly by poets and critics". The methodology adopted is intratextual comparisons within Chinese culture as well as intertextual comparisons between cultures, and Zhang clearly demonstrates that the analysis in this book is informed by a formidable knowledge of both Chinese and Western literature.

Chapter 1 examines Chinese women's poetry in its historical context. Tang Xiaodu's article "Women's Poetry: From Night to Day" launched "contemporary Chinese women's poetry as a scholarly-critical discourse". In it Tang claimed that Zhai Yongming's poem series "Woman" represented "a breakthrough in Chinese women's literature, surpassing the many theoretical claims and creative efforts since the May Fourth Movement". Thereafter scholars and critics began to debate the meaning and implications of the term "women's poetry", and to categorise which women poets in fact wrote "women's poetry". Zhai Yongming later spoke of women's literature as "a mode of independent writing" not necessarily "related to the female gender", yet not necessarily "gender neutral". For her a gender-neutral position does not exist, and is in fact "a disguised male position" (p. 15).

Zhang notes that, anxious to be accepted into the literary mainstream, Chinese women writers are reluctant to have their work trivialised because of any sort of "feminist" labelling. She draws on the observations of Western scholars to explain how in post-1949 China, and particularly during the Cultural Revolution, gender awareness was considered petty bourgeois (Tani Barlow), and that "a kind of androgyny, a sexual sameness, based on the de-feminisation of female appearance and its approximation of male standards of dress, seemed to be the socialist ideal" (Harriet Evans). Aware of the contentious issues in this discourse, Zhang resolutely puts forward her own definition for women's poetry as "female-authored poems that deal with gender-based themes, experience and psychology in a distinctive language usage". She maintains that women's poetry is a separate category of research, and that such a definition allows her analysis to include female-authored texts that are not feminist. The poet's biological sex is used as the starting point, but it is not the only consideration because "not all the texts written by the same woman poet necessarily fit into the category of women's poetry" (pp. 16-17).

The June 1989 issue of Poetry contained a special collection of critical essays on women's poetry by women poets and was followed by the publication of several substantial collections of women's poetry. Zhang acknowledges the important role of official publishing houses and journals in publicising women's poetry, as well as that of a "powerful current of unofficial publications" in Beijing and in various provincial capitals. She isolates the genealogical ties of women's poetry with the Menglong poets, particularly Yang Lian and Jiang He, noting that in their ranks Shu Ting is the only woman. However, post-Menglong women's poetry is radically different from Shu Ting's; its concern is the emotional and psychological world of the individual, and it is distinguished by its "unconventional subject matter and startling imagery". The expressive mode these women poets used "to capture intense, immediate perceptions and feelings tended to be personal, extreme and psychologically oriented". …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Invention of a Discourse: Women's Poetry from Contemporary China
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.