Writing Women in Modern China: The Revolutionary Years, 1936-1976

Writing Women in Modern China: The Revolutionary Years, 1936-1976

Writing Women in Modern China: The Revolutionary Years, 1936-1976

Writing Women in Modern China: The Revolutionary Years, 1936-1976

Synopsis

Revolution, foreign occupation, and political, cultural, and economic upheavals defined mid-twentieth-century Chinese society. This new anthology, a sequel to the acclaimed first volume, compiled by Dooling and Kristina Torgeson and covering the early twentieth century, includes an impressive range of literary, personal, and journalistic responses to these tumultuous events. From succinct reportage of contemporary historical circumstances to comic accounts of twentieth-century urban living to carefully stylized modernist works of fiction, the selections in this anthology reflect the diversity, liveliness, humor, and surprising cosmopolitanism of women's writing from the period. This collection also reveals the ways in which women writers imagined and inscribed new meanings to Chinese feminism.

Biographical information on the writers -- including Yang Gang, Bai Wei, Hu Lanxi, Yang Jiang, Zong Pu, Chen Ruoxi, and others -- introduces the selections from their works. Dooling's critical introduction and bibliographical materials further enrich readers'understanding of the role of women's writing in Chinese literary modernity.

Excerpt

“Women and revolution! What tragic, unsung epics of courage lie silent in the world’s history!” Thus muses the narrator of a 1936 short story by the writer Yang Gang (1905–1957). On the run from the authorities and with her comrade-lover imprisoned, this female political activist faces the devastating prospect of terminating an unplanned pregnancy, alone, at a moment of great national upheaval. The decision resonates on deeply personal and political, physical, and psychological levels, yet she seems oddly resigned to the fact that her struggle will not figure into the story of revolution, even as she takes pains to inscribe the experience in her diary. Reading this text today, one might be struck by how this paradoxical attitude relates to the predicament of the woman writer at that defining moment of modern Chinese history. On the one hand, Yang Gang’s steady literary output as an acclaimed journalist, newspaper editor, poet, translator, and novelist, along with that of her many female contemporaries, strongly belies the notion that women’s voices were somehow muted in the post-May Fourth era. For all the historical challenges brought on by war, foreign occupation, and revolution, not to mention the advent of Mao’s socialist state, a good number of female writers committed to imagining and inscribing new meanings of Chinese womanhood continued to compose and to publish in the middle decades of the twentieth century, often—not unlike Yang Gang’s narrator—under difficult circumstances and at some personal risk. On the other hand, however, it is still difficult to find references to, let alone serious analyses of, many such writers in mainstream literary studies and cultural histories. Indeed, notable exceptions notwithstanding, it is commonly suggested that the tumultuous mid-century decades all but stifled the nascent gendered expression nurtured by the previous generations and that only with the sweeping political reforms beginning in the late 1970s was such a tradition revived in women’s literature. In other words, between the extraordinary bursts of female literary activity in the May Fourth and post—Mao eras is said to lie a long stretch of revolutionary history representing a protracted interlude in the project of “writing women in modern China.”

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