Organizer: Dali Tan, University of Maryland
Chair: Hongjin Kang, Dickinson College
Discussant: Tani Barlow, University of Washington
Western feminism was first introduced to China as early as the early twentieth century. Ever since its emergence onto the Chinese stage, feminism has been intimately bound to larger social trends and ideologies which often obscured and distorted female subjectivity. Literary works and other popular art forms from particular eras in modern China reflect the changing feminisms and their relation to mainstream social and ideological trends. Careful study of these works gives us a clearer understanding of both the meaning of Chinese feminism in any one era and its historical vicissitudes in the twentieth century.
Dali Tan in her paper entitled Fractured Female Consciousness: A Feminist Deconstructive Re-reading of Ding Ling and Xiao Hong, will first discuss how and why female subjectivity was ignored, played down or distorted in the mainstream critiques of Miss Sophie's Diary and The Market Street, works by the leading feminist writers of the 1930s, Ding Ling and Xiao Hong.
Di Bai's paper is entitled Feminist Utopia-The Cultural Revolution Model Theater Revisited. It will show us that "model theater," which dominated the entire literary field during the decade of the Cultural Revolution, is feminist in nature, and how it subverted and disrupted the hegemonic ideology at the time.
Hongjin Kang's paper focuses on feminisms in the post-Mao era. It is entitled Feminist Disillusionment or Confucian Comeback: From "The Women Trilogy" to "Anticipation." It will discuss how and why the budding reappearance of female subjectivity in some stage plays in the process of economic reforms in the mid-1980s was nipped, twisted and replaced by a Confucian face: "virtuous wife and good mother" in the popular TV serial of the early 1990s, "Anticipation."
Fractured Female Consciousness: A Feminist Deconstructive Rereading of Ding Ling
and Xiao Hong
Dali Tan, University of Maryland
In both Miss Sophie's Diary and The Market Street, Ding Ling and Xiao Hong foreground female consciousness against the background of national crises. However, this fractured female consciousness was often ignored, played down and distorted in critical discussions of these works. Employing concepts of feminist criticism and deconstruction, this paper will demonstrate how different ideologies come into conflict in the stories and how the two women writers highlight female subjectivity and present historical reality from the perspective of women's lived experience.
Many critics regard Miss Sophie's Diary as a story about a young woman's sexual desires, emotional conflicts in her emancipated way of life, and her pursuit of love and ideal. However, in an important sense, her sexual longing is closely intertwined with her longing for the ideal of the West. Ding Ling's conscious or unconscious doubt about the Western ideal is subtly and allegorically represented through her characterization of Ling Jishi. Sophie's frustrated desire and broken dream thus can be viewed as a double disillusion: Ding Ling seems to be cautioning her readers about the fact that just as Ling Jishi is not a good match for Sophie, the Western ideology will not be suitable for the Chinese situation either.
Xiao Hong's works have been highly praised for their embodiment of national crises under the Japanese invasion. However, the strong female consciousness in her works has often been neglected in literary criticism. Through her employment of a metanarrative in The Market Street, Xiao Hong skillfully hints at the suppression of women's writing and silencing of their voices both by the violence of force of the Japanese military police and by the violence of Qiao Yin's lover, Langhua. In short, Xiao Hong reveals gender and class exploitation as well as oppression by the Japanese invaders.
The Feminist Utopia-The Cultural Revolution Model Theater Revisited
Di Bai, Ohio State University
This paper proposes a revisionist view of the "model theater" produced during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). A collection of eight Beijing operas and ballets revised and reformed under the tutelage of Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing (1914-1992), the model theater dominated the Chinese cultural world for a decade. As the core of Cultural Revolution "propaganda," the model theater has been repudiated and thrown into critical oblivion. This paper aims to be an "intervention" that attempts to redefine model theater so as to reach a fresh understanding of its cultural meaning. By looking closely into the textual differences between the original versions of model theater and the later Cultural Revolution productions, this study proposes that model theater is in its essence feminist. The feminism embedded in model theater sets it apart from canonical Chinese communist literature and accounts for its often noted (and reviled) extremes. As the praxis of the strongest wave of Chinese feminist reformation of culture, the texts of model theater are distinguished from their original versions in their extraction of details in plots, traces in characters, and gestures in choreography that are associated with the domain of female sexuality. Romantic love, happy marriage, and sexual confrontation were exclusively rooted out. This "barren" look may account for model theater's "unrealness," but it could also be perceived as an ideal situation for feminist challenge of the "sex-gender system"-women having escaped from the division based on gender, from obligatory heterosexuality and from the burden of mothering.
Feminist Disillusionment or Confucian Comeback? From The Women Trilogy to Anticipation
Hongjin Kang, Dickinson College
Since the mid-1980s, diametrically different voices were heard in the name of women in fiction, on the stage and in mass media in China. It was no surprise when the ongoing economic reforms began to challenge the status of the allegedly liberated women.
The Women Trilogy by Bai Fengxi, a woman playwright, was among the initial feminist voices. It is made up of three plays: "First Bathed in Moonlight," "Once Loved and in a Storm Returning" and "Say, Who Like Me Is Prey to Fond Regret?" All are predominantly focused on women's issues: career, marriage, family roles and female individuality. It was a breakthrough. And it was well received especially among the intellectuals.
However, it was not long-just a few years-before a strident and loud voice was heard from Anticipation a TV serial, shown nationwide. Liu Huifang, the heroine, became a household favorite overnight. She was prized as an ideal wife among the male audience. Yet she embodies everything in opposition to feminism: a weak, docile, submissive, self-denying and self-sacrificing woman. In a word, Liu Huifang is a symbol of Confucian traditional values: "a virtuous wife and a good mother."
This paper aims to explore why feminism is short-lived, even in the 1990s when China claims to have adopted an "open" policy. Is it a coincidence that a woman symbolizing Confucian values has become an idol of modern China? And how are such conflicting ideologies as Confucianism, Communism, and Commercialism affecting women's image in Chinese society?