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Negotiation and Self-Invention: Four Studies of Chinese Women's Autobiographical Practice
Organizer: Lingzhen Wang, Brown University
Chair: Haiping Yan, University of California, Los Angeles
Discussant: Gail Hershatter, University of California at Santa Cruz
Although often erased from official historiography and marginalized by their society, Chinese women have actively sought self-empowerment through their autobiographical practice since the early twentieth-century. In order to examine the complex ways that they seek cultural capital through the employment of different narrative and cinematic tools, the four papers in this panel will focus on the autobiographical projects respectively pursued by Ling Shuhua, Yang Buwei, and a group of contemporary female Chinese directors. Eileen Cheng and Jing Wang set up a dialogue between the narrative and visual aspects of Ling Shuhua's English-language autobiography. While Cheng examines the way Ling resurrected her feminist critiques of the new culture movement in her autobiography, previously suppressed jointly by her husband and herself in order for her to enter the charmed circle of modern intellectuals, Wang points out that Ling integrated a visual perspective into autobiographical storytelling under the tutelage of Virginia Woolf. As such, both papers show the way Ling appropriated various traditions and adapted to gender-inflected societal stricture for the effective creation of her autobiographical persona. Jin Feng and Lingzhen Wang investigate Chinese women's use of allegory respectively in their literary and filmic autobiographies. Feng looks at the way Yang Buwei deployed the metaphor of marriage to signify a felicitous union of Chinese and Western values, and masculine and feminine traits in her self-image. Wang reveals how several contemporary female Chinese directors created "an autobiographical identification" by adapting other women's life stories into films to represent their generation's shared gender experience.
Male Patronage and Cultural Exchanges: Ling Shuhua's Literary Transactions
Eileen J. Cheng, Pomona College
Despite the pejorative political symbolism that the figure of the cainu (talented woman) and "feminine" writing may have come to connote in new culture literary debates, such labeling was by no means as effective or consistently upheld so as to eclipse the possibility of a gender specific literature, as some scholars have argued. Ling Shuhua (1900-1990) represents an example of how a particular type of "feminine" writing and the figure of the woman writer continued to be highly prized, apparent in the way in which her works were praised and promoted by prominent literary men of her time. By reading Ling Shuhua's early stories published in 1924 in Chenbao, left out of her first short story collection Temple of Flowers published in 1928 and edited by her husband, Chen Yuan, this paper will attempt to show how Ling Shuhua's early feminist critiques of the new culture movement may have been muted or transformed in exchange for her prominent status as a member of new style literary associations and as a modern woman writer. These stringent critiques of new culture, as well as her strong ties and appreciation for traditional culture, were to resurface in her English autobiography Ancient Melodies, published in 1953. These negotiations and transactions epitomize the rather tenuous position of the woman writer caught between tradition and modernity, and transforming literary values and cultural practices, and highlight the circuitous ways in which Ling Shuhua negotiated her contradictory identities and literary practices with prevailing cultural discourses of the time.
With this Lingo, I thee Wed: Language and Marriage in Yang Buwei's Autobiography of A Chinese Woman
Jin Feng, Grinnell College
In Autobiography of A Chinese Woman (1947), Yang Buwei (1889-1981) asserted: "Chao [Zhao] Yuanren found his work and his country. Because he found me." That is to say, Zhao became one of the most prominent contributors to the standardization of modern Chinese language allegedly because he had married Yang, a "thoroughly Chinese" woman who had rekindled his interest in Chinese dialects and thus "repatriated" this "English-speaking and American-feeling" man. Yet a careful scrutiny of Yang's representation of their marriage in her autobiography belies her claim to an uncomplicated link between their shared mother tongue and their national identity. To be sure, she apparently utilized narrative gestures and topos widely different from those employed by a more "Americanized" Zhao to represent their marriage. Rather than looking to a Western model, such as Zhao's invocation of Bertrand Russell's romance as legitimization of their unconventional marriage, Yang deployed the figure of her female Chinese colleague, a "traditional lady," as a foil against which she painted herself as a liberated and self-reliant modern Chinese woman favored by Zhao. However, she also published different versions of her autobiography in both Chinese and English for different audiences. Thus, despite her linguistic and narrative maneuvers, Yang could only accomplish a partial reconciliation of conflicting gender and national identities through the written word. It was by telling the story of a happy marriage of Chinese and American values that she temporarily managed to acquire a fluidity that enabled her to redefine and cross national and gender boundaries.
Chinese Women's Autobiographical Storytelling Abroad
Jing M. Wang, Colgate University
This paper explores Chinese women's autobiographical storytelling in English between the 1930s and the 1950s. Three writers and their life narratives will be examined: Chen Hengzhe's Autobiography of Chinese Young Girl (1935), Buwei Yang Chao's Autobiography of a Chinese Woman, and Ling Shuhua's Ancient Melodies (1953).
I open the paper with a brief introduction of the historical context in which women writers in China began to write openly stated autobiographies, i.e. not under the guise of fiction, in the first half of the twentieth century. Then, by comparison, I go into general cross-cultural context in which the above-named writers told their life stories in English to Western audiences. I argue that whereas women's autobiographical storytelling in China was driven by the country's change in political and gender ideologies as well as by women's inner urge of self-expression, Chinese women's autobiographical stories told in English reveal a close link with the interest of Western audience that make personal histories intertwine with the traditional culture and society of China.
Autobiographical Mode of Cinematic Representation: A Study of Contemporary Chinese Women Directors
Lingzhen Wang, Brown University
Chinese women directors have actively participated in the production of modern visual culture, making influential films in both the socialist and post-socialist periods, and contributing to imaginary constructions of social and personal identities and transformations of film language. In this paper, I will trace a distinctive tradition of cinematic representation made by such contemporary Chinese female directors as Zhang Nuanxin, Hu Mei, Liu Miaomiao, Huang Shuqin, and Ma Xiaoying. I argue that the most ground-breaking and female conscious films are produced by this group of female directors in contemporary China (since the early 1980s) through a unique (auto)biographical mode of cinematic representation. First, I will examine the historical and political contexts within which Chinese women directors re-emerged in the early 1980s after the Cultural Revolution and produced films that foreground individual desires, suppressed emotions, and gendered experiences. I will then discuss the close relationship between contemporary women's cinema and women's (auto)biographical literature since the mid 1980s. Finally I will focus on Zhang Nuanxin, Huang Shuqin, and Ma Xiaoying, closely analyzing their most representative films. While most women writers center their autobiographical writings on their own life experience (story), women directors tend to adapt other women's life stories (autobiography or biography) and create a mode of autobiographical identification through cinematic language and effects. I will also examine how Chinese women directors negotiate and re-signify their own identities through such an autobiographical mode of practice.