This Is Not a Woman: Literary Bodies and Private Selves in the Works of the Chinese Avant-Garde Women Writers
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During the period of economic expansion and openness to personal expression and individuality following Deng Xiaoping's reforms, the Chinese avant-garde women writers engaged in a project of resistance to the traditionally appropriated use of the female body, image, and voice. This resistance can be seen in the ways they consciously construct a private space in their fiction. In this dissertation, I argue that this space is created by presenting alternative forms of female sexuality, in contrast to the heterosexual wife and mother, and by adding details of their own personal histories in their writing. Key to this argument is the Chinese concept of si (privacy) and how the female avant-garde writers turn its traditionally negative associations into a positive tool for writing the self. While male appropriations of images of the female body for political or state-authored purposes are not new to the contemporary period or even the twentieth century, the female avant-garde writers are particularly conscious of the ways in which their bodies are not their own. Moreover, contemporary criticism that labels the works of the female avant-garde writers as self-exposing, titillating, and trite overlooks the difference between authorial intent and commercial or political appropriation, which has led to a profound misunderstanding of these works. In addition, it has also led to a conflation of the female avant-garde writers' works with those of the later body writers. Therefore the purpose of this dissertation is to provide a closer look at the concept of si-privacy and how it intersects with various forms of self-writing, as well as how it is used as a narrative strategy by three contemporary female authors, Xu Kun, Lin Bai, and Hai Nan. Specifically, I consider the similarities and differences in the ways that these authors create and orient themselves in both their memoirs and their self-referential fiction.