Grafted Identities: Shrews and the New Woman Narrative in China (1910s-1960s)
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My dissertation examines the unacknowledged role of negative female models from traditional literature in constructing the modern woman in China. It draws upon literary and historical sources to examine how modern cultural figures resuscitated and even redeemed qualities associated with traditional shrews in their perceptions and constructions of the new woman across the first half of the twentieth century. By linking the literary trope of the shrew, associated with imperial China, with the twentieth-century figure of the new woman, my work bridges the transition from the late-imperial to the modern era and foregrounds the late-imperial roots of Chinese modernization. The scope of my dissertation includes depictions of shrews/new women in literary texts, the press, theater, and public discourses from the Republican to the Socialist period. Although there exists a rich body of work on both traditional shrew literature and the new woman narrative, no one has addressed the confluence of the two in Chinese modernity. Scholars of late imperial Chinese literature have claimed that shrew literature disappeared when China entered the modern age. Studies on the new woman focus on specific social and cultural contexts during the different periods of modernizing China; few scholars have traced the effects that previous female types had on the new woman. My research reveals the importance of the traditional shrew in contributing to the construction and reception of the new woman, despite the radically changing ideologies of the twentieth century. As I argue, the feisty, rebellious modern women in her many guises as suffragette, sexual independent, and gender radical are female types grafted onto the violent, sexualized, and transgressive typologies of the traditional shrew. My research contributes to the studies of Chinese modernity and the representations of Chinese women. First, it bridges the artificial divide between modern and traditional studies of China and expands the debates about the nature of Chinese modernity. Second, it brings to light the underexamined constructions of the new woman as an empowered social actor through her genealogical connections to the traditional shrew. Third, it provides a methodology for rethinking the contested depiction of women in Chinese modernity.