You are on page 1of 8

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'?

The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s

Imagining 'Modern China'?: The Fantasy


of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s

and

Reality

NICOLAS ROONEY
The 'new woman' phenomenon which swept across China during the 1920s and 1930s
is one of the most significant aspects of twentieth-century Chinese cultural history. It impacts upon our
understanding of gender, modernity and urbanisation and bridges the dividing line between ideal and
reality. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to get to the heart of the 'new woman' question. Historians often
fail to appreciate its magnitude and focus either on the intellectual and cultural discourse in literature, film
and fashion or else the socioeconomic changes in China's cities. Both of these approaches deny vital
elements of the 'new woman'; only by examining her as both concept and social reality can a more
complete understanding be reached. The 'new woman' was more than a figment of male imagination and,
rather than taking the male discourse on issues surrounding the phenomenon as proof that she existed
primarily in the male consciousness, we should instead look for the social root of this discourse.
In order to fully understand the origins and significance of the phenomenon we must begin by examining
its conceptual origins among the May Fourth writers before turning to its physical manifestation in an urban
environment where reality and fantasy were surprisingly hard to separate.
The May Fourth discourse on the 'new woman' cannot be understood without reference to the ideas
of earlier reformers regarding the 'woman question' (fun wenti). The concept of a new female figure
representing a newfound 'modernity' has its origins in the reformist discourse of the Late Qing period.
Writers such as a Liang Qichao explicitly denied the contributions of Chinese women to society and created
a model of the 'traditional woman' who was economically unproductive and posed an obstacle to social
transformation.1 Through contrast with the 'traditional woman' Liang creates the figure of the 'new woman'
who through Western learning would contribute to national strengthening.2 This was a profoundly male
vision of the 'new woman' whose main attraction lay in her contribution to China's national salvation.
In her earliest form, therefore, the 'new woman' was an entirely male-created model aimed at achieving
nationalist ends.
It was out of this earlier discourse that the male intellectuals of the May Fourth period were to shape
a 'new woman' responsive to their own more personal interest in criticising the 'Confucian' patriarchal
system which limited their freedom of action, particularly in the area of marriage.3 Women, to whom some
of the most rigorous strictures of 'Confuciansim' applied, were extremely attractive as a concept which
could be used both to attack the old order, by highlighting women's suffering, and to usher in 'modernity',
by creating an alternative feminine ideal.4 It is only with this frame of reference that we can fully understand
the urgency of calls by Chen Duxiu and other leading intellectuals for the emancipation of women and the

Liang Qichao, 'On Women's Education' in Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca E. Karl and Dorothy Ko (eds.), The
Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory (New York, Columbia University
Press, 2013), p. 192; also Hu Ying, 'Naming the First New Woman', Nan N Vol. 3, No.2 (2001), p.
205.
2
Liang, p. 192.
3
Paul Bailey, Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century China (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan,
2012), p. 60.
4
Ibid. p. 60.
103

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
end of the oppressive social order.5 The story 'New Year's Sacrifice' by the renowned writer Lu Xun
published in 1924 provides us with a microcosm of this process of condemning the old order. In this story
a male narrator reconstructs the life of Sister Xianglin, a destitute woman who has suffered greatly at the
hands of 'traditional' society.6 What is particularly important is Lu's construction of this character as a
female victim of Chinese society; the superstitious and tragic Sister Xianglin becomes the figure of the
'traditional woman' oppressed by patriarchy and mired in ignorance.7 She is thus a symbol of China's
backwardness. Just like Liang Qichao, May Fourth intellectuals also needed a female figure to represent
modernity, the 'new woman'.8 Lu Xun also provides us with a model of 'modern' femininity in another of his
stories, 'Mourning the Dead'. Here the character of Zijun reveals the key features of the 'new woman' in the
male imagination and the pivotal link between the idea and 'modern' masculine identity.
At the beginning of the story Zijun boldly rejects the "shackles of traditional morality" and forms a lovematch with the narrator.9 This is the ideal of the 'new woman': she is not quite Ibsen's Nora, but instead a
bold social innovator ready to partner, rather than abandon, the 'modern' male in his quest for cultural
transformation.10
This concern with the 'new woman' as a partner and not just a social rebel becomes even more
apparent when we examine male May Fourth attitudes to making the idea a reality. Lu Xun's famous essay,
'What Happens After Nora Leaves Home?', which emphasises how essential economic resources are to
emancipation, demonstrates this complexity.11 Superficially Lu echoes the demands of Chen Duxiu for
economic emancipation but his caution also indicates a reluctance to endorse female rebellion.12 For male
intellectuals it was the ideal of the 'new woman' as a means of expressing male 'modernity', not her
physical existence which was essential; for instance in 'Mourning the Dead' the narrator's increasing loss of
intellectual curiosity and 'modern' identity parallels Zijun's decline from her initially promising rejection of
society.13 From this it seems that the 'new woman' was primarily an imaginative construct whose main uses
were as a vehicle to attack 'traditional' society and as a means of displaying male 'modernity'. In fact this
very criticism was levelled at the time by Zhang Shenfu, a founding member of the CCP, who argued that
the demand for women's emancipation was merely a "vogue" among male elites.14
So far it appears that the 'new woman' was primarily "a male discourse" and many historians have
been content to leave their analysis there.15 However, we should remember that women also played a part
in the May Fourth discourse, particularly through literature. These women were the products of new
educational and social opportunities that had opened up to women in the last two decades and their
experiences were profoundly shaped by Western-style education and the influence of progressive male

Chen Duxiu, 'The Way of Confucius and Modern Life' in Hua R. Lan and Vanessa L. Fong (eds.),
Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook (Armonk, N.Y, M.E. Sharpe, 1999), p. 7; also Lu Qiuxin,
'Freedom of Marriage and Democracy' in Hua R. Lan and Vanessa L. Fong (eds.), Women in
Republican China: A Sourcebook (Armonk, N.Y., M.E. Sharpe, 1999), p. 37.
6
Lu Xun, 'New Year's Sacrifice' in Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (William A. Lyell,
trans.) (Honolulu, University of Hawai Press, 1990), p. 227.
7
Ibid., p. 240.
8
Amy Dooling, 'Introduction: Writing Women in Modern China' in Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M.
Torgeson (eds.), Writing Women in Modern China: An Anthology of Women's Literature from the
Early Twentieth Century (New York, Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 5.
9
Lu Xun, 'Mourning the Dead' in Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories (William A. Lyell,
trans.) (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1990), pp. 340 and 343.
10
Bailey, p. 62.
11
Lu Xun, 'What Happens After Nora Leaves Home?' in Hua R. Lan and Vanessa L. Fong (eds.),
Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook (Armonk, N.Y., M.E. Sharpe, 1999), p. 178.
12
Ibid. pp. 178 and 181.
13
Lu Xun, 'Mourning the Dead', p. 352.
14
Zhang Shenfu, 'The Great Inappropriateness of Women's Emancipation' in Hua R. Lan and
Vanessa L. Fong (eds.), Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook (Armonk, N.Y., M.E. Sharpe,
1999), p. 170.
15
Christina Kelley Gilmartin, 'Introduction: May Fourth and Women's Emancipation' in Hua R. Lan
and Vanessa L. Fong (eds.), Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook (Armonk, N.Y., M.E.
Sharpe, 1999), p. xiv; also Bryna Goodman, 'The New Woman Commits Suicide: The Press, Cultural
Memory and the New Republic', The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 64, Nol 1 (Feb., 2005), pp. 79
and 97.
104

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
relatives.16 However, they also experienced oppressive 'traditional' practices such as parental control over
marriage, against which they sought to rebel.17 These women co-opted the figure of the 'new woman' in
order to form their own distinctive subjectivities. Although this produced the problem of working with a
male idea to articulate female subjectivity, closer examination of their writing reveals how they
circumvented and manipulated male models and gives an insight into the 'new woman' as she was
understood by female writers.18
The first piece that requires consideration is 'One Day' by Chen Hengzhe; published in 1917, it is
highly instructive as it provides a model for the later writings of the 1920s and allows us to examine the
significance of women's modes of literary expression in creating their subjectivities.19 The most significant
feature of the story is Chen's focus on what is heard and said rather than what is seen.20 This focus on the
aural rather than the visual is an attempt to de-emphasise appearance as the key signifier of meaning. This
is particularly interesting when combined with the use of painted faces and masks in Chinese culture which
Janet Ng has suggested were used to make inner truth immediately apparent through physical
appearance.21 The widespread focus on the unadorned face in May Fourth literature along with Chen's
attempt to disrupt the association between sight and truth suggests that female writers were resisting male
attempts to categorise based on appearance; thus, by extension, they were rejecting the use of the 'new
woman' as a simple type which could serve as a signifier of male 'modernity'. Instead they sought to
problematise female experience, making it resistant to "the male gaze".22 As men adopted an
instrumentalist approach to women, women sought to make femininity impenetrable and used the model of
the 'new woman' to explore their own subjectivities. We can see this exploration of female subjectivity and
resistance to male objectification evolving throughout the May Fourth period, in particular in such stories as
Ding Ling's 'Miss Sophia's Diary' (published in 1927) which inverts 'normal' gender relations and features a
man as the object of a woman's deconstructing gaze.23 Sophia is an alternative model of the 'new woman':
an emblem of female modernity and a vehicle for exploring female subjectivity. This 'new woman' was also
an imaginative, literary category but it was not monopolised by men. Instead it was used as a resource by
female writers to define their own identities. With this in mind we can already see that characterising the
'new woman' as simply a figment of the male imagination is misleading and reductive; however, this
becomes even more apparent when we turn our attention to the 'new woman's' relationship to the urban
environment.
If we briefly return to 'Miss Sophia's Diary', the centrality of the city becomes evident. Sophia is
plagued by doubts about her identity while "wandering Beijing alone" and she ultimately takes refuge in
flight from the city.24 Urban life frames and defines Sophia's experience and invites us to examine the 'new
woman' in a new context. In the cities, and especially in Shanghai, 'modernity' and the idea of the 'new
woman' increasingly slipped beyond its elite and intellectual boundaries and became a marketable
commodity. New modes of discourse also came to dominate what was initially a literary phenomenon: most
importantly fashion and film.25 These media increasingly blurred the distinction between the imagined,
cultural discourse and social reality. Film in particular took the idea of the 'new woman' and transformed it


16

Elisabeth Croll, Changing Identities of Chinese Women: Rhetoric, Experience and Self-Perception
in Twentieth-Century China (London, Zed Books, 1995), pp. 40, 44 and 56.
17
Ibid. p. 43.
18
Amy D. Dooling, Women's Literary Feminism in Twentieth-Century China (New York, Palgrave
Macmillan, 2005), p. 73.
19
Janet Ng, The Experience of Modernity: Chinese Autobiography of the Early Twentieth Century
(Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2003), p. 21.
20
Chen Hengzhe, 'One Day' in Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson (eds.), Writing Women in
Modern China: An Anthology of Women's Literature from the Early Twentieth Century (New York,
Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 91 and 92; also Ng, p. 31.
21
Ng, p. 55.
22
Ibid. p. 46.
23
Ding Ling, 'Miss Sophia's Diary' in Tani E. Barlow and Gary J. Bjorge (eds.), I Myself Am a
Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling (Boston, Beacon Press, 1989), p. 55.
24
Ding, pp. 72 and 81.
25
Sarah E. Stevens, 'Figuring Modernity: The New Woman and the Modern Girl in Republican
China', NWSA Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3, Gender and Modernism between the Wars, 1918-1939
(Autumn, 2003), p. 82.
105

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
into a physical, visual phenomenon through the bodies of film stars.26 Film stars, aided by the demand for
'true character' acting, became 'new women' simply by virtue of portraying the 'new woman'.27
Furthermore, as a visual medium, film changed the relationship between discourse and reality in the urban
environment. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the suicide of Ruan Lingyu; her suicide
and its mimicking of the suicide of the character she had played in her last film is indicative of the extent to
which film stars were instrumental in bridging the gap between ideal and reality.28
Now that film stars had given a physical embodiment to the 'new woman', it was possible to mimic
her, to become a 'new woman' in reality through fashion; in this context we can understand the increasing
dominance of the qipao, the modern garment par excellence, in urban fashion.29 Furthermore, Shanghai's
burgeoning nightlife industry sought to bestow this new image upon its dancing girls and to portray itself as
at the cutting edge of 'modernity'.30 This lies at the heart of the 'new woman' phenomenon, it was an
imagined concept that gave rise to a social reality and separating the two became increasingly difficult. Not
only did Ruan Lingyu become her character in the public imagination but all actresses acting out a cultural
and imaginative discourse on 'modernity' became hard to distinguish from the characters they played, or
from the beautiful qipao-clad women used in advertising cigarettes and the alluring but 'dangerous'
nightclub hostesses.31 These images of film stars; advertisements; cabaret girls; and even prostitutes all
made use of the concept and image of the 'new woman'.32 Consequently they blurred the dividing line
between ideal and reality, which the male May Fourth intellectuals had been reluctant to cross. This
allowed the 'new woman' to become manifest as a social reality and significantly, through the new
associations with dancehalls and advertising, increasingly sexualised.33
This transition into social reality had serious repercussions for the discourse of the 'new woman'.
Fashion in particular had a huge impact: in giving the 'new woman' a physical form and making its primary
mode of expression visual, fashion made the 'new woman' and thus 'modernity' accessible to a vastly wider
social milieu than before. This caused acute anxiety among the intellectual elites whose identities were
dependent upon monopolising 'modernity'.34 With the almost universal popularisation of the qipao as the
main item of clothing that signified the 'new woman', along with the popularity of bobbed hair, urban elites


26

Kristine Harris, 'The New Woman Incident: Cinema, Scandal and Spectacle in 1935 Shanghai' in
Sheldon Hsiao-peng Lu (ed.), Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender
(Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1997), p. 278.
27
Michael G. Chang, 'The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: Movie Actresses and Public Discourses
in Shanghai, 1920s-1930s' in Yinjin Zhang (ed.), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 19221943 (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 136; also Kristine Harris, 'Modern Mulans:
Reimagining the Mulan Legend in Chinese Film, 1920s-1960s' in Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco
(eds.), The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s to
the 1960s (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2012), p. 310.
28
Harris, 'The New Woman Incident', p. 291.
29
Antonia Finnane, Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation (New York, 2008), pp. 148
and 168; also Naomi Yin-yin Szeto, 'Cheungsam: Fashion, Culture and Gender' in Claire Roberts
(ed.), Evolution & Revolution: Chinese Dress: 1700s-1990s (Sydney, Powerhouse Publishing, 1997),
p. 62.
30
Andrew D. Field, 'Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Hostesses in Print, Film,
and Politics, 1920-1949' in Yingjin Zhang (ed.), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943
(Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 111.
31
Chang, p. 136; also Ellen Johnston Laing, Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture
in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2004), pp. 155, 209 and
210; also Andrew David Field, Shanghai's Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 19191954 (Hong Kong, Chinese University Press, 2010), p. 70.
32
Field, 'Selling Souls in Sin City', p. 138; also Gail Hershatter, Dangerous Pleasures: Prostitution
and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Shanghai (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997), p.
202.
33
Field, Shanghais Dancing World, p. 150.
34
Tze-lan D. Sang, 'Failed Modern Girls in Early-Twentieth-Century China' in Doris Croissant,
Catherine Vance Yeh and Joshua S. Mostow (eds.), Performing "Nation": Gender Politics in
Literature, Theater, and the Visual Arts of China and Japan, 1880-1940 (Boston, Brill 2008), p. 182.
106

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
could no longer control who portrayed themselves as 'modern'.35 This loss of control led to a fevered
reaction and attempts to create a distinction between genuine 'new women' (xin nxing) and false 'modern
girls' (modeng gou'er).36 The 'modern girl', for elites at least, was a hedonistic, dangerous and unknowable
figure, interestingly echoing the attempts by May Fourth female writers to make female experience
inaccessible, and was bound up with ideas of pervasive commercialism and also prostitution; she was a
shallow and fickle imitation of the true 'new woman'.37 Many historians, such as Stevens, have accepted
this distinction uncritically and have treated the 'modern girl' and the 'new woman' as distinct figures,
representing contrasting attitudes to urban modernity.38 However, this obscures the fact that in many cases
the genuine difference between the 'new woman' and the 'modern girl' seems to have been less one of
aspiration to different ideals but rather one of class background.39 'Modern girls' were simply 'new women'
of whom the elites did not approve. The elites found it intolerable that 'modernity' was being co-opted by
upwardly mobile groups such as actresses and taxi girls and sought to exclude them both socially and
culturally.
Left-wing commentators also sought to separate the 'new woman' and 'modern girl' such as in the
acclaimed 1935 film, New Woman. At the heart of the film is the question of who truly represents the titular
character and it seems clear that the film's makers intended it to be the revolutionary Li Aying.40 It is her
and the workers singing in solidarity together which closes the film and which is, powerfully, the only sound
in the otherwise silent film.41 Clearly left-wing intellectuals were also involved in a process which aimed at
re-monopolising 'modernity' for their own radical purposes. However, it seems that audiences and critics
responded with considerably more ambivalence towards which character actually represented the 'new
woman' and this was further complicated by Ruan Lingyu's suicide, discussed above.42 However, although
it may not have conclusively created a revolutionary 'new woman' the film should turn our attention to the
issue of working-class women and their associations with the 'new woman' image. Although these new
industrial women did not occupy the same space as film stars and cabaret dancers, they were an
increasingly visible section of the cities inhabitants and thus became part of the evolving urban discourse
and operated in increasingly 'modern' social contexts.43 While historians have largely ignored them in
relation to the 'new woman', these women were actually highly significant contributors to the discourse,
through their visibility, and to the urban debates on 'modernity' and women's position.44 Although their
networks took on superficially 'traditional' forms women were able to use their sisterhoods or courtyard
networks to act in new and distinctly public ways, challenging the power of patriarchy in a new
environment.45 Furthermore, their ties to the Green Gang, who also dominated the cabarets, and left-wing
attempts to transform the 'new woman' into a working-class activist demonstrate that they were involved


35

Antonia Finnane, Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation (New York, Colombia
University Press, 2008), pp. 148 and 168; also Madeleine Yue Dong, 'Who Is Afraid of the Chinese
Modern Girl' in Alys Eve Weinbaum, Lynn M. Thomas, Priti Ramamurthy, Uta G. Poiger, Madeleine
Yue Dong and Tani E. Barlow (eds.), The Modern Girl around the World: Consumption, Modernity
and Globalization (Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 2008), pp. 194 and 202.
36
Dong, p. 214.
37
Ibid. p. 195; also Sang, pp. 182 and 188.
38
Stevens, pp. 82 and 88.
39
Dong, p. 201.
40
Harris, 'The New Woman Incident', pp. 285, 290 and 294.
41
Ibid. p. 286.
42
Harris, 'The New Woman Incident', pp. 279 and 290.
43
Emily Honig, 'Burning Incense, Pledging Sisterhood: Communities of Women Workers in the
Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949', Signs, Vol. 10, No. 4, Communities of Women (Summer, 1985),
p. 714.
44
Ibid. pp. 707 and 714; also Emily Honig, 'The Contract Labor System and Women Workers: PreLiberation Cotton Mills of Shanghai', Modern China, Vol. 9, No. 4, Symposium: The Making of the
Chinese Working Class (Oct., 1985), p. 435.
45
Honig, 'Burning Incense, Pledging Sisterhood: Communities of Women Workers in the Shanghai
Cotton Mills, 1919-1949', p. 701; also Weikun Cheng, City of Working Women: Life, Space, and
Social Control in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing (Berkeley, University of California Institute of East
Asian Studies, 2011), p. 73.
107

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
both economically and discursively (albeit as objects) in the creation of urban femininity.46 They were part
of a wider trend of changing female experience and increasing urban visibility which triggered male
anxieties and they should not be ignored when discussing the 'new woman' phenomenon.
It seems fairly clear that any treatment of the 'new woman' as merely an imaginative category is
untenable. However, the question of male dominance of the discourse requires further attention. We have
already seen that women could, and did, take advantage of the model of the 'new woman' to express their
own subjectivities. However, the widespread and commercial image of the 'new woman' which formed the
basis for the urban discourse seems at first glance to have primarily commodified and objectified women,
marketing them as objects of male desire.47 Despite this it could also be a tool
for women to break into the social elite and cabarets often provided a better employment option than
factories.48 It is, therefore, very difficult to state the exact extent to which the figure of the new woman
actually empowered women but it certainly seems undeniable that it did to some extent. Perhaps, as Field
suggests, we should view the relationship between women and the urban media as "symbiotic" rather than
clearly benefitting or disadvantaging one side or the other. A useful illustration of this relationship is the
example of Shi Jianqiao. In 1935 Shi assassinated a former warlord and created a national media
sensation.49 Shi presented herself as conspicuously modern through her use of a car and gun during the
assassination and portrayed her victim as a symbol of Chinese weakness at a time of increasing Japanese
encroachment.50 Through her appeal to public sympathy she obtained a pardon from the GMD
government.51 By consciously manipulating the ideal of the 'new woman' to her own advantage, Shi
demonstrated the extent to which the ideal could act as an empowering resource for women; Shi made
extensive use of the press to gain public sympathy while the press sold her as a symbol of Chinese
resistance.52
The 'new woman' represents a very complex phenomenon in Chinese history and as such is difficult
to define with any certainty and there are many other aspects which are worthy of examination. However,
by focussing both on its intellectual origins in the May Fourth period and on its maturation and evolution in
the urban environment we can clearly see that the 'new woman' was not a discourse that was solely the
preserve of men, nor was it only an imaginative category. The 'new woman' was a complex socio-cultural
figure which transcended the bridge between the real and the ideal. Although the idea originated in an elite
male discourse it was co-opted as a concept by female writers seeking to explore their own subjectivities
and, more significantly, adapted by the nascent Chinese film industry and by commercial forces as a
response to new urban environments. This introduction to the urban imagination resulted in the 'new
woman' becoming a reality. Given a physical appearance by film stars, who themselves bridged the gap
between fantasy and reality, the 'new woman' could be mimicked by diverse groups and co-opted for
disparate needs. To dismiss these women as simply 'modern girls' is to follow uncritically the elite response
to their loss of control over the 'new woman' and by extension over the concept of 'modernity'; this is a
major source of historians' difficulty in approaching the 'new woman' phenomenon. The 'new women' of
the cities were the product of a complex interaction between economic, cultural and intellectual forces and
they had a very real social presence. They cannot be dismissed as mere figments of male imagination. The
'new woman' was an evolving concept and reality and it came to signify much more than simply an
idealised masculine companion.


46

Honig, 'Burning Incense, Pledging Sisterhood: Communities of Women Workers in the Shanghai
Cotton Mills, 1919-1949', p. 710; also Shuqin Cui, Women Through the Lens: Gender and Nation in
a Century of Chinese Cinema (Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 2003), p. 20.
47
Field, 'Selling Souls in Sin City', pp. 111 and 114.
48
Ibid. p. 111.
49
Eugenia Lean, Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in
Republican China (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2007), p. 13.
50
Ibid. pp. 13, 41 and 142.
51
Ibid. 162.
52
Ibid. pp. 5 and 158.
108

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
Bibliography
Primary Sources
Chen, D. The Way of Confucius and Modern Life. In Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook, edited
by H. R. Lan and V. L. Fong, 5-8. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
Chen, H. One Day. In Writing Women in Modern China: An Anthology of Women's Literature from the
Early Twentieth Century, edited by A. D. Dooling and K. M. Torgeson, 87-99. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1998.
Ding, L. Miss Sophia's Diary. In I Myself Am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling , edited by T. E.
Barlow and G. J. Bjorge, 50-81. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989.
Liang, Q. On Women's Education. In The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational
Theory, edited by L. H. Liu, R. E. Karl and D. Ko. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
Lu Q. Freedom of Marriage and Democracy. In Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook, edited by H.
R. Lan and V. L. Fong, 36-40. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
Lu, X. Mourning the Dead. In Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, edited by L. Xun, translated by W. A.
Lyell, 338-361. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
------- New Year's Sacrifice. In Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, edited by L. Xun, translated by W.
A. Lyell, 219-241. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
------- What Happens After Nora Leaves Home In Women in Republican China: A Sourcebook, edited by
H. R. Lan and V. L. Fong, 176-181. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
Zhang, S. The Great Inappropriateness of Women's Emancipation. In Women in Republican China: A
Sourcebook, edited by H. R. Lan and V. L. Fong, 168-171. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.

Secondary Literature

Bailey, P. Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century China. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Chang, M. G. The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: Movie Actresses and Public Discourses in Shanghai,
1920s-1930s. In Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943 , edited by Y. Zhang, 128159. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Cheng, W. City of Working Women: Life, Space, and Social Control in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing.
Berkeley: University of California Institute of East Asian Studies, 2011.
Croll, E. Changing Identities of Chinese Women: Rhetoric, Experience and Self-Perception in TwentiethCentury China. London: Zed Books, 1995.
Cui, S. Women Through the Lens: Gender and Nation in a Century of Chinese Cinema. Honolulu: University
of Hawaii Press, 2003.
Dong, M. Y. Who Is Afraid of the Chinese Modern Girl. In The Modern Girl around the World:
Consumption, Modernity and Globalization, edited by A. E. Weinbaum, L. M. Thomas, P.
Ramamurthy, U. G. Poiger, M. Y. Dong and T. E. Barlow, 194-219. Durham, N.C.: Duke University
Press, 2008.
Dooling, A. D. Women's Literary Feminism in Twentieth-Century China. New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2005.
------- Introduction: Writing Women in Modern China. In Writing Women in Modern China: An Anthology
of Women's Literature from the Early Twentieth Century, edited by A. D. Dooling and K. M. Torgeson,
1-38. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
Field, A. D. Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Hostesses in Print, Film, and Politics,
1920-1949. In Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943, edited by Y. Zhang, 99-127.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Field, A. D. Shanghai's Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919-1954. Hong Kong:
Chinese University Press, 2010.
Finnane, A. Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation. New York: Colombia University Press,
2008.
Gilmartin, C. K. Introduction: May Fourth and Women's Emancipation. In Women in Republican China: A
Sourcebook, edited by H. R. Lan and V. L. Fong, ix-xxv. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E Sharpe, 1999.
Goodman, B. The New Woman Commits Suicide: The Press, Cultural Memory and the New Republic.
The Journal of Asian Studies 64, no. 1 (Feb., 2005): 67-101.
Harris, K. Modern Mulans: Reimagining the Mulan Legend in Chinese Film, 1920s-1960s. In The New
Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s to the 1960s, edited
by E. Otto and V. Rocco, 309-330. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012.

109

Kaleidoscope 6.2. Special Issue, Nicolas Rooney, Imagining 'Modern China'? The Fantasy
and Reality of the 'New Woman' during the 1920s and 1930s
------- The New Woman Incident: Cinema, Scandal and Spectacle in 1935 Shanghai. In Transnational
Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender, edited by S. Hsiao-peng Lu, 277-302. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1997.
Hershatter, G. Dangerous Pleasures: Prostitution and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Shanghai. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1997.
Honig, E. Burning Incense, Pledging Sisterhood: Communities of Women Workers in the Shanghai Cotton
Mills, 1919-1949. Signs 10, no. 4, Communities of Women (Summer, 1985): 700-714.
------- The Contract Labor System and Women Workers: Pre-Liberation Cotton Mills of Shanghai. Modern
China 9, no. 4, Symposium: The Making of the Chinese Working Class (Oct., 1985): 427-454.
Hu, Y. Naming the First New Woman. Nan N 3, no.2 (2001).
Laing, E. J. Selling Happiness: Calendar Posters and Visual Culture in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
Lean, E. Public Passions: The Trial of Shi Jianqiao and the Rise of Popular Sympathy in Republican China.
Berkeley, 2007.
Ng, J. The Experience of Modernity: Chinese Autobiography of the Early Twentieth Century. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press, 2003.
Sang, T.-l. D. Failed Modern Girls in Early-Twentieth-Century China. In Performing "Nation": Gender
Politics in Literature, Theater, and the Visual Arts of China and Japan, 1880-1940, edited by D.
Croissant, C. Vance Yeh and J. S. Mostow, 179-202. Boston: Brill, 2008.
Stevens, S. E. Figuring Modernity: The New Woman and the Modern Girl in Republican China. NWSA
Journal 15, no. 3, Gender and Modernism between the Wars, 1918-1939 (Autumn, 2003): 82-103.
Szeto, N. Y.-Y. Cheungsam: Fashion, Culture and Gender. In Evolution & Revolution: Chinese Dress:
1700s-1990s, edited by C. Roberts, 54-64. Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, 1997.

Nicholas Rooney
College of St Hild and St Bede
Durham University
Nicholas Rooney has recently graduated with a BA in History from the College of St Hild and St
Bede, Durham University. His chief interest lies in the politico-cultural constructions of power in
societies. This paper was prepared as part of the Gender, Society and Cultural Change in China's
Long Twentieth Century module under the guidance of Professor Paul Bailey.

110