Feminism in the twentieth-century China

Modernity, gender and state

Authored by: Yiqian Hu

Routledge Handbook of East Asian Gender Studies

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138959897
eBook ISBN: 9781315660523
Adobe ISBN:


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From the beginning of the twentieth century, the instrumental considerations of women appeared recurrently in the discourses around the modernisation of the state amongst Chinese political elites and cultural intellectuals. Discovering the importance of women as powerful political subjects in the later Qing dynasty, the initial pursuits of feminism in China were consciously sorted into the concerns, debates and discourses around the national peril and uncertain fate. This initially intimate bonding between women and state, based on the considerations of women’s historic and social utility, occasionally interweaving with the discussion of individual freedom, was accomplished with the birth of Chinese feminism and later paved the basic instrumental tone for the development of Chinese feminism in the long term. This chapter will illustrate that as social conditions, political concerns and economic constraints changed in different periods of the twentieth century, the themes and focus in the discourses of ‘how to be a modern woman in contemporary China’ were also continuously developed. The modernisation project of the state resulted in a series of transformations of social institutions related to women, which enmeshed their relationships into a complicated dynamic full of tension, negotiation and intermittent cooperation in China. This chapter will provide a general review on the transformations of these social institutions and related mainstream social discourse around women, further situating them in a broader context to highlight the dynamic relationships amongst gender, individual and state.

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