AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 716

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Session 716: Gendering China & Beyond

“Honglou meng’s” Treatment of Patriarchal Prescriptions of Female Gender Roles
KatieMarie Yoshiko Evans, Florida State University, China

Many scholars have described “Honglou meng” as feminist and liberating. For example, Han Huiqiang gives credit to Cao Xueqin for being an advocate of a “revolution in sexual morality” and Moss Roberts hails it as “deeply feminine”. If these male authors’ opinions aren’t enough, Angela Jung Palandri sees it as a novel that is “fundamentally about women”. However, while “Honglou meng” does chronicle the activities of women in their daily activities and Baoyu hails women as being more pure than men, this overly simple, feminist message isn’t convincing. If one digs deeper into the sexual ideology and gender prescriptions of the novel, one finds that, as Louise Edwards puts it, this is but another novel where women serve to further the “singularly male struggle”. In this, I do not mean to discount the brilliance of Cao Xueqin or the social importance of “Honglou meng” because I feel that this novel is rightly referred to as the most important Chinese classical novel. However, I feel that it cannot be hailed as a “revolution in sexual morality,” and for all that it is, it is not “deeply feminist”. There are some cases where “Honglou meng” clearly provides sympathy for the plight of women, but this sympathy does not extend past a sad observance of their condition. In my paper, I plan to show how the idea that women are more pure than men brings more pressure and standards upon women how women are imprisoned by their gender roles throughout the novel.

Gendering the Other: Ethnicity and Sexuality in Yesou Puyan
Huili Zheng, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA

Theorists on Western colonial discourse have pointed out the link between gender and the construction of the Other. The link between gender and ethnicity makes gender a powerful vehicle to express the relations of Self and Other. In premodern Chinese representation of ethnic and foreign others, the strategy of gendering the other was usually troped with the yin/yang dualism. By examining the images of non-Han Chinese woman represented in the eighteenth-century novel Yesou puyan (Humble words of an old rustic), this presentation investigates how gender ideology is used as a means to demarcate the boundary between civilization and barbarism. By inscribing the Confucian gender ideology onto the aberrant yin body of the non-Han Chinese woman, the superior yang position of the male Han Chinese Self is asserted. The peripheral non-Han Chinese woman’s body and sexuality thus provides a site not only to project the male Han Chinese Self’s desire and fantasy, but also to inscribe the power relations which are at the core of the relations between Self and Other.

Gender, (De)constructed! - the gender dynamics of two Hong Kong villages in the post-colonial era
Isabella F. S. Ng, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

This study explores the situation women face in the indigenous villages in Hong Kong during the post-colonial era. It examines how the legitimization of their inheritance rights in 1994 poses an effect upon the gender dynamics and class structure of the indigenous village. It asks in particular whether the village has changed dramatically since the ruling. The research focuses the socio-economic and political structures of the present indigenous villages and seeks to explain the present situation, currently ignored by existing scholarship. The aim of this paper is to unravel the complexities of gender dynamics that follows the legitimization of inheritance rights. Through reference to the 24-month period of fieldwork undertaken in the study of gender relations in two rural villages in Hong Kong (from 2008-10), this paper illustrates that changes in gender relations within the villages are highly complex. After more than 15 years since legitimization, improvements occur mainly at the micro-level within households. At the macro-level, however, village men still control the decision-making process. Village men are still using “customs” and “tradition” to distance women from decision-making processes. Legal change to the statutory law has only safeguarded women from losing their rights; but in practice women do not know and seldom exercise their rights. This paper therefore argues that tradition is a contested and constantly renegotiated concept. Tradition and customs cannot, as a result, be used as a reason to curb women’s participation in village affairs. Legal changes towards improving village women’s status have to come with educating them in knowing their rights to bring any improvement in their status.

“Women and the State Ideology: Modernization and Perverted Characters in Chinese Television”
Wing Shan Ho, Montclair State University, USA

The image of women on television, a medium that attracts over one billion viewers, informs us of the values projected onto women’s roles in contemporary China. This paper explores how the treatment of women in the popular TV drama “Narrow Dwellings” speaks against the neo-liberal and globalizing state project by contradicting the dominant nationalistic state ideology that supports modernization and rampant economic development as progressive developments. This paper argues that the emphasis on the modern and global quest encouraged by current state ideology makes use of the traditional images of misers and wastrel to create a negative image of women trying to engage in the modern act of consumption. The sisters, Haiping and Haizao, the main characters in the drama, try every possible means to buy an apartment in the city, including starving themselves and becoming a mistress as ways to save money. The older sister sacrifices her kinship relations by sending her children to the grandparents in order to stay in the modern city. I discuss the ways the depiction of women’s desires and patterns of consumption engages in the debates on the long-established association between women and traditional codes of conduct, virtue, and morality. I argue that the TV drama critiques current state ideology by creating perverted women characters and showing how modernization repeatedly twists women’s social roles so that women are repeatedly cast in the roles of both agent of neo-liberal consumption and victim.

An Emergent Protesting Subject: Yangji Lee's "Kazukime"
Nobuko Yamasaki, Lehigh University, USA

My paper examines how a protesting zainichi Korean female subject emerges in the short story “Kazukime” (1983) written by a zainichi Korean writer Yang-ji Lee (1955-1992). I will explore symbolic meaning through the female character’s volitional act of removing her uterus. In doing so, I will address following questions. What is implied in this peculiar act of uterus removal in 80’s Tokyo? How is she disrupting and intervening into an established medical discourse in Japan in the act of removal. Is she rewriting something in this act? How can we historicize it? In other words, how can we historically locate this uterus removal? How does the removal resonate with tragic past of Korean women? As methods of inquiry, I will first explore how she is reactivating the past in present moment in light of Raymond William’s notion of “the residual.” I will also employ Judith Butler’s notion of passionate complicity with law in subject formation. Moreover, seeing sex not only bodily but also socially, I will explain how the female character is attempting to disrupt the political economy of sex at the site of sexual exchange and circulation where women are treated as raw materials. In examining all these, I will make a case for how a protesting Korean female subject is emerging against Japanese society and its colonial past.

Love and Revolution in Manchuria:The Korean Female Communist in Xiao Jun's novel Village in August
Hyun-jeong Lee, Independent Scholar, South Korea

Xiao Jun’s novel Bayue de xiangcun (Village in August, 1935) is set in Manchuria, Northeast China following the Japanese occupation in 1931 and deals with a company of patriotic Chinese guerrillas and their struggles against the Japanese. This paper will examine the character Anna and how she is signified in the novel given that she is both female and Korean. Since this educated Korean communist plays an important role in raising the political consciousness of her Chinese comrades, Anna has often been understood as a dogmatic and abstract character who represents a model communist. In this paper, I will reexamine Anna as a character torn between love (with the Chinese protagonist Xiao Ming) and revolutionary cause, embodying both revolutionary spirit and individual desire. In doing so, I will demonstrate that while the novel effectively promotes the overcoming of individual desire in favor of revolutionary cause, it also puts emphasis on the value of individual life and satisfaction. I argue that Anna in many respects signifies the historical relationship between Chinese and Korean communists in Manchuria during the 1930s, and more broadly the precarious position of Koreans in the Chinese communist movement. Finally, this paper will address the question of what Manchuria meant in the larger context in metropolitan Shanghai in the 1930s, given that narratives that are set in Manchuria, such as Village in August, often reveal subaltern interests distinct from the ideologically articulated elite discourses in Shanghai.