AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 51

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Session 51: Allure and Anxiety: Gamblers, Glamour Girls, and New Women in East Asia - Sponsored by the Northeast Asia Council

Organizer and Chair: Hyaeweol Choi, Australian National University, Australia

Discussants: Karen Leong, Arizona State University, USA; Rebecca Copeland, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Seitō (Blue Stockings), a pioneering feminist magazine, was founded in Japan in 1911. It was a hugely influential forum whose impact in fashioning what it meant to be a New Woman in East Asia went beyond the borders of Japan. In honor of the magazine’s centennial celebration in 2011, the panel revisits earlier debates and controversies over the New Woman by turning attention to the blurred boundary that can be found in discursive, spatial and historical domains between New Woman—the presumed forefront of the modern—and female entertainers (geisha, kisaeng, jinü) and gamblers—the locus of old vice. Drawing on historical, literary and cinematic sources, the panel will discuss the new politics of sexuality and the tension that existed between gender politics and capitalist and colonial modernity in East Asia in the first half of the twentieth century. Jan Bardsley' study zeros in on the complex sexual politics manifested in the controversial visit of some prominent New Women (Seitō members) to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters in Tokyo, elucidating the tensions among different groups of women in defining what constituted the New Woman. Ruth Barraclough's close reading of the female entertainers' own magazine, Chang Han (Enduring Bitterness), illuminates the reinvention of female entertainers, whose bonded labor closely intersected with capitalist development and radical politics in colonial Korea. Paola Zamperini's work on the cinematic representations of female gamblers in Shanghai casinos in Republican China lays bare a dynamic site of the evolving sexual politics that ultimately refashioned the ideas of virtue, vice, money, and sexuality.

The New Woman and the Geisha: The Politics of the Pleasure Quarters in Taisho Japan
Jan Bardsley, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

Controversy erupted in Japan in the summer of 1912 when newspaper reporters learned that Hiratsuka Raichō, Nakano Hatsuko, and Otake Kōkichi, all young writers associated with the New Woman’s journal Seitō (Bluestockings), had paid a visit to a high-class geisha house in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. The three had talked long into the evening with the courtesan Eizan and ended up spending the night there. Critics condemned the Bluestockings for “acting like men” and even their New Women colleagues chastised them as mere curiosity seekers. Moral panic ensued that pointed to the dangers of women's education, European literature, and modern mores. This paper explores the sexual politics of the Bluestockings' visit to the Yoshiwara from the perspectives of three radically different sources: public criticism by leaders of women's schools and charity associations, a geisha's memoir, and representations of New Women and geisha interactions found in Seitō fiction. Although respectable women leaders feared the apparent blurring of boundaries between geisha and middle-class daughters, the Bluestockings imagined the two groups as distinct, arguing that the New Woman's intellect and spirituality made her the more modern and noble. As the 1916 memoir of former Shinbashi geisha Ishii Miyo shows, however, geisha, too, could see themselves as "awakened women." Examining the tensions among groups of women highlights the patriarchal contours of female expressions of sexuality in 1910s Japan.

Korean Kisaeng: Modernity, Femininity and Bonded Labour
Ruth A. Barraclough, Australian National University, Australia

In January 1927 a new magazine entitled Chang Han [Enduring Bitterness] appeared in the bookshops and news-stands of Seoul, the capital of the Japanese colony of Korea. On its front cover was a picture of a woman in an elaborate cage while the heading exclaimed: “Comrades, behold this caged body.” As distinct from much of the literature about kisaeng circulating in the colony at this time, Chang Han openly declared that kisaeng were slaves. This project analyses Chang Han and associated texts as a product of the intersection of radical politics, literary experimentation and an increasingly commercialised sex industry in the 1920s and 1930s in colonial Korea. In so doing it re-appraises the crucial role of bonded labour in the development of capitalism and its forms of modernity in colonial Korea. The 1920s were a decade of complex reinvention for kisaeng. As they negotiated the shift from ‘feudal courtesans’ to arbiters of a modern, hybrid femininity in the kisaeng houses of Pyongyang and Seoul we are able to trace the role of bonded sexual labour in the construction of recognizably modern forms of femininity in colonial Korea.

Shanghai Ladies’ Night Out: Gender and Gambling in Chinese Cinema
Paola Zamperini, Northwestern University, USA

This paper maps the alluring identities, desires, and anxieties of women, respectable and otherwise, who gamble in movies made in 1930s China. By analyzing the nexus between gambling and women, we will uncover how these representations engaged the changing social landscapes of modern China, especially in terms of the connection between money and sexuality, class and virtue. In late imperial fictional sources, gambling was a social and moral evil closely associated with illegal activities and, almost invariably, the male gender. Consequently, in Ming and Qing novels, women appeared as either the hapless victims of male gamblers’ addictive ways–in their respectable roles of mothers, wives, and sisters–, or as cunning enablers who gambled in the brothels where they worked as jinü, prostitutes, to entice naïve male patrons to waste their fortune. This situation changed dramatically when, during the late Qing periods, new modes of writing women, their relationship to money, and their engagement with gambling, start to appear in novels, short stories, and newspaper articles. But nowhere is the evolution of the gambling woman–and her layered and protean persona that blurred social and ethical boundaries–better reflected than in Republican era cinematic representations. Female gamblers, and the “co-ed” or often women-only space of the Shanghai casinos, provided film-makers and viewers alike with an ideal vehicle to simultaneously explore, exploit, and enjoy the often tortuous and torturing ways of the new women of China, and their novel fashions to relate to money, gender roles, respectability, and vice.