Date of Award

1-1-2012

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Department

History

Sub-Department

Public History

First Advisor

Meili, Steele

Second Advisor

Guo, Jie

Abstract

The (re)construction of female identity in modern China has attracted much academic attention in recent years. While these studies usually highlight such key terms as “women” (fun├â┬╝ 妇女 or n├â┬╝xing 女性) “women's rights” (n├â┬╝quan 女權), “new women” (xin n├â┬╝xing 新女性), few, however, have paid much attention to one specific instrumental term - sisterhood - which brought female subjects together in the making of Chinese modernity. Little account has been taken of the group identification of “modern sisters” and the re-invention of “sisterhood” in the modern Chinese discourse, despite the fact that “sister” (zimei/jiemei 姊妹/姐妹) was perhaps one of the most frequently used term in the nationalist/feminist discourse in late Qing and early Republican China. My dissertation examines the identification and subjectification of modern Chinese women through the hermeneutic circuits around “sisterhood.” I contend that the oscillations between cohesion and fragmentation beneath the “hood” crystalize the crux of the problem in the construction of modern Chinese female identity - the overwhelming frustration in a hasty yet apparently necessary shift from the traditional Chinese womanhood to a gendered cosmopolitan modernity. With an interdisciplinary theoretical framework built upon Benedict Anderson, Michel Foucault, and Charles Taylor, I examine the nationalist sisters promoted by late Qing reformists, the feminist sisters portrayed by Qiu Jin and Shao Zhenhua, the rivaling sisters by Li Hanqiu, Bai Wei and Zheng Zhengqiu, and the desiring and desired sisters by Lu Yin, Ling Shuhua, and Ding Ling. If, as Amy Dooling and Tani E. Barlow have pointed out, the modern Chinese discourse on women is often featured with entanglements and contestations between the feminist discourse and the nationalist discourse, my close textual readings reveal that those problematic intersections also attest to the paradoxical interdependence between the traditional and the modern as each was imagined.

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