Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Comparative Literature


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Michael Gibbs Hill


The turning of the twentieth century witnessed the dramatic transformation of Chinese society. In searching for a modern nation, Chinese women, in many political and literary works, were portrayed as both the emblem of China’s problems and the crucial solution. Despite growing scholarly interest in the entanglement between Chinese nationalist and feminist discourses, much remains to be explored, especially from the perspective of how Chinese people approached their own past and tradition. My project will approach these discourses via the question of women from the non-Western perspective by exploring the images of “exceptional woman” (nü haojie 女豪傑) in literary narratives and rhetoric in late imperial China. While many scholars have examined representations of women’s images of this time, I focus on those of “exceptional women” to explore the greater values embedded within the process of shaping, which demonstrate that “exceptional women” connote more significant understandings than the general categories, such as “women heroes” or “women soldiers.” In this dissertation, I study three types of women specifically: female martyr, radical female assassins with scientific ideas, and feminist reformers and activists for women’s rights. By examining the illustrations, transformations, and circulation of images of these exceptional women in media and literary works, this project explores how modernization in China was mediated by the tension between past and present, East and West, as well as how literary writings inspired and encouraged both national salvation and feminist emancipation. This project also investigates the connections between literary genres and feminist presentation, and contributes to the fields of gender studies, genre studies, and literary circulation and imagination.