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Bodies, Emotions and "Feminine Space" : The Changing Femininities and Masculinities in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Literature and Culture


This dissertation theorizes "feminine space" and uses it as a parameter to examine changing visual and textual representations of "modern" Chinese women and men in selected fiction, film, and pictorial magazines over the twentieth century. "Feminine space," pertains to both male and female subjects, and signifies a discursive sphere that writers and cultural critics involuntarily dwell or consciously create to accommodate affective dynamics in narratives. I argue that such dynamics engage the "feminine" side of Chinese modernity, such as irrational emotions, sentimental selves, and bodily pleasures or discomforts of everyday life. These affective vectors have been marginalized by grand discourses that promote modernizing the Chinese nation with imported knowledge and practice of science, democracy and military reforms, ever since China was repeatedly defeated in military contests with foreign powers in late nineteenth century. The perspective of "feminine space," however, draws attention to these trivialized alternative elements of Chinese modernity, which I argue are embedded in literary and cultural productions throughout the twentieth century, including canonical works by May Fourth writers such as Lu Xun who is usually read as an advocate for teleological advancement of the modern nation. After the introductory chapter, there will be 6 other chapters to probe different aspects of the tension between body and gendered identities as played out in literary narratives and cultural debates about body, emotionality and gender identities. Chapters 2-4 focus on the textual and visual representations of Modern Girl and New Woman in order to map out aesthetics and politics conveyed through the female body and emotionality, particularly those concerning the contradiction between Chinese "national" modernity and modern Chinese femininity. The subsequent 3 chapters focus on the representations of men, examining the heritage of and resistance to wen---a pre-modern "soft" masculinity---in the formation of modern male subjectivity in the twentieth-century Chinese context

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