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Theorizing the Female Body: Li Xiaojiang, Dai Jinhua and the Female Avant-Garde Writers

Abstract

In the roughly twenty years between the end of the Cultural Revolution and the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 and the Fourth World Conference on Women organized by the UN Commission on the Status of Women held in Beijing in 1995, with China’s newly opened economic and cultural spaces allowing individuals the means to express themselves in ways not possible in the preceding fifteen years (at least), essentialized gender difference and heteronormative sexual practices once more came to the front of social awareness. In this new atmosphere of increased personal and economic freedom the “woman question” finds new life. In the same climate where young women find themselves confronted with stereotypes such as the “baigujing” career woman, and contemplating “eating the rice bowl of youth,” Chinese feminists such as Dai Jinhua and Li Xiaojiang have been and continue to promote their own kinds of “corporeal feminism” as a means for women to counteract gender oppression and create their own individual identities. However, by locating female selfhood in the female body, this corporeal feminism also runs the risk of essentializing gender difference, at the same time that it forces us to ask what exactly constitutes a woman.

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