Grace S. Fong and Richard Smith, eds. Different Worlds of Discourse.
Transformation of Gender and Genre in Late Qing and Early Republican
Moreover, Different Worlds of Discourse focuses on gender. The late Qing was an important period as women began to emerge into the public space, as writers, scholars, heroines in literature, as well as objects of male gaze in pictorials. The collection shows that women took up new roles in literature, society and the cultural world, demonstrating that gender is an indispensable category of analysis for revisiting the Reform era as a period of cultural vitality. This is reflected in the wide variety of literary genres and forms in which women participated, including poetry, biography, narrative literature, scholarly commentaries on the classics, as well as periodicals and pictorials.
Part I, Transformations of Gender Roles, starts with Harriet Zurndorfer’s examination of the Qing female scholar, Wang Zhaoyuan (1763-1851), and Liang Qichao’s refusal to acknowledge her as a kaozheng scholar. By doing so, Zurndorfer shows that while Liang was generally regarded as an early political advocate of women’s rights, he dismissed the contribution of women in the realm of scholarship. Hu Ying’s chapter discusses Wu Zhiying (1868-1934), a close associate of the anti-Qing revolutionary martyr Qiu Jin (1875-1907). Unlike most cainü, who were skilled in writing, or revolutionary heroines such as Qiu Jin, Wu used calligraphy to express her artistic talents and engage with spiritual needs. Grace S. Fong studies another associate of Qiu Jin, Lü Bicheng, who was a famous poet of the ci genre and one of the first women to use travel writing to explore subjectivity, modernity and space. Both Hu Ying’s and Grace S. Fong’s chapters demonstrate that female subjectivity was not restricted to political activism, but also exhibited in literary and artistic practices. Xiaoping Cong’s chapter traces the development of female teachers and female normal schools in the late Qing. She argues that female education evolved from the nurturing of talented women among gentry families, which was an important role assigned to mothers.
Part II, Transformations of Genres, examines the construction of women’s images and the way in which these were tied to changing literary genres in the late Qing. Joan Judge’s chapter shows how foreign women’s biographies were introduced in new-style textbooks, women’s journals and compilations to inculcate ideals of heroism, patriotism and social commitment among literate women. Most of the biographies were translations based on Japanese texts, and Judge argues that they were “new creations, products of the Chinese cultural imaginary as much as the result of foreign borrowing” (p. 148). In her chapter, Jing Tsu discusses the development of the image of the female assassin, which shaped visions of radical female political heroism in a variety of late Qing fiction genres, including nation-saving, idealist and science fiction. Ellen Widmer’s chapter continues her work on the novelist, Zhan Kai, who used the penname Siqi Zhai. Widmer analyzes his 1907 novel, Bihai zhu (Jewels in an Azure Sea), which tried to depict the character of a courtesan as a modern-minded patriot to inspire imagined elite women readers during the late Qing crisis.
The focus of Part
Overall, this Different Worlds of Discourse succeeds in showing the vibrant cultural scene and the diversity of discourses in the late Qing. It makes an important contribution to our understanding and opens up new terrain for further investigation. This work breaks new ground in gender studies, literary and media studies as well as social history. It is also easily accessible to readers who are not experts on Qing China. Each chapter is fascinating in its own right and would be of interest to readers from a wide range of disciplines. Given the broad spectrum of the collection and the innovative studies included, I think it should be considered one of the standard works on gender discourse in the late Qing
(Angelina Chin, Pomona College, CA)