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  • Cited by 5
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: May 2009

4 - Gender in modern Chinese culture


'The saturation of cultural texts with metaphors of masculinity and femininity is nowhere more obvious than in the case of the modern, perhaps the most pervasive yet elusive of periodizing terms.' These introductory words of Rita Felski's The Gender of Modernity could just as easily apply to the complexities of China's twentieth-century articulations of the modern as to the European texts of Felski's study. From the outset, they broadly suggest that both concepts - the modern and gender - have acquired meaning through reference to each other. At the same time, they hint at the difficulties in defining them. Neither the modern nor gender refers to fixed or stable entities of time, social practice or representation. Neither can be defined through a lens focused solely on the contours of European trajectories of modernity and gender. 'Alternative' modernities can be seen in the commercial developments of China in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, in the images of domestic spaces that featured in Shanghai's commercial print culture of the 1920s, or in the formation of the student as a political subject of anti-colonial struggle in the early part of the twentieth century. The meanings and forms of femininity and masculinity that configure social relationships and cultural practices, bodies and spaces in China's modern history have similarly been the subject of extensive scholarly debate. What forms have femininity and masculinity taken in the constitution of Chinese modernity?

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