New Women and Modern Girls

Stevens, Sarah E. “Figuring Modernity: The New Woman and the Modern Girl in Republican China.” NWSA Journal 15, no. 3 (October 1, 2003): 82–103.

Description: The concept of “New Women” was not limited to one set of characteristics in Republican China, and the concept of “New Women” was not the only new identity that women could hold during the 1920s and 30s in China. “Modern Girls” were another new category of women introduced and they had distinct differences from “New Women.” In fact, the two archetypes actually reflect opposing ideologies about modernity.

Themes: gender, women’s place in society, women’s roles, women’s role in the larger scheme of China, modernity, ideologies

Analytical issues:

In the 1920s and 30s in China, New Women were women that felt a strong sense of nationalism and supported China in its quest to modernize since it would raise the country up. Contrastingly, Modern Girls saw modernity as the reason for China’s cultural loss and individuality. Interestingly, the concept of New Women was pushed by male intellectuals and progressives in China, while Modern Girls were often promoted by women authors who claim that even if China modernizes, women still do not have voices and struggle to find their voice in society.Furthermore, despite their similarities in appearance, New Women were always depicted as positive in popular culture since they supported nationalism, while Modern Girls were depicted as negative since they were hesitant to embrace a national sense of modernity. Modern Girls particularly struggle with modernity because traditional women’s roles were changed but new women’ roles in society were not defined, leaving many women feeling lost. It is also important to note that females as a distinct sex and category of personhood only started to enter the vernacular in the 1920s. Before that, women were defined by their gender roles and their ties to familial relations. This is where we can see the Western idea of women opposing men sprout in China. Taking all of this and applying it my research project, the opposition between New Women and Modern Girls could give one explanation to why these women characters in the films Peach Girl, The Goddess, and New Women appear to be more modern compared to Confucian women, but still struggle to succeed on their own in society.


Rickshaw Men in Real Life


We’ve been reading about rickshaw men from a historical perspective in David Strand’s book Rickshaw Beijing and from a fictional perspective in Lao She’s book Rickshaw Boy. In both we get a sense of what life is like for Rickshaw pullers, but it can be difficult to imagine. By looking at the following photographs taken in the late 1910s into the 1920s in Beijing, China, we can understand what each of the authors were referring to when it came to rickshaw businesses and culture. The first two images show the contrast between the types of rickshaw businesses. The first, is a smaller rickshaw stand and a place where rickshaw pullers can spend the nights, whereas the other is an entire stand where rickshaw pullers can come to rent their rickshaws for the day. In Rickshaw Boy, Old Cheng’s place would be like the first image, a shelter for rickshaw pullers to spend the night or a few days, whereas Harmony Shed would be the rickshaw stand depicted in the second picture. The third and fourth pictures depict the differences in classes among rickshaw pullers. The third image, with the two rickshaw men and empty rickshaws shows how they wear somewhat regular rickshaw clothing. Contrastingly, the last image shows a rickshaw puller who has been hired by a westerner, and he is wearing a nicer outfit, and is therefore, of a higher rickshaw class. Only rickshaw pullers that are more skilled and of the higher classes within the rickshaw pulling community got to pull westerners or wealthier citizens.  In Rickshaw Boy, Xiangzi describes the various classes of rickshaw pullers, and one way to determine which class a rickshaw puller is by his clothes. Xiangzi specifically says that men that pull foreigners wear the white shirts and black pants with the black shoes (4).  This gives them an overall cleaner look and more appealing to foreigners. The very obvious distinction between the classes of rickshaw pullers almost creates submarkets within the rickshaw market. As Xiangzi notes about the rickshaw pullers who pull foreigners, “They might as well be engaged in a trade all their own.” We also see Xiangzi hoping between the various classes of rickshaw pullers through Rickshaw Boy, and we see how that not only is there competition between rickshaw pullers in general, but there is competition between the pullers within the classes, making the rickshaw business a difficult one to thrive in unless you are of a certain height, age, and have a certain amount of strength.

How “Modern” Can the Modern Woman Be?

Edwards, Louise. “Policing the Modern Woman in Republican China.” Modern China 26, no. 2 (April 1, 2000): 115–47.

Description: Just as depicted in the three films I am using as my major primary sources, (Peach Girl, The Goddess, New Women) Edwards describes in her article how women are put into a place where success as defined by men and society is nearly unachievable.

Themes: Conflicting gender roles, conflicting standards for the “New Woman” concept, conflicting ideologies between the two major political forces, politics in general, morality, women’s role with morality, China’s state as a nation on a global spectrum, China’s morality, China’s commercial endeavors, Westernization, Imperialism (China was weak like a woman because they got kicked around by Japan and Europe aka the “men” countries)

Analytical issues:

The concept of a “modern woman” in China was very narrow and filled with double standards that ultimately led to marking of the majority of women as “pseudo-modern women.” As Edwards explains, the intellectual reformists in China, when not being suppressed by the GMD (The Nationalist Party), believed that the morality of the nation was tied to the morality of women, since traditionally, women were supposed to be the pinnacle of morality. New women were supposed to be independent, seek education, seek political action, all while still maintaining their perfect morality. Women who sought to keep their morality by following the old roles women played, such as being a mother and the leader of the domestic sphere, were seen as outdated and therefore could not help the state. Meanwhile, the GMD pushed more commercial activity in China, and so the “New Woman” evolved into a marketing figure from an intellectual ideal. Women who gave into the commercial view of the “New Woman” were not actually New Women, though because New Women didn’t conform to such superficiality. Basically, Edwards maps out how from every angle of society women were damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. Thus, there was no way women could become a “New Woman.”


Independent Women in 1930s China Reading/Writing Schedule

Research Reading & Writing Schedule

Spring Break

  • Search for scripts for the Peach Girl and The Goddess- if not found then transcribe it
  • Watch Centre Stage and take notes that connect Ruan Lingyu’s story to her characters’ stories.
  • Organize secondary sources based on what they talk about and which films they apply to.

Week 9

  • Search for any secondary sources on the specific films that are lacking secondary sources
  • Read/make notes of evidence for my thesis in sources that deal with the 3 movies.

Week 10

  • Read/make notes of evidence for my thesis in sources that deal with the 3 movies.
  • Read/make notes of evidence for my thesis in sources that deal with society views toward women and focusing on how they think women are becoming modern but searching for how women are still restrained by societal pressures

Week 11

  • Create outline for paper and begin filling in the sources for each of the various sections

Week 12

  • Begin writing the research paper based off of the outline and fine tune the connections between the films and the secondary sources

Week 13

  • Finish writing the research paper

Week 13, Friday April 10th

Paper due!

An Independent Woman

“I’ve always wanted a man who would really understand me. If he doesn’t understand me and my needs, then what good are love and empathy?”

Sophia poses a juxtaposition to the other female characters we have read about thus far. Those female characters wanted good husbands but ultimately because they knew the decision was not up to them since they were living under Confucian societal pressures. For example, Dihu’a in The Sea Regret wanted her engagement to work out because she knew she needed to have a husband in order to fulfill the right standards in society. She did not seem to care if he really understood her, but instead just wanted him to be a functioning member of society. Here, we see early on in her diary that she has already created her own standard for a husband-one that will understand her as a person instead of merely loving her a wife. Love and understanding go together for her, which is an ideal that is has not been presented so far in our readings.


Bobbing for Ideas

I’ve had a difficult time figuring out what to write about. First I wanted to write about moon cakes, then I wanted to write about dragon boats, but with both topics I realized I would have no idea what I was talking about and would have no idea how to go about figuring out what I was talking about. Instead of wasting time on those efforts, I decided to scan through the Ling Long magazines, look at the pictures and see if I could come up with an idea. In a 1931 issue came across a bunch of pictures of westerners who of course looked like typical 1930s Americans/Europeans fashion-wise. I noticed when getting to the pictures of the Chinese women in the magazine that they had similar hairstyles as the Western women: the short, wavy, somewhat slicked downward look. At first I figured that the models were just taking cues from Western fashion, but then I started to think about if the 1920s and 1930s in China also had a major revelation, like Western countries when it came to women’s hairstyles (that it is possible for women to look good with short hair). I know in the US cutting your hair into a bob was a symbol of independence and controlling your own image for women, so maybe it was the same for women in China, especially since we know that people were already challenging traditional ideas of marriage and women’s roles, so why not women’s physical appearances too? I think I could possibly argue that the rise of bob or short hair in China coincided with women’s strive to be more independent and free within society.

This is was the picture that inspired me:

Ling Long Magazine, 1931, Issue 2, Page 37.


It’s All Mencius’s Fault.

pomegranate flower

Pomegranate Flower from Pixabay by Bluesnap

“So tortuous, so bizarre was the fantastic course of our love for each other!” (98).

The Stones in the Sea by Fu Lin and translated by Patrick Hanan is a story about a young man, Master Qin, and young woman, Aren, who fall in love and want to get married, but must go through the societal processes of courting, and obtain permission from their parents in order to be together. The process of marriage during their time period (the early 1900s) was dictated by a philosophy brought on by Mencius, a Confucian philosopher. Part of the process of marriage includes either parental consent and/or the use a matchmaker and lots of formal, yet informal meetings between the families. Therefore, “dating” as Western people know it is a complicated process that Master Qin and Aren try to engage in, but ultimately turn to more secretive measures in order to get to know each other and show their parents that they would be a good match. Master Qin, the narrator, expresses his frustration with the marriage system and how fragile the entire situation can be especially since the decision on who he will marry is not entirely his. Both Master Qin and Aren are tortured by the lack of control they have in regards to their love life. In addition to societal practices, the Boxer Rebellion breaks out and complicates matters even further since they would not be able to just elope and run away together. When it comes to the idea of love and marriage, the young people in China in the early 1900s are very repressed but some how Master Qin and Aren find a way to be with each other, if only for brief periods of time, before Aren tragically dies.


As a senior History major at UMW, I have discovered that I am much more interested in certain topics and themes in History than others. Last semester I wrote my senior thesis for the History major on Mount St. Helens and Americans’ interactions with it. It was an environmental and cultural U.S. history, which are two areas of history that definitely intrigue me.

“Swimmers Beside Spirit Lake,” ca. 1950., State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives,, Accessed January 14, 2014.

Jessica Reingold, “Mount St. Helens 34 Years Later,” August 7, 2014, Personal Collection of Jessica Reingold.

I also really enjoy technology history even if I don’t understand everything that happened with the technology evolving.

Public Domain Image from PixelBay

Within U.S. cultural history i’m very interested in social issues and things like the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Although I’m more comfortable with U.S. history, i’m interested in cultural history in general, especially since I have not had the pleasure of traveling outside of the country yet. Other cultures fascinate me even if I don’t entirely understand their practices.

The underlying points of the identity of a culture is especially intriguing to me because it helps me understand how a people or country became a certain way. Lastly, I think Earth’s history is extremely interesting and I sometimes think Historians and Geologists should work closer together. 

Public Domain Image from PixelBay

Public Domain Image from PixelBay


Getting a Wife aka Getting a Room

Family, Marriage, and Match-Making in a Confucian Society: Pre-History 

Patricia Ebrey, “Meanings of Marriage” and “Making a Match” from The Inner Quarters
(1993), 45-60, 61-81.

Going into these readings I thought that Ancient Confucian Chinese marriages were going to be basic arranged marriages that heavily favored the patriarchy, since that’s a fairly typical scenario throughout various cultures’ histories. Although I was somewhat right in that ultimately there is a patriarchy and that the vast majority of marriages were arranged I somewhat surprised to learn how complex these marriages and how much influence the women (either mother or daughter) could have in the Confucian marriage arrangements. With the mothers of potential brides creating their own standards along with societal standards, it’s impressive that women were usually married by the time they were 19. Narrowing the field to only husbands at the same class or above them was not entirely a shock since it would make sense for the mothers to want their daughters to move up in society, but to also make sure they had high test scores, was a feature I had never heard of. It reminded me of when high schoolers date today and the parents ask if the significant other gets good grades in hopes they will be a positive influence.

The process for marriage in Confucian China was more of a business merger rather than a celebration. The families look for families they will be compatible with and function with, and the wife has to almost attend to both sides of the family even though her primary duties do lie with new family. In this sense, although the majority marriages today (at least modern Western marriages) are not arranged the idea of a marriage becoming a business merger is still relevant, since many relatives will be forced to interact with each other and it’s better when relatives on either side of the family get along.  Therefore, for families in Confucian China to seek marriage arrangements with family friends and to make arrangements at all does seem to make perfect sense. The only major thing that appears missing in Confucian marriages is the whole concept of love between the spouses. Instead, the “main” love is from the  parents who are trying to find the best husbands or wives for their child (and for themselves) It’s a different way of expressing love in marriage than from modern Western marriages, but it seems to still be genuine.