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.


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