Professor Letty Chen
15 February 2015
Vision of Women’s Liberation During China Identity Crisis
The May Fourth Movement was a period of great change for traditional China in terms of political structure, values, and identity. During this time, China endured an identity crisis, caught in between the rigid and oppressive ideals of Confucianism and tempting Western values that were practiced by a more thriving outside world. Because China’s national identity is linked with the individual’s self-identity, writers during this time were able to provide significant influence through their works, which would bring into light the problems of crisis China was facing. The root of Chinese civilization of this time, being in a constant state of crisis, can be attributed to the difficulty in adopting new ideals while trying to hold on to comfortable traditional ones. An especially important facet of this reform was the introduction of the concept of the “New Woman”.
Although the sole idea of women’s liberation was seen by some as less significant than the big picture of national transformation, it is not something to overlook. While it was an elite idea at the time, “the spirit of the age gave women, like men, a chance to dream” (Mitter 72). Women’s liberation equated the building of the new identity of a nation as it would shed oppressive Confucian ideals. Before, the inability to adopt a modern nation state fostered the patriarchal oppression of women. However, the May Fourth Movement was an opportune medium for subjugated Chinese women, along with intellectual youths, to instill their deserved and equal rights. It is said that the Chinese revolution of this time “encompassed the most comprehensive effort to alter gender relations and end women’s subordination of all of China’s twentieth-century revolutions” (Mitter 147). May Fourth Writers, both male and female, recognized the women’s plea for a fate that does not preclude freedom to live as a liberated individual. These writers wrote for a collective cause to instill this idea to the masses.
During this transitional time, while the voice that supported modern ideas was that of many loud and passionate intellectuals, there were still those who were still naïve about how to conduct themselves during this period of conflict. Many, especially women, were bounded by traditional values, but also encouraged by modern thinking as they would gradually realize there is an alternative to a predestined and repressive life. In Shen Congwen’s “Xiaoxiao,” the protagonist, named Xiaoxiao, is portrayed as a young, innocent girl who is introduced as very passive and indifferent about stifling cultural norms. This is shown, for example, by her lack of sorrow when assigned a marriage partner at a very young age. Another instance of Xiaoxiao’s ignorance is shown when the grandfather teases her about becoming a “coed,” a progressive female student who rejects Confucian ideals. Although she has no idea what being a coed entails, she has an inclination to desire putting herself in their shoes. The encroaching presence of the coeds, in the lives of the peasants, is evidential of a changing society. After growing up a few years, Xiaoxiao meets a farmhand named Motley Mutt with whom she has an affair while her too young husband is none the wiser. Motley tells Xiaoxiao stories about the coeds which “inflamed Xiaoiao’s imagination…all because Motley characterized them as instances of ‘freedom’” (89), which further supports Xiaoxiao’s desire to chase the idea of freedom. In this story, I think Motley represents the counterpoint to traditionalists’ views on Western ideals. Although he embodies adultery, it is a sort of contrived form of adultery due to the absurdly prematurely decided fate of Xiaoxiao of which she had no say. Motley is, in a way, Xiaoxiao’s brief escape from her already predicated lifestyle of an oppressed woman. However, when Xiaoxiao realizes that she is pregnant...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document