A few short weeks ago, I gave up my baby.
By which I mean, of course, that I handed in my Honours thesis. What was supposed to be an exciting, grand occasion was in reality a bit of an anti-climax — probably because unlike most Honours students, I actually loved almost every minute of that year, and was sad that it was ending.
To my surprise, I found the process of creating an academic work utterly thrilling, and the challenge of carving out a niche for myself in the scholarly world not a little bit exciting. So, with the help of my fiance (quite the Computer Whisperer), this website was born, as an excuse for me to continue writing, and be engaged in current academic discussions on China.
I began my Honours year with a vague interest in Chinese appropriations of Western literature, the so-called ‘Century of Humiliation’, and the May Fourth Period. In the usual way, my interests gradually narrowed, until I became intrigued by the importance that Henrik Ibsen’s famous play A Doll’s House played in Chinese drama and prose from the early years of the 20th century and beyond. The play is one of my favourites (perhaps thanks largely to a brilliant English literature teacher in High School), and as I began to read about Chinese appropriations of Ibsen’s Nora character, the connections between this figure and the Chinese women’s emancipation movement in the 1920s and 1930s intrigued me. The result was a thesis which examines Chinese Nora-figures as constructed by male authors: in particular, Nora in Lu Xun’s canonical short story, “Regret for the Past,” and Mao Dun’s lesser known “Creation.”
Performing the Chinese Nora: Male-constructed Nora figures in Lu Xun’s “Regret for the Past” and Mao Dun’s “Creation.”
This thesis examines Lu Xun’s Regret for the Past and Mao Dun’s Creation as examples of the significant role that the main character of Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, Nora, played in male-authored twentieth-century Chinese literature. As the years progressed, Nora and her story were appropriated by writers who explored her possible fate in the Chinese context. These authors, largely members of the intellectual elite and predominantly male, constructed the Chinese Nora as a literary trope who reflected women’s new-found liberties and Chinese society’s modernisation. Judith Butler‘s notions of gender performativity and Simone de Beauvoir‘s analysis of female alterity will be employed to demonstrate that the writing (and thus controlling) of liberated Chinese Noras became metonymic of a process of cultural assertion on the part of the male intellectual elite. The use of male narrators and protagonists ensured female silence within fictional works, and so too inadvertently guaranteed that the narrative settings in which Chinese Noras were liberated were dominated by men. It is shown here that despite their iconoclastic calls for the reform of attitudes to gender roles and identities, the male intellectuals’ literary works betray their tendency to contain the female Other within the masculine discourses of their narratives. Thus in Regret for the Past and Creation, Chinese Noras, while ostensibly liberated and modern, are ultimately constructed within the narrative as a female Other for the articulation of the modern male‘s subjectivity.