National Imaginaries: Feminist Fantasies at the Turn of the Century

  • Amy D. Dooling


In the premiere issue of Zhongguo nübao (Chinese women’s journal), one of several dozen feminist magazines that flourished briefly in late imperial China, Qiu Jin (1875–1907) conjures up a stark image of the condition of women in China as a “darkness” (hei’an) steeped in ignorance and injustice. The plight of her female contemporaries, she contends, arises not only from the narrow prescriptions of Confucian femininity or the social practices attending orthodox gender roles, but also from the state of self-delusion engulfing women themselves. Having internalized inherited gender ideologies, Chinese women had come to embrace the conditions of subjugation as a preordained social order. Indeed, according to the self-appointed feminist vanguard of late Qing China, the vast majority of Chinese women, or nüjie, were blissfully oblivious to their demeaned status as the playthings (wanwu), slaves (nuli), or chattel of men, to use the pointed terminology of the day. Feminist transformation, in other words, would lie not just in the arena of concrete sociopolitical reform but, crucially, required change at the deepest psychological levels: in order for women to begin to overcome their oppressed existence, they would have to first learn to imagine themselves, their experience, and their future potential in a radically different light.


Chinese Woman Qing Dynasty Woman Writer Female Reader Feminist Press 
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© Amy D. Dooling 2005

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