JianMei2 作者：刘剑梅 阅读次数：
Feminizing Politics: Reading Bai Wei, Lu Yin, and Ding Ling
The emergence of the image of “New Women” shows the intimate relationship between politics and gender in Chinese society around 1930. The way male writers such as Jiang Guangci deal with sex roles depends on how they articulate the field of power. In order to present a uniformity, albeit false, to serve the utopian aim of revolution, they link gender identification to class identification. Thus, the subordinated position of women in the binary sex/gender system is reconsolidated through a pre-established position or a uniform entity on the political landscape. Indeed, this false uniformity requires that women have politically coherent identities based on alliance with other subordinated groups, romantically subsuming all differences. However, can the signifier “woman” ever reach final, full unity if the notion itself symbolizes castration or lack/loss and bears illusive investments and promises? Can this identity be stabilized and coherent if the “subject-position” of women never existed in the symbolic order of sexual difference?
Some images of New Women produced by leftist male writers, such as Wang Manying in Jiang Guangci’s The Moon Forces Its Way Through the Clouds and Sun Wuyang and Zhang Qiuliu in Mao Dun’s Eclipse, incarnate the combination of seductive femininity and revolutionary ideas. By using New Women’s sexual bodies as instruments to convey revolutionary ideology, these male writers try to fight against the dominant and repressive patriarchal system. The seductive bodies, defined by nature, are referred to as prior to their gender, the cultural and social construction of sex. The cultural association of mind with masculinity and body with femininity actually reinforces the hierarchical system; these women’s bodies are subordinated to their revolutionary minds, complying with a masculinist and phallogocentric language. While these New Women confidently control their sexual bodies to achieve romantic revolutionary purposes, their sex constitutes what Luce Irigaray calls the unrepresentable. In other words, within a language of univocal masculine signification, the female cannot speak; she is linguistically absent. Therefore women, as empty signs in male leftists’ treatments of “revolution plus love,” can only express masculine illusions and operate within heterosexual and phallic cultural conventions. But can male writers engender women without succumbing to phallocentric politics? If we assume that male writers sever female bodies from their inherent meaning, how do female writers deal with gender and power? Can they speak for the female sex in a more authentic way? Is there a more authentic way to talk about gender?
Among the writers of “revolution plus love,” some females, such as Bai Wei, Lu Yin, and Ding Ling, contribute their interpretations of gender within the matrix of power. Full of anxiety, Bai Wei’s A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird (Zhadan yu zhengniao) presents her perplexed attitude toward the complicated relationship between female bodies and politics. In Lu Yin’s biographical narrative Ivory Rings (Xiangya jiezhi), the famous love story of Shi Pingmei and Gao Junyu, the rhetoric of sentimentalism shapes and limits the ideology of revolution. Describing the conflict between urban liberal women and the masses, Ding Ling’s Weihu (Weihu) and Shanghai, Spring 1930 I & II (Yijiu sanling nian chun Shanghai 1 & 2) explore New Women’s dilemma and sensibility in revolutionary discourse, which uses and constitutes gender identity. Although these female writers inevitably repeat the “revolution plus love” formula, their works force us to rethink the gender/power relationship and consider the differences and similarities between their and male writers’ treatment of the same topic. However, we might trap ourselves within the framework of male/female sexual difference if we believe that the female writers construct gender more authentically or more originally than do the male writers. Is it possible for these female writers to redefine their sexuality if, according to Irigaray, the feminine can never be understood as a “subject” or “other” since it is already excluded by the conventional language of the masculine mainstream? Obviously, this is difficult to answer, since we have to first question who bestowed upon Irigaray the privilege of seeing through gender politics. So the puzzle remains: Does Bai Wei’s melancholy claim that “there is no truth for the feminine” mean that there is an original truth, but she just cannot find it within the masculine dominant language? Or is there simply no truth at all for the feminine, in female or male writings?
My reading of women writers’ use of the revolution and love theme scrutinizes how the figures of New Women are produced and destabilized through performative acts against the complex cultural background of the emerging leftist ideology. I do not regard the subject position of women as preexisting, a coherent feminist resistance, but rather as part of a discursive construction that is perpetually renegotiated and rearticulated. Borrowing Judith Butler’s gender theory, my study discusses how the prohibitions of patriarchal systems and leftist ideology impel and sustain the gender performativity in these female writers’ fiction; how the boundaries of female bodies and identifications of women’s gender are destabilized through performative acts; and how these writers’ imitations and displacements of the New Woman, fabricated by the regulatory masculine gender, have opened a space of resignification and recontextualization.
Naming and Renaming
The category of woman, nüxing, was produced as a discursive sign and an antitraditional subject position within the context of modernist revolution beginning in 1917. As Tani Barlow puts it, “nüxing was one half of the Western, exclusionary, essentialized, male/female binary” and “was never a disfigured or unsuccessful replication of Victorian woman; she was always a recording to modernist discourse on the sexual construction of gender, situated in a semicolonial context.” Built on the ground of European humanism, nüxing played a particularly significant role in the masculinist framework of anti-Confucian discourse. According to Barlow,
when Chinese translators invoked the sex binary of a Charles Darwin they valorized notions of female passivity, biological inferiority, intellectual inability, organic sexuality, and social absence through reference to the location of these “truths” in European social scientism and social theory. Thus Chinese women became nüxing only when they became the other of man in the Victorian binary. Nüxing was foundational when woman became nanxing’s (man’s) other.
Therefore, although nüxing appeared to celebrate the new expression of women, in contrast to their fixed abject role in Chinese tradition, it required a universalized identification with the social norm of “sex,” which was accomplished through repeating the regulatory framework of the feminine/masculine binary. After the term nüxing entered cultural circulation, it eventually became a contextual background against which people could talk about feminism or femininity in that historical period. In other words, it became a way of naming that could be understood as a special form of power generated by the hierarchical system of sexual differences.
However, the year 1917 was nothing more than a mythical moment that engendered the naming of nüxing. The emergence of feminist discourse actually can be easily traced to the late Qing period. Accompanying the rise of national discourse, the woman question became the central issue in the most controversial debates over social reform in the late nineteenth century. Some distinguished male intellectuals, such as Tan Sitong and Liang Qichao, radically advocated feminist agendas as they engaged in nation-building. Liang’s promotion of new fiction also produced surprisingly diverse versions of feminist discourse that were adequate to a range of political positions. Yet feminist discourse in the late Qing period focused more on the narration of nation than on the theme of individuality and subjectivity that was a significant part of the naming of nüxing during the May Fourth movement.
After the May Fourth movement, especially after Lu Xun’s The Regret for the Past (Shangshi) offered a tragic picture of emancipated women in a dark society, the question of nüxing was raised. People wondered what the liberated woman could do after escaping from a family, as in the case of Ibsen’s Nora in A Doll’s House (1879). Although Lu’s heroine, Zijun, is well educated and liberal, she still cannot survive within the unyielding patriarchal system. This new nüxing, who differentiates herself from traditional women by knowledge based on Western humanism, ends up in the oppressed situation she originally fought against. But while Lu Xun conveys sympathy for their suffering, his emphasis on victimized, exploited, and oppressed women inadvertently fixes nüxing in the passive position.
During the transitional period from literary revolution to revolutionary literature, the most notorious images of New Women were those who no longer fettered themselves within romance, marriage, and family but walked out to stand on the front line of revolution. The opposite of the passive and powerless traditional image, New Women at this stage were imbued with strong wills and power, manipulating their own seductive feminine bodies in order to achieve the utopian goal of revolution. “Nüxing” stood for standards and norms overridden by imaginary identification and stabilized by a symbolic function; the New Women were designated through the forced reiteration of norms. In other words, the naming of nüxing mobilized the speculative production of the New Woman, which could not be seen as simply a passive replication of women as a universalized, oppressed group. Instead of being inert reiterations of nüxing, such as Zijun, New Women began to transgress the limits of that category.
The New Women’s most interesting transgression is of the boundary of the female body. Most famous fictional New Women, such as Wang Manying, Sun Wuyang, and Zhang Qiuliu, possess carnal desire, alluring breasts, beautiful figures, and fashionable modern clothes. They present new ideas, urbanization and westernization, and they reflect revolutionary ideology. In this sense, the powerful and sexual bodies of these femmes fatales do not carry a perverse meaning but positive and progressive connotations. They also convey male anxiety during the transitional period from the May Fourth movement to revolutionary literature. That is to say, these New Women’s bodies cannot be uninvolved in a power dynamic but are closely associated with male writers’ various responses to and representations of social and political change, even if sometimes these appear conflicting and confusing. The narrative language used by male writers to describe these women’s bodies combines the manner of voyeurism and the atmosphere of celebration. The celebration of the emancipation of women’s bodies is not unrestrained but occurs through the gaze of leftist writers, through revolutionary discourse’s negotiation with Chinese patriarchy, and through the displacement and reproduction of the visually fetishized object.
The fluctuating status of New Women results in the relentless separation of sexual body and progressive mind, which deprives women’s bodies of feeling and vision. It is precisely the discursive practice of this particular historical context that ensures the body/mind distinction. Besides the clash between the traditional and the new, this distinction is generated by contradiction within the new, between the residue of Western individualism inherited from the May Fourth movement and the “newer” Marxist ideology and collective consciousness. As a consequence, these sexual, fetishized bodies molded by Western material culture come to haunt, embarrass, and even subvert the revolutionary discourse. Therefore, women’s bodies are not simple or unchanging objects. Their instabilities open up a critical space for us to reexamine feminism and women’s relationship to revolutionary discourse.
Although the contours and the movement of New Women’s bodies are produced by the power relationships and the reiteration of norms, the hegemonic force of law is not solid and permanent; and passive surfaces of women’s bodies are not created by gender and power. Revolutionary norms can never fully fix and define the boundaries of bodies, since their reiterations are only temporary political promises. Between them are gaps and fissures through which women’s bodies can escape or exceed those norms. In my reading of some female writers’ representations of gender and power in the theme of “revolution plus love,” I will discuss how revolutionary discourse mobilizes the formation of the subject, the narrator, and the identification of women, and how female writers, rearticulating that normative category, redefine so-called New Women within the gaps and fissures of that discourse.
I do not presume a coherent identity among these female writers. Instead, I understand the narrator and the subject to emerge only in the matrix of gender/power relations. Like Judith Butler, I understand gender performativity “not as the act by which a subject brings into being what she/he names, but, rather, as that reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains.” Female writers cannot determine the original truth for the feminine; instead, the so-called truth only belongs to the complicated process of gender performativity, which involves a series of power struggles. I consider these women’s writings a critical resource in the struggle to reiterate and replace the very term “symbolic order.” The way these writers deploy gender to represent and interpret revolutionary discourse opens to question the myth of the Third-World woman with a stable and coherent identity. Such an inquiry sees revolutionary discourse and the feminist point of view as conditions of articulation for each other. Thus we can create a dynamic map of how power forms and/or erases women’s identities, in which revolutionary discourse is also limited by feminist expressions of love.
Bai Wei: The Hysterical Mode of Writing
Neither Chinese nor Western scholars have paid much attention to Bai Wei, even though her plays and fiction are closely connected to her time’s belief in progress and revolution. A female leftist who joined the Wuhan revolutionary regime in 1927 and the League of Leftist Writers in 1930, she was not recognized by the literary field until Lu Xun published her play Fight Out of the Ghost Tower (Dachu youling ta) in Torrent (Benliu) in 1928. The sharp female voice is the primary characteristic of Bai Wei’s writing, which never yields women’s concerns to social critiques. Unlike female revolutionaries depicted by Mao Dun and Jiang Guangci, who are merely tropes of Chinese modernity, allegories of revolution, Bai Wei is a typical agent of womanhood in the revolutionary context. What is intriguing is that her role as a real “agent” of female revolutionaries was perpetually disrupted and “disqualified” by her own body infected with venereal disease.
Bai Wei’s personal romance and disillusionment with both revolution and love were documented in her confessional autobiographical novel, Tragic Life (Beiju shengya), which, for Amy Dooling, “can be read as a conscious reclamation of the private as a simultaneously social and political subject.” In this nine-hundred-page novel, Bai Wei told the complete story of her ten-year romance with the poet Yang Sao: their first encounter, her contraction of gonorrhea from him, their quarrels and separation, her painful battle with venereal disease as well as poverty, and her hesitation to have her ovaries removed at the end. As Dooling points out, this female leftist chose to “privilege the intimate details of a failed romance over her public career as an advocate of political and social reform” for two reasons: first, because Bai Wei needed a large amount of money for medical treatment for gonorrhea; second, because she was “formulating her physical (as well as emotional and psychological) experience not as the private history of a unique individual but as the product of an endemic patriarchy plaguing modern Chinese society as a whole.” Indeed, although practical economic conditions forced Bai Wei to sell her own secret to the public, the poignant exposé of the “true” life of a New Woman who longed for modern romance and revolution but was unqualified for both greatly challenged the social order that had constructed her as such. If for Dooling, Tragic Life shows Bai Wei’s attempt to demystify the May Fourth romantic ideology in terms of the problematic female identity, then for David Wang, it “serves as Bai Wei’s testimony to her betrayed revolution as romance and vice versa, and how, through such a ‘discourse of despair,’ it revealed the schizophrenic nature of woman relating reality.” However, what impresses me most about this novel is not only Bai Wei’s failed affair with both revolution and love but also the striking contrast between speeding modernity and a woman’s diseased and decayed body, which suffers the consequences of the whole package of revolutionary romance, including freedom of love and sex.
Tragic Life could be titled “Diary of a Madwoman.” Unlike Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman,” which depicts a paranoiac who insists everyone around him is a cannibal and who is suffocated by the repressive reality of traditional China, in Tragic Life the female protagonist is incarcerated by her diseased body as well as the patriarchal social system. From the beginning of the novel, she is addressed by her friends as “strange stuff” (guaiwu); after she experiences her lover’s betrayal, the ordeal of venereal disease, and poverty, she can do nothing but madly laugh at reality. “Every day, she has to search for something to eat regardless of her disease; every day, she is tortured by the illness and the sick life. . . . She is laughing all the time and everywhere. Laugh! Laugh! She cannot keep from laughing. Laugh! Laugh!” Bitter, mad, sad, violent, cold, silent—all kinds of laughter stringing the series of events together in the final section of Tragic Life constitute Bai Wei’s special language, based on the hysterical mode of writing. Only one specific program of sexualization directed toward women—“the hystericization of women’s bodies”—is pointed out by Foucault in The History of Sexuality. However, as the feminist critic Elizabeth Grosz argues, “in treating hysteria as an effect of power’s saturation of women’s body, he ignores the possibility of women’s strategic occupation of hysteria as a form of resistance to the demands and requirements of heterosexual monogamy and the social and sexual role culturally assigned to women.” Bai Wei takes hysteria, a specially feminine neurosis, as a discursive strategy to displace and erase the social inscription on her body. In rebelling against conventional femininity, she hystericizes; in lamenting her decayed body, which is engendered and rejected by the progressive modernity, she hystericizes.
Her hysteria over her diseased body is a form of nostalgia, a monument to her revolutionary past and a sign of despair for the future. “The wheel of time was rolling as quick as flying, but in Wei’s memory the shadow of the wheel rolled even faster. She was as mad as the protagonist in the end of a tragedy, walking unsteadily and finally lying on the bed like a corpse.” Like her male contemporaries, the author underscores her unmistakable aspiration to Western modernity and revolution, but it has been ruthlessly pulverized by her decayed body, which she cannot and will not abandon. Despite her longing for revolution, she realizes that “no matter how much she feels happy or sad for the revolutionary group, the progressing revolutionary group won’t care about the patient who is lying near death. The revolutionary group is like a flock of swallows flying far away, abandoning the diseased woman behind, not caring if she falls on the sand or in the marshy swamp.” Being abandoned by both her lover and the revolutionaries, she keenly feels the pain of her body; and only through the truth of her body, through hysteria, can she gain back her subjectivity, her self-defined status as a New Woman. Other fictional New Women, such as Zhang Qiuliu in Mao Dun’s Pursuit and Wang Mangying in Jiang Guangci’s The Moon Forces Its Way Through the Clouds also suffer from venereal disease, but their bodies are allegorized by those male writers’ ideology. Repeatedly recording her physical pain, repeatedly mourning the difficult living conditions she has to suffer, Bai Wei never hides her paranoiac criticism of her lover, the revolutionary group, and everything the patriarchal society attempts to inscribe on her. Rather than seeing her disease “as a physical reminder of her failure as a woman and a revolutionary,” I see it as a challenge to revolution and modern love and sex, which her contemporaries largely romanticized. It poses serious questions to the speeding modernity: What becomes of a woman who is rejected by the rolling wheel of time? What do revolution and romance mean to a woman who is disqualified for both because of her “true” body? At the end of the novel, Wei hystericizes again, because she sees how her handicapped body has been relentlessly cast out by the racing current of time as well as the proletarian mass.
Bai Wei’s suspicious attitude toward both revolution and love can be traced back to her early long novel A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird, published in Lu Xun’s journal Torrent in 1928. The second part of the novel was lost due to government censorship of the journal. Although it is not autobiographical like Tragic Life, this story still contains many of Bai Wei’s personal experiences. A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird is about two sisters, Yu Yue and Yu Bin, whose father is a revolutionary but follows feudal morality in defining women. Yue, the elder sister, enters into a terrible marriage arranged by her father and then dramatically escapes from this living hell; the events resemble Bai Wei’s painful experience of her first marriage. Bin, the luckier one, goes to Wuhan and becomes a social butterfly, playing sex games with men one after another. Yue, after she escapes from the marriage and joins the Wuhan government, chooses a love affair with revolution rather than with men, and as a result is trapped in a serious political struggle between the CCP and the GMD. Bai Wei’s own experience—joining the Wuhan regime in March 1927 and working as a Japanese translator—enables her to depict the 1927 revolution from a woman writer’s viewpoint. Instead of directly narrating the GMD’s massacre of CCP members, Bai Wei makes Yue’s body symbolic of both parties, neither of which provides an answer to the woman question. My reading explores the interaction among linguistic, ideological, and psychological dimensions in the novel’s relation to society and history. This does not, of course, exhaust the interpretation of the work, but it does allow the investigation of a number of issues relevant to the problem of politics and gender. I focus on the interplay among these dimensions in order to show how Bai Wei brings out both the possibilities and the limits of the feminist novel, particularly when it is set in the revolutionary era.
Influenced by the May Fourth tradition, Bai Wei’s A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird seeks to discover what women can do after they leave patriarchal families, and what revolution can provide to resolve women’s problems. The two sisters symbolize two different situations of New Women after they walk out of the big family. Although both desire freedom and revolution, the younger sister, Bin, gradually degenerates to an attractive and dangerous “liaison,” who enjoys playing with men and depending on them at the same time. Indulging in desire, passion, leisure, fantasy, and frivolity, Bin’s body is closely tied up with power and money, sensuality, bourgeois ideology, and the colonized mentality, and also the eroticized metropolis of Hankou. Bin has already gained freedom in her sexual life, but her new sexuality is virtually stipulated by bourgeois ideology instead of patriarchy. In contrast, the elder sister, Yue, who finally escapes the miserable marriage arranged by her feudal family after surmounting numerous difficulties, chooses to devote herself to revolution but ends up disillusioned. In Bai Wei’s writing of the “revolution plus love” formula, it is significant that her protagonist Yue prefers revolution to love. The subject position of women had been stabilized within the discourse of love at that time; only through revolution did they have opportunities to find a new space. Yue’s choice is a conscious rebellion against the role preassigned her by the male-centered society.
Compared to Bin, the “feminine” and negative side presupposed by bourgeois ideology, Yue presents the more “masculine” and positive side, which means suffering, self-awareness, rationality, patriotism, and revolutionary purpose. On the ideological level of A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird, these two major and seemingly opposed protagonists stand for binaries that permeate the novel: the decadent, colonized, sensual bourgeois ideology and the progressive, patriotic, asexual revolutionary ideology (which is not exactly Marxist, though the author portrays the Communist Party sympathetically). On the surface of the text, Bai Wei affirms the latter ideology but repudiates the former. However, in fact she deeply suspects that women can find “the truth of the feminine” within both. At the end of the novel, Bin and Yue both collapse in despair; one is exhausted by the decadent and empty life, and the other is deeply harmed by political conflicts between the GMD and the CCP. Unlike Mao Dun’s and Jiang Guangci’s New Women, who can calmly utilize their bodies for revolutionary aims without feeling pain, Yue constantly feels uncertain and confused about politics’ materialization of women’s bodies, whereas Bin just simply lacks sincere belief in revolution or men.
The novel implies that blind affirmation and repudiation allow the psychological and ideological dimensions of “revolution plus love” to work together to both reveal the psychologies of individuals, especially women like Yue and Bin, and give a general perspective on gender and politics. It even implies the interweaving of revolutionary ideology and feminist consciousness, and the gap between Yue’s and Bin’s socially formulated identities and their inconsistent identification with those identities. Before Bin turns into a dangerous woman who indulges in love games and a lascivious lifestyle, she, like many other progressive youths, wants to participate in revolution. But she soon finds out she can only be a decoration. Her suspicious inner voice reveals the problem of the relationship between revolution and women:
Bin is very upset, she feels her little light of intelligence will be extinguished by the storm in the gloomy dark night. Surprised, she begins to suspect, she wonders if revolution is as regressive as she thinks. Is the field of women’s work in revolution as narrow and inferior as it seems? Is women’s social position in revolution as unfree as it appears, only a puppet of men? Hum! Revolution! . . . Revolution! . . . That which tramples the rights of women under horses’ hooves! . . . Are women’s rights so humble? Am I, Bin, so humble? Oh! I see! I, Bin, am simply an extremely humble animal! The stupid worm who wants to take big strides but can only wriggle. . . . Bin becomes more upset, she leans on the balustrade and twists the remains of the propaganda sheet into a roll and imagines the way she will mingle with men during the parade tomorrow. The more she thinks the more she sighs: Ah! This kind of revolution! This kind of revolution! Using my struggle to make men look good and sacrificing myself in the middle of the street! In this way, my strength and heart, which are like bombs, will be extinguished!
Although she is a vain girl, Bin’s suspicion derives in part from her feminist consciousness. It is from the inferior social position of women, from their pure decorative function designed by revolution, that Bin starts to realize the huge gap between feminism and revolution, between self and ideology. In order to keep her “little light of intelligence, strength, and heart” from being extinguished, repressed by men’s rationality and identity, she chooses to indulge in a sensual and emotional life that can preserve and allow expression of her ego. In the formula of “revolution plus love,” Bin inevitably flirts with both discourses; not earnestly identifying with either, she continues the superficial and sensual performance by which she can illusively and temporarily hold power and will.
Although frantically in love with revolution, Yue consciously questions its meaning and its effect on women and herself. Yue feels perplexed about the cruel discrepancy between the crusade she desires and imagines and the real revolution, full of absurdity. Observing the protest parade, she finds out the troop includes a lot of kids, stupid women, and rascals, and she cannot help wondering:
“Is this the spirit of the masses? Are these the so-called activities of revolution? . . . See the way they walk, without any strength in their feet, and the way they pant and lower their heads and dumb eyelids. . . . How can they possess the heat and strength of revolution? How do they understand the meaning of revolution? Revolution, revolution, is it merely the word shouted by a motley crowd?” After seeing this she feels very sad and disgusted. But she does not know the principles of revolutionary ideology, nor does she know how to build revolution. . . . “Revolution . . . what is China’s national revolution? I don’t know!”
Modern girl Yue’s view differs from leftist class awareness and collective strength, and distances her from the people. Unlike Bin, who abandons her original goal easily, Yue insists on pursuing her own identity within revolutionary discourse. Even if she feels disappointed by reality, in which the GMD women’s movement only chimes in with bureaucratic politics and in an unchangingly closed, confined, and limited voice, she never gives up pursuit of her ideal of revolution. Unfortunately, involving herself in the conflict between the GMD and the CCP, she agrees to utilize her own body as an instrument for political purposes. When her Communist friend Ma Teng persuades her to seduce Minister G from the GMD in order to steal some information, she is willing. At this moment, Yue’s superego, with an ideal revolutionary aim, is prohibitive, regulating sexuality in the service of politics; her body is severed from her intellect, mind, and psyche. However, Bai Wei’s representation of New Women here varies conspicuously from Mao Dun’s and Jiang Guangci’s: Yue thinks and feels when her body is suffering from violent sex and bloody political struggle. Instead of actively seducing the minister, Yue ends up being raped by him on a dark, rainy night; after this she refuses to commit herself to this “revolutionary” task. Here what concerns Bai Wei is the female revolutionary’s suffering body, not political ideology. Plunging into men’s political struggle, Yue is doomed to failure: she loses not just her body, self, and love but everything for the revolution. At the end of the novel, jailed in a dark and damp prison, Yue seems abandoned and forgotten by both political sides. Her sincere pursuit and her failure raise questions about the significance of revolution to modern and progressive women. Since Yue’s subject position has always been presupposed and predesignated by the masculinist framework of national and revolutionary discourse, she can never find the place she really wants within it.
Bai Wei’s very reiteration of the name New Woman is nothing but a displacement and an appropriation. On the linguistic level, since her narrative consists of hysterical expression that corresponds with women’s neurotic symptoms, it takes on an uncanny and unfamiliar sense, in contrast to the portrayal of women by male writers or male writers speaking in the female voice. For instance, Bai Wei’s narrative language is extremely emotional, lacking basic logic and reasonable connections between events, freely jumping from one protagonist to the other, from interior monologues to exterior reality, from climax to low tide. A reader may have an extremely difficult time keeping up. The most obvious symptom of Bai Wei’s hysterical writing is that the libido and the unconscious on one side and the ego, consciousness, and reality on the other are shown to be closely linked. This connection and confusion lead to something alien, the neurotic characters of both Bin and Yue. Echoing the madwomen’s laugh and cry from Western gothic novels, these two protagonists’ outrageous and lunatic behaviors express their despair about men and revolution in a unique female voice that threatens the normality of male-centered society. Bai Wei’s narrative language may seem coarse and immature, but such classification ignores the fact that her language results from her consciously feminist purpose. Claiming that the feminine is precisely what is excluded by sexual binary oppositions, Irigaray argues that it appears only in catachresis, or an improper transfer of a proper name. Bai Wei’s usurpation of the proper name of New Women can return to haunt the male ideological level of language, from which the feminine sexuality is excluded. Through the hysteria of mimesis, the playfulness of repetition, and the uncanniness of catachresis, not only does national and revolutionary discourse become dubious and problematic, but also feminist writing finds new operating possibilities.
In the text of A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird, the author brandishes some significant terms, such as “the movement of peasants and workers,” “proletarian liberation,” “women’s movement,” “nationalism,” and “revolution,” but she usually underscores their distance from the protagonists. Moreover, sometimes these words, used in the characters’ hysterical expressions, do not make philosophical and linguistic sense; the general problems of using these “original” masculine ideological terms thus produced—linguistic, conceptual, and formal difficulties; the new adoption of the sign; and the destruction of the older “restricted codes”—offer promising space in which to rethink revolution and women’s problem. The hysterical expression seems to create contradictions and dilemmas, most notably within the precarious matrix of gender.
However, Bai Wei’s narrative language is not “authentic” or “natural.” Simply connecting female hysterical expression with the “authentic” female sex and female writings leads back to the essentialism and ontology in which naturally constructed women are regarded as inferior to culturally constructed men. Instead of relating hysterical expression to “natural” feminine writing, we should consider it as part of cultural production generated by miming and repetition of the norm of sexual difference. Only through miming can the feminine language operate at all; it is deeply implicated in phallogocentrism and can be exposed by mimetically reproducing that discourse. In addition, as Judith Butler notes, the miming can be “a reverse mime,” which does not necessarily resemble and privilege the masculine as its origin, or stabilize the significance of the terms “masculine” and “feminine.” Therefore, Bai Wei’s reiteration of “New Women” can be taken as a coopting and displacement of phallogocentrism by means of gender parody. Her hysterical displacement creates “a fluidity of identities” in which the naturalized and essentialized gender matrix must be recontexualized and reconfigured.
Bai Wei’s hysterical mode of writing displaces Mao Dun’s and Jiang Guangci’s naming of New Women and also discloses the phantasmic promise of their “originality.” As a consequence, women cannot find their own truth in male writers’ depictions of New Women as tropes or allegories of revolution; nor can Bai Wei’s hysterical writing discover the “authenticity” of the female. If feminist writing is possible, it is only in the recontextualization of the gender matrix, of power relations, through parody. Indeed, the significance of Bai Wei’s writing lies in her rejection of woman as a universal signified of revolutionary discourse and in her subversion of male writers’ essential designation of New Women. The protagonists Yue and Bin never readily identify with the universal concept of repressed Third-World women or any official women’s association. Their bodies refuse to carry the rationality of revolution.
Male leftists’ writings of the “revolution plus love” formula either capture the language of love and revolutionary discourse as conditions of articulation for each other, or just subjugate the more feminine signification of love or eros to the more masculine revolutionary discourse. Although Bai Wei’s rewriting shows a frantic interest in imitating the same fashion, her suspicious attitude interrogates the whole mutual identification of love and revolutionary discourse. By questioning both love’s and revolution’s power over women, she actually challenges the formula itself, reducing it to an empty alternation of performances. Since Yue’s and Bin’s “feminine” identities are different from the regulated, universal one, their problematic female bodies can destabilize the marriage between revolution and love and even recontextualize the formula itself. On the surface, Bai Wei clearly affirms the Communist ideology; however, her feminist writing consciously and unconsciously blurs affirmation and negation, leading the formula astray. As a result, via the hysterical mode, Bai Wei avoids reemphasizing the oppressed, instead questioning their liberation and emancipation and thus making the subversion of the ideology possible.
Lu Yin: Transcendent Female Love and the Passion for Death
A celebrated female writer of the May Fourth generation, Lu Yin also came to terms with the topic of “revolution plus love.” In her short novel Manli, Lu Yin’s New Woman protagonist devotes herself to revolution with great enthusiasm but ends up in the hospital with a wounded heart and body. In the form of a confessional letter, Manli confides to her female friend Sha that she feels extremely disappointed and frustrated about the absurdity of revolution and its disposition of women’s bodies and gender identities. Like Bai Wei’s observation of women’s role in revolution, Lu Yin’s Manli expresses the tension between revolution’s designation of New Women and their reconsideration of that assigned position. At the end of the story, as the protagonist indicates, her disease is a mental one, neurasthenia, rather than a physical one. Lu Yin’s emphasis on the mental disease that is the symptom of social injury is politically necessary to claim the terms “woman” and “womanhood.” In Lu Yin’s fictional world, the interiority or the mental state of New Women is complicated and sensitive, far beyond male writers’ description; moreover, the pure, sincere, and transcendent love of her redefined womanhood suggests a contested territory in national and political struggles. Lu Yin lays claim to women’s private lives in order to refute revolution/modernity/nation’s deployments of women in public life. Her formulation of womanhood mobilizes ideal identity and platonic female love against the heterosexual framework upon which the masculine interpretation of woman is established.
Lu Yin’s Ivory Rings was based on the true story of famous revolutionary lovers Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei, whose short and glittering lives exemplified “revolution plus love.” According to official history, Gao Junyu was one of the early Communist founders who died in 1925 at a very young age; his lover, Shi Pingmei, was a well-known female writer who died in 1928, having devoted her whole life to progressive literature. They were buried together in Taoranting Park in Beijing, where their tombstones became a very special and popular symbol of romance. In 1956, their mausoleums were taken over by the government, since Zhou Enlai regarded them as a means of education and propaganda for the youth of new China and pointed out that their story signified the harmonious relationship between revolution and love. Apparently, veiled by a glorious story of “revolution plus love,” the truth of the tragic and sentimental romance between Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei has been smoothly erased by official history.
Shi Pingmei’s own literary production and her close friend Lu Yin’s long story Ivory Rings offer quite different versions of her romance with Gao Junyu. Among the literary works Shi Pingmei left behind is one short story, “A Horse Neighing in the Wind” (Pima sifeng lu), that deals with the popular topic of “revolution plus love.” The heroine, He Xueqiao, and the hero, Wu Yunsheng, have to separate because of their revolutionary jobs. Mixing letters and lyric storytelling, the whole narrative is in the modes of heroism and sentimentalism. At first, when He Xueqiao bids farewell to her lover, she looks less sentimental than Wu Yunsheng, since she determines to subordinate her personal feelings to the higher purpose, revolution. Only after she knows Yunsheng has been killed by enemies does she allow her emotion to temporarily overwhelm her rationality. At the end of the novel, her revolutionary aim shifts to personal revenge for Yunsheng’s death. Wu Yunsheng, in contrast, divides his emotions equally between romantic love and revolutionary fervor. In a letter to He Xueq, iao, he claims, “There are two worlds in my life: one world belongs to you, I would like to put my soul under your control as an everlasting prisoner; in another world, I don’t belong to either you or myself, for I am only a pawn in a historical mission.” Wu Yunsheng sees very clearly his subjective position in the revolution; therefore he greatly values love and allows himself to indulge in sentimental feelings. Interestingly, although Shi Pingmei was far more sensitive and emotional than is the character He Xueqiao, the maudlin fictional image of the hero Wu Yunsheng bears a close resemblance to the Gao Junyu that Shi Pingmei had described in her diary, letters to friends, and prose. Even Wu Yunsheng’s description of two worlds, one belonging to the lover and the other devoted to the revolutionary mission, had appeared as Gao Junyu’s original sentences in a letter to Shi Pingmei. What has been omitted is Gao Junyu’s uncontrollable obsession with emotion and love.
After Lu Yin’s Ivory Rings was published, this sentimental and romantic story drew thousands of youths to mourn for Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei in Taoranting Park. As one of Shi Pingmei’s best friends, Lu Yin tried to take her point of view. The long story includes a lot of Shi Pingmei’s diary, letters to lovers and friends, and published articles. This large amount of original material blurs the distinction between fictional characters and “real” people/authors. Through the narrative voices of Shi Pingmei’s best friends, Lu Jingqing (whose name in the story is Suwen) and Lu Yin (whose name in the story is Lusha), as well as Shi Pingmei’s own voice in her diary, letters, and private dialogue with female friends, the “truth” of this beautiful and melancholy romantic story is revealed. Narrative emphasis on “private” female voices tends to lead all the varied interpretations of this so-called “revolution plus love” story in the direction of feminist criticism, in which Shi Pingmei is naturally enough taken to be the most important embodiment of a redefined New Woman, who effortlessly fits the fundamental paradigm of Lu Yin’s utopian female world. Actually, Lu Yin’s gender performativity, built on the basis of a women’s utopia, creates a female identity that transcends the heterosexual framework and imposes its own discursive priority. As Lu Yin has described in her eminent fiction Old Friend on the Beach (Haibin guren), the harmonious and intimate friendship among these female protagonists reenacts the unusually close relationship among Lu Yin, Shi Pingmei, Lu Jingqing, and other female friends. The near-synonymous female friendship and pure love among women, either fictional or real, inevitably blot out the boundary of heterosexuality. By redefining the norm of sexual difference in this way, Lu Yin’s reiteration of “revolution plus love” severely challenges the masculine discourse of this formula.
Some critics comment that Lu Yin’s Ivory Rings distorts the authenticity and significance of Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei’s love by dragging the original positive and healthy story into the pessimistic trap of sentimentalism. However, in a letter to Lu Yin, Shi Pingmei said:
I have read “To Sister Mei—the Tide of the Intelligent Sea” (Linghai chaoxi zhi meijie) and “To My Old Friends in the North of Yan” (Ji Yanbei zhu guren). Since I read them I feel you are just myself. You have expressed so much indescribable feeling for me, I have nothing to say anymore. When one feels that the other person is herself, how unusual and comforting it is. But, Lu Yin, I have already got such a feeling. If our world will always be empty and lonely, and within such cold loneliness we can see everything about ourselves through seeing each other, then although life is so cruel and ruthless, I only want to love this understanding in the deep heart of the intelligent sea and I no longer want anything more.
Shi Pingmei was happy because what she thought of as unrepresentable had been perfectly expressed by her female friend. Her love for Lu Yin, who was so close to her in mind, heart, and feeling, was in a sense unrepresentable in words. The letters among Shi Pingmei, Lu Yin, and Lu Jingqing contain expressions strikingly similar to the language of heterosexual love; in addition, their language comprised a special bond completely separate from compulsory heterosexuality. This bond, stated by “I feel you are just myself” or “I can see myself through you,” is something that the heterosexual difference prevents between men and women and that goes beyond the norm of sisterhood between women.
Based on this bond, Lu Yin unfolds her narrative through herself, Lu Jingqing, and their priority of constantly “reading” Shi Pingmei’s diary and “listening” to her confiding in them. In the first half of Ivory Rings, Lu Yin listens to Lu Jingqing’s narration of Shi Pingmei’s “secret” romance, and in the second half they switch positions. Thus in the form of friendly “gossip,” the first and original source of information about Shi Pingmei’s life is opened to the public. We find out that Shi Pingmei authorizes her friends to look at her private possessions, such as diaries and letters, even if she is not present. When Lu Yin and Lu Jingqing glimpse Shi Pingmei’s secret life, what they gain seems to be the pleasure of the aura that comes from Shi Pingmei’s artistic and sentimental expression of her pain. This pleasure of the aura is certainly mutual, since while Lu Yin or Lu Jingqing tells the story, the narrator of Ivory Rings sometimes takes Shi Pingmei’s point of view. The friends see themselves, their pain and inferiority, through each other. Uncontaminated by mundane regulations, the pleasure of the aura they share is derived from their transcendent feminine love, which relentlessly questions the originality and authenticity of the “revolution plus love” theme in Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei’s love story.
Ivory Rings is an important work because its ultimate sentimental aesthetics involve a death obsession within the language of love, and its historical context makes it a precursor to other feminist writings. Narrative figuration of feminine intimacy and feminine consciousness depends on the historical situation, so I will first explore why and how a particular social and historical juncture leads to Lu Yin’s performative language of gender, which is closely related to the death drive and destructive sentimentalism.
In Lu Yin’s novel, the reader only faintly knows that the Communist leader Gao Junyu works on some heroic mission. His revolutionary background fades from the scene before the sentimental romance takes place. Although he is deeply in love with Shi Pingmei, he does not gain her true love until he dies. Having been hurt by her first lover, a married man who manipulates her feelings, Shi Pingmei cannot recover from the trauma and accept Gao Junyu’s genuine love. She keeps refusing him so that Gao Junyu finally dies for this unattainable love. Only then does she swear to sacrifice her youth and love to him; she visits his grave frequently for almost three years and eventually pines away too. According to Lu Yin’s narrative, Gao Junyu lives and dies for love instead of his great revolutionary work. With deep remorse, Shi Pingmei says, “Why didn’t you die and shed blood in the battlefield, instead of choosing to lie among a clump of roses? Now you are mourned not by the people of the whole country, but by a person who had different thoughts and was ungrateful for your love.” The formula of “revolution plus love” has here been shaped and deranged by the discourse of love, a sentimental tradition that was extremely popular in the May Fourth imagination but became problematic during the period of revolutionary literature.
The title Ivory Rings has deep significance as a symbol of the bond between Gao Junyu and Shi Pingmei; it also carries the meaning of death throughout the novel. In her own collection of prose entitled The Language of the Waves (Taoyu), Shi Pingmei illustrated the history of the rings in detail in one short story, “Ivory Rings.” Within it she included the whole original letter Gao Junyu mailed to her with the rings. He wrote, “let us use ‘the white’ to commemorate life as deadly quiet as emaciated bones.” When her friend Jingqing advised her to take off this white, cold ring, which might be an unlucky omen, Shi Pingmei firmly refused, preferring to let her “splendid and magnificent fate be lightly tied inside this sadly white and withering cold ring.” Even though Shi Pingmei knew very well this ivory ring was full of implications of death, she bound her young and beautiful life tightly with it. When Gao Junyu was struck by Shi Pingmei’s denial of his love and spat out blood, it was this ivory ring that was deeply engraved in her memory; when she saw Gao’s corpse in the hospital after he died, it was also this ivory ring that first greeted her eyes. Through her deep understanding of Shi Pingmei, Lu Yin came to select this death symbol as the thread on which she strung every single bead of the sentiment in her novel.
The discourse of desire in Ivory Rings does not take a decisive political turn, as in other writings of “revolution plus love” in the 1930s. Lu Yin seems to harp on the same string of sentimentalism that was heavily indebted to the Chinese erotic-romantic tradition, established by works such as Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber (Hongloumeng), Wei Zi’an’s Traces of Flower and Moon (Huayueheng), and Xu Zhenya’s best-seller Jade-Pear Spirit (Yulihun). In real life, Shi Pingmei liked to secretly figure herself as Lin Daiyu: even her pseudonyms, Mengdai and Lin Na, were taken from Lin Daiyu’s name; moreover, Lu Yin sometimes called her “pin,” which was the nickname Baoyu gave to Daiyu. It is interesting to note that in Ivory Rings, Lu Yin deliberately focuses on representing Shi Pingmei’s narcissism, self-pity, and self-destructiveness, similar to Lin Daiyu’s. Indulging in abundant tears and obsessed with illness and death, Lu Yin’s version of Shi Pingmei and Gao Junyu’s love story looks like another copy of the emotionally excessive Chinese literary tradition, which conflicts with rationality. However, historical conditions shape the production of this sentimental tradition. Influenced by the May Fourth tradition, Lu Yin also tries to recapture Western romance. The protagonist Gao Junyu quotes a famous line from Theodor Storm’s Immensea, repeating that if he dies he can only be buried alone. This exaggerated, Wertherian sensitivity renders the protagonists more and more agonized, helpless, and morbid. Such a painful, afflicted existence seems to have been so common that it made Shi Pingmei and Gao Junyu’s love story extremely popular at the time.
The hybrid of Eastern and Western sentimental traditions provides Lu Yin an opportunity to remold Shi Pingmei’s image as a New Woman. According to the narrator, the protagonist Shi Pingmei is a very well-educated modern girl, a skating star and a dancing queen at parties, smoking and drinking all the time. As Lu Yin narrates through Lu Jingqing’s storytelling, after Shi Pingmei is wounded by her first lover, she becomes very suspicious of heterosexual romance. Although she spends time with Gao Junyu, she never loves him while he is alive. One of her excuses is that he is married just like her first lover. Therefore, she regards the afflictions and sorrows of their relationship as fiction, and she only acts inside this sadly beautiful play. With a melodramatic attitude toward life, she cannot help but be deeply affected by her own performance. She once tells Lu Jingqing that when she is acting she is clearly aware that it is only a play, but at the same time she feels so absurd that she makes a real show of being in earnest:
“I believe Cao [Gao Junyu] really loves me and pursues me. Probably it is the possessive desire of human beings. I don’t believe that he can die for the sake of love, truly, I don’t believe there is such a possibility. But who knows? My heart is locked inside the contradictions—sometimes I also fear, not only that he would die for me; even when I see him cry I tremble all over. A man, especially an adult, should be more rational, but when he cries his eyes are swollen and his face is pale, isn’t it serious? Whenever I am in such a situation, I almost forget myself, I am softened and hypnotized. During the hypnotic state, I change into another person, I become very gentle and I cannot refuse him any request. Oh! How miserable! This mesmerism is only temporary. After I wake up again, I firmly turn him down. This brings him more embarrassment than when I didn’t accept his requests in the first place. But I didn’t plan to do this. How pitiful! Nobody sympathizes or comforts me and my tortuous feelings. They—those gentlemen who enjoy blaming other people—say that I am a demon woman, who flirts with men, drags them to wells but then escapes by herself. Alas! What relentless criticism. When have I been so evil? Honestly speaking, if I am dallying with them, what kind of benefit can I get?”
Some of her intimate confessions in the novel show her critical attitude toward men and the modern romance, engendered by the May Fourth cultural movement:
“Especially men who have wives already cannot be relied on. These men are used to riding one horse but looking for another. If they find someone who is better than the old, they begin earnest pursuit. If they cannot succeed, they have the nerve to go back to their wives. The most detestable thing is that they see women as objects. They liken women to lamps and even brazenly claim that they don’t need kerosene lamps if they can have electric lights. —After all, women also should have their human rights; after all, they are not horses or lights.
“No, I feel that if I ruin others’ marriage for my own sake, I would offend other people. Therefore, I still remain celibate as I wait for love.”
Since the May Fourth tradition encouraged men to decline their arranged marriages and pursue sexual and emotional liberation, many intellectuals such as Lu Xun, Yu Dafu, Guo Moruo, and Mao Dun were involved in love triangles with their former wives and New Women. Perplexed by such a common situation, in which the conventional woman has no choice but to sacrifice for both the feudal morality and the modern romance, Shi Pingmei shows deep concern about women’s problem. She also consciously challenges the role of New Women defined by the new patriarchal culture.
Women like us, who would like to sacrifice everything merely because of marriage? . . . As a person, he [Gao Junyu] is not bad. Although I do not need him to be my lifelong companion, I need him to decorate my life.
But when you think of other people too much you will forget yourself. Think, the reason a girl deserves people’s admiration and pursuit is just because she is a girl. If she marries, she is nothing but a dying star, without light and heat; who wants to pay attention to her? Therefore I really don’t want to marry.
In dealing with men, when we are happy, there is no harm in smiling and playing with them; when we are unhappy, we should break up with them. Who would like to fetter oneself in the jail of love?
The protagonist Shi Pingmei’s secret inner thoughts disclose what is so different and disconcerting about Lu Yin’s and her own reiteration of New Women. Deeply suspicious of men’s love and heterosexual marriage, Shi acts like a modern girl, holding power and will, flirting and playing with men. She wants to maintain the dominant position, without sacrificing herself to men, love, marriage, or any male-centered ideologies. Bearing her own trauma, Shi Pingmei refuses to accept the assigned position of New Woman offered by the heterosexual norm and decides to build all kinds of love, heterosexual marriage and utopian female relationships, on the basis of illusory “like-ice-like-snow friendship” (bingxue youyi). Her self-denial, self-destructiveness, and self-exile are perfectly suited to such friendship both aesthetically and psychologically. Regarding real life as a play or fiction and herself as the actress within it, she uses self-tortuous behavior and excessive sentiments in a dramatic performance through which she redefines New Women according to her specific feminist point of view. Denying the very “self,” full of lack, pain, and trauma caused by a logocentric society controlled by male discourse, she successively upsets and twists the masculinist logic of power relations. By withholding belief in sexuality, Shi Pingmei can cross the lines drawn by social relations such as marriage. Yet her definition of “like-ice-like-snow friendship” is not simply homosexual; it encompasses an array of meanings associated with deviation from the norm, which includes the compulsory heterosexual framework.
Readers may wonder if the real Shi Pingmei, who was known as a devoted revolutionary writer, was as sentimental and self-destructive as the heroine Lu Yin described in Ivory Rings. However, Shi Pingmei’s diary, prose, and letters prove that Lu Yin truly reveals the most “private” part of the real person whose public image was fixed as the positive revolutionary. Although Shi Pingmei strongly intended to demonstrate her dissociation from regulated sexuality, she had to live within the ostensible fixation of masculine discourse and the repression of women’s perspectives and self-representation. Like most of her female friends, Shi Pingmei in real life lived and died because of contradictions. She vacillated between rationality and emotion, the traditional and the new, death and love; between the assigned role of women and her own imaginary surpassing of this role. Her contradictory existence allowed her a lavish obsession with death, which became a means of reforming the “self” in the most paradoxical way: she did not love the living Gao Junyu but fell deeply in love with the dead one. In one of her prose works entitled “Heartbroken and Tears Turn Into Ice” (Changduan xinsui leicheng bing), Shi Pingmei gives a chilling description of her experience when she bade farewell to Gao Junyu’s dead body.
His appearance hadn’t changed a lot, it was only as sadly white as wax. His right eye was closed, but his left eye was still a little bit open and was looking at me. I was praying silently as I touched his body, begging him to close his eyes in death. I knew he did not have more requests and hopes in this world. I looked at his body carefully, seeing his sad white lips and his lifeless opened left eye. Finally I was staring at the ivory ring on his left forefinger; at this moment, my heart was similar to that of Salome when she got John’s head. I was standing there solemnly and gravely all the time, other people were also standing behind me silently. At this moment, the universe was extremely quiet, extremely beautiful, extremely sad, and extremely gloomy!
In her own grotesque description, Shi Pingmei becomes a typical westernized decadent woman addicted to the beauty of death, sickness, and corpses, who has the menacing power to seduce men to death. Consciously identifying herself with the famous Western femme fatale Salome, she commits herself to a decadent sexual identity, which distances her from revolution, progress, and nationalism and drives her toward alienation. When Gao Junyu was alive, she involved herself in the love game but declined any sexed position in it. Deep in her heart, as she confessed to her female friend in a private letter, she held the dangerous idea of toying with other people and being self-indulgent. This playful attitude eventually brought on Gao Junyu’s death and lured her finally into the permanent commitment to death itself.
My current situation of bitterly lonely sympathy is not for Tianxin (Gao Junyu), but for my own needs. . . . The reason that I continuously write The Language of Waves is to substantially and deeply build our grave, let people know that I am as hopeless as a walking corpse. . . . I love virgins, especially the corpses of virgins, I hope I can succeed in my love. Before, I dared not say such big words, I was afraid that I couldn’t control my feelings. Ever since Tianxin died, I have known I can reach my goal.
Shi Pingmei always wrote for herself, building a tomb of her intricate and bizarre love—a passion for death. Her impulsive act of showing desire for decay and death separates her from the revolutionary/decadent New Women, whose seductive bodies are used to convey progressive ideology. Shi Pingmei’s obsession with all symptoms of decadence and exhaustion reflects her strong belief in individuality, and also the female dilemma of wanting to reject male stipulations of female desire but finding no fully satisfying alternative within the male-dominated society. Death and decadence seem to be Shi Pingmei’s only means to represent her selfhood and overcome gender discrimination. Based on this sentimental way of writing and existence, Shi Pingmei and Lu Yin’s subversion and substitution of male desires and identities are not limited by an unreal aesthetic mode but translated into cultural practices in which their voices are sharp and real, sad but loud, and extremely difficult for men to accept.
Writing for themselves and each other, Lu Yin and Shi Pingmei create a specifically feminine locus of subversion of the paternal law. Through their unique feminine language and private communication, they ceaselessly argue with the “real,” “authentic,” political, and revolutionary signifier of “New Women.” Such rewritings endeavor to understand feminine discourse on the model of a performative theory of names, providing for variation and rearticulation of the masculine definition of “New Women.” By mistakenly conflating the symbolic with the real, which is supplied by first-hand accounts, Shi Pingmei and Gao Junyu’s story reformulates “revolution plus love.” In a radical departure from the idea of progress, Lu Yin argues on behalf of Shi Pingmei without postulating an original sexed position; her argument is justified and consolidated through the construction of a narrative with its own language, which effectively masks its immersion in power relations.
Ding Ling: Reshaping New Women
In Ding Ling’s version of “revolution plus love,” “liberated” women do not act as fatally sentimental as Shi Pingmei or as hysterical as Bai Wei and her protagonist Yue; nor do they perform like decadent/revolutionary women created by male leftists’ pens, who use their seductive bodies to achieve revolutionary goals. Instead, they face a new political condition in which the emergence of the mass begins to conflict with the modern or westernized signs these New Women carry. Female writer Ding Ling is famous for her early story The Diary of Miss Sophia (Shafei nüshi riji), which speaks of desire, physicality, sexuality, and the dilemma of newly liberated women in the audacious, open, confessional voice of a first-person narrator. As Lydia Liu argues, Sophia’s diary “redefines reading and writing in gendered terms by insisting on an intimate woman-to-woman talk,” and “such feminine talk would render both the scholar-lover (indigenous male beauty) and the medieval European knight (imported Western ideal) superfluous to their existence.” Unlike Shi Pingmei and Lu Yin’s intense, private conversation, Sophia’s confession not only talks about feeling, thinking, everything interior, but also bravely exposes women’s desire, especially physical desire. Instead of building a transcendent, artistic, and aesthetic utopia of feminine alliances, Ding Ling in The Diary of Miss Sophia puts the liberated woman back in the mundane world, alone and sick, letting her speak out loudly about her genuine desire and the pain of modern sex roles. It is very significant that after the May Fourth movement, women became so keenly aware of their own bodies, desire, and sexuality. However, despite the great effect her exploration of female subjectivity had, Ding Ling’s writing changed dramatically after her husband Hu Yepin became a Communist and was brutally executed by the GMD in 1931. From then on, she closely tied her literary writings to Communist ideology. Her novels Wei Hu (Wei Hu) and Shanghai, Spring 1930 I & II (1930 nianchun Shanghai, 1 & 2), which were written before Hu Yeping’s death, belong to the genre of “revolution plus love.” Although later on Ding Ling admitted herself “[fell] into the trap of the love and revolution conflict in the Guangci manner,” these three novels, as Yi-Tsi Mei Feuerwerker suggests, “show Ding Ling negotiating a passage from love to revolution, from the focus on internal experience to the outer world of political reality.” As an avant-garde feminist who had been exploring women’s roles in modern sexual relationships from a female perspective, Ding Ling had to deal with the conflict between New Women and the revolutionary symbol—the masses. How do modern women affect the discourse of emancipation, revolution, and proletarian liberation? As Ding Ling gradually sacrifices modern “liberated” women to revolutionary discipline, how does she relate to her own body, sexuality, and writing?
Ding Ling’s Wei Hu is based on the real story of her close friend Wang Jianhong’s romance with the eminent Communist leader Qu Qiubai, whose double-sided character, dedicated to the Communist movement yet embracing romanticism, is recognized and carefully discussed by T. A. Hsia. In 1922, Ding Ling, Wang Jianhong, and other female friends shared a house in Shanghai, attending the Communist-controlled Female School for Common People together, where they learned about the idea of social revolution from teachers like Chen Duxiu, Li Da, and Mao Dun. After Ding Ling and Wang Jianhong moved to Nanjing in 1923, they met Qu Qiubai, who had just come back from Russia and impressed them with his erudite knowledge of Russian novels rather than Marxist ideas. Encouraged by Qu, the two girls transferred to Shanghai University, where Qu Qiubai was praised by Ding Ling as “the best professor,” compared to other famous professors such as Mao Dun, Tian Han, and Yu Pingbo. During this time, Qu Qiubai and Wang Jianhong fell deeply in love. The couple soon moved in together and their romantic life was closely witnessed by Ding Ling, who was sharing a house with them. According to Ding Ling, Qu was a romantic guy who wanted to accompany Jianhong day and night, even after school began. He wrote love poetry to her every day, carved his beloved poems on stones, and enjoyed playing flute and singing Kun opera as well as discussing literature with them. Ding Ling’s depiction of Qu’s literary talent and romantic nature reminds us of his Superfluous Words, written before his sacrifice: “Owing to a ‘historical misunderstanding,’ I began, fifteen years ago, to engage myself, no matter how reluctantly, in political work. It is because of this reluctance that I have never succeeded in performing any task satisfactorily; when my hands were busy with one thing, my mind was occupied by something else.” Qu Qiubai, characterized by T. A. Hsia as “a revolutionary hypochondriac, a socialist-minded aesthete, a sentimental hater of the old society, a practitioner of Bodhisattvahood trained in Moscow, a pilgrim in quest of the land of hunger who could not stand the black bread, or, in a word, a tenderhearted Communist,” is well represented by Ding Ling’s character Wei Hu, who is tortured by the conflict between his political beliefs and his bourgeois lifestyle.
What concerns Ding Ling most about her closest friend Wang Jianhong’s love affair with Qu Qiubai is the New Woman’s position against the revolutionary background. Before Ding Ling headed to Beijing to continue her college studies, she told Jianhong that it was not her ideal that her friend “was nothing but only Qu Qiubai’s lover.” She was bothered by Jianhong’s indulgence in modern love and sex, in which the independent character of New Women disappeared. Not long after Ding Ling’s departure, Jianhong died of tuberculosis, infected by Qu Qiubai, who apparently had left her before her death for the sake of revolution. Shocked by this abrupt news, Ding Ling could not forgive Qu Qiubai, who she felt should take full responsibility for her friend’s death. “I was like a wounded person, going to Beijing with Jianhong’s cousins by boat,” Ding Ling wrote. “I didn’t write a word to Qiubai despite the fact he left an address and hoped I could write to him. I was thinking: no matter how great you are, our connection will be cut because of Jianhong’s death. She died of tuberculosis, but when did she get this disease? Didn’t she get it from you?” However, Qu Qiubai wrote to Ding Ling constantly, blaming himself in every letter without providing a clear explanation of what had happened. In a poem he wrote to her, he lamented that “his heart was dead, and he was sad because he let Jianhong down, let his own heart down, let Ding Ling down.” From those letters, Ding Ling only vaguely learned that Qu was under criticism from the CCP, and as he sadly expressed to her, nobody except Jianhong could really understand him. Therefore, although Qu Qiubai chose revolution over love, he was perpetually tortured by this decision, which was against his real heart. Experiencing the conflict between revolution and love in real life, Qu Qiubai showed himself to be much more complex and lonely than the ideal, iron-willed Communist—in fact, he “is found to be affectionate, sentimental, meditative, idealistic, capable of absorption in scenes of natural beauty, introspective to the point of self-pity, and haunted by a sense of loneliness.”
Later on, Ding Ling discovered that Qu Qiubai had left Jianhong because of his wife, Yang Zhihua, who was also his revolutionary comrade and a Communist Party member. This discovery irritated her: “I was very emotional, for the sake of Jianhong’s love, for the sake of Jianhong’s death, for the sake of my losing Jianhong, for the sake of my friendship with Jianhong, therefore, I made a lot of complaints against Qiubai.” Qu Qiubai didn’t write to Ding Ling again before he was executed by the GMD. At the end of Superfluous Words, he wrote something to his wife and asked for her forgiveness, “for not even to her had he had the courage to reveal his heart. . . . He wished that she would henceforth detest him and forget him so that his soul might rest in peace.” Ding Ling surely understood Jianhong was the only one to whom Qu could reveal his heart; therefore in her novel Wei Hu, she not only emphasized the Communist’s split personality, she also explored how modern women had to suffer in love, even if that love was linked to revolution.
In her criticism of Wei Hu, Yi-Tsi Mei Feuerwerker aptly points out, “by weighting its descriptive interest on the side of love, Wei Hu is a nostalgic lingering on what has already been or will soon be lost and past, rather than a positive affirmation of the revolutionary future.” Indeed, reading this fiction along with accounts of “the real event,” we may come to suspect whether Ding Ling intends to affirm Wei Hu’s final choice of revolution over love. To a certain extent, Wei Hu actually is the continuation of Ding Ling’s exploration of women’s predicament in the new context of “revolution plus love.” Through her concern with problematic female sexuality in the revolutionary context, Ding Ling again demonstrates a strong feminist consciousness and refuses to allegorize women’s experience, even though her writing was going through a radical political change. Like The Diary of Miss Sophia, Wei Hu grapples with the problem of modern women in gendered terms, but this time in a neutral narrative voice. Unlike in other writings that eulogize the combination of romance and revolution, Ding Ling here directly grasps the dilemma that newly liberated women confront as they choose to connect their love with revolution. In this story, although the ending valorizes the mass revolution at the price of romantic love, the confusion of New Women still exists. In both her writing and her life, Ding Ling was caught in a dilemma between her original identity as a modern, urbanized, and liberated woman and her new, vague Communist identity.
This story begins with the protagonist, Wei Hu, returning from Russia to participate in the Chinese revolution and being tempted by his friend to meet some New Women. At first, Wei Hu refuses this opportunity, since “his whole enthusiasm can only be devoted to his belief and goal,” and he has met various kinds of women before, both traditional Chinese intelligent women and foreign exotic, brave, and romantic girls. But the women he is introduced to are completely different: they are neither traditional nor as frank and confident as Russian women. Ironically, he cannot help falling in love with one of them, Lijia. Not surprisingly, Lijia and her group of female friends have some hostility toward men, enjoying playing with them or making things difficult for them. These New Women are extremely proud and admire Western knowledge, freedom, and feminism; they refuse to identify with any kind of ready-made social roles, even if they have not entered college or gone to work. To cater to these New Women’s interests, Wei Hu keeps talking about topics they like, such as Western literature, women, love, and freedom, but he avoids mentioning Marxism or socialism since Lijia rejects these dry concepts from the very beginning.
Similar to Lu Yin’s transcendent feminine alliance, Ding Ling creates a stable, reliable, and beautiful woman-to-woman relationship, meant not to affirm the primacy of sexual difference but to explore how to think of power relations—gender, sexuality, race, class. After Lijia and her group embark on their different futures, Lijia and her best friend Shanshan go to Shanghai together. Their relationship is unusual in that they love and quarrel just like a romantic couple. Ding Ling certainly invested a lot of personal emotion in depicting this intimate female friendship, for she and Jianhong had spent two harmonious years together before Qu Qiubai entered their lives. In Shanghai, the two girls meet Wei Hu again; then Lijia and Wei Hu gradually fall in love and move in together. Ding Ling depicts Shanshan’s love for Lijia in a very ambiguous way: Shanshan acts like a mother, a lover, and a female friend. Before Lijia moves in with Wei Hu, Shanshan refuses to talk about him: “I just don’t want him, Wei Hu, to come to occupy our whole time. . . . It is not worth it.” In the narrative, Shanshan is “the disturbing vision” manifesting the feminist point of view to comment on Lijia’s romance with Wei Hu. When Lijia confides in Shanshan about Wei Hu’s former Russian lover, Shanshan is attracted immediately by this dissolute woman because she admires her independence and courage, qualities hard to find in Chinese women. Shanshan’s secret love for Lijia might explain her indifferent attitude toward Wei Hu; in addition, she deeply suspects women’s association with the normative sex role, even if it includes revolution, progress, and other noble ideas. Shanshan’s disapproval of Lijia’s romance compels the narrator to distance herself from the harmony or conflict of “revolution plus love” and from the degradation of the female within the heterosexual framework of society.
Even Wei Hu can tell how Shanshan feels about Lijia; he says, “How nice you have such a good friend, but I don’t have one. She really loves you! She is virtually like a mother.” Lijia answers, “Are you jealous of me? I believe she also loves you, because she loves me too much. In addition, she will never abandon me. But you, Wei Hu, can you also let me trust you like this?” Ironically, Wei Hu eventually betrays Lijia for the sake of his revolutionary ideal, but Shanshan, as Lijia predicts, still loves and supports her as before. That Ding Ling links woman-to-woman love (not exactly homosexuality) with potential problems in heterosexual relationships seems clear: the utopian female bond is the means by which the truth of sexual repression is exploded and by which socially ideal “men” and “women” are questioned.
Symbolically, New Women like Lijia and Shanshan are composed by a convergent set of historical formations of gender, race, and social relations. They are caught between the prospect of freedom through adapting Western knowledge or bourgeois ideologies of humanism, and the violation of the mass—the Third-World, oppressed class of Chinese women—whose sexuality is deprivatized and undermined. Wei Hu’s association with Lijia is regarded by his comrades as a “degenerated and debauched gold-consumed brothel.” The ideological impulses in Wei Hu could have been driven in a sequel work toward a resolution, a rational solution of choosing revolution instead of bourgeois ideologies. However, the author obviously has a hard time dealing with the unstable concept of New Women. Ding Ling admires the new, progress, and freedom just as Lijia and Shanshan do; therefore, her attitude toward the sexuality of New Women like herself is very ambivalent: she cannot condemn them, even if they epitomize Western bourgeois decadent ideas. Through Lijia’s words, Ding Ling criticizes these Communist comrades:
You misunderstood me. I certainly had some comments on a few Communists; that is because I was influenced by other thoughts. I was very naive, but some of your comrades are not graceful at all. You don’t know, it seems, that because they have some new knowledge and are capable of using some different terms, they also change into these terms and become so stupidly proud of themselves.
Hostility to superficial and rational Communists pervades the text that constitutes Ding Ling’s “reception” of revolution in gendered terms. This explains a paradox in her solution for the conflict between revolution and the New Women at the end of the novel, where she notes through Wei Hu’s letter that the tragedy of their love happens because Lijia has an unstable feminist attitude and because “Wei Hu, after all, belongs to that group of materialists and philistines who blaspheme love.”
In particular, Ding Ling is concerned about New Women’s position in modern sexual relationships, for Lijia continues to subordinate herself to male authority by putting her fate in the hands of Wei Hu, even if he is a respectable revolutionary. Without burdening Lijia with any ready-made class characteristics, Ding Ling accentuates rather than dismisses New Women’s sexuality and dilemma. Contrasting Wei Hu’s absence and Shanshan’s loyalty at the end of the novel, she leaves sexual difference fluctuating but affirms the power and the value of feminine independence and subjectivity. By identifying herself as a New Woman, Ding Ling strikes a decisive blow against revolution’s condemnation of women’s subjectivity. Because the masculine/feminine opposition is itself tainted as an ideological construct, her neutralization of sexual difference through Shanshan’s genuine friendship might appear as intentionally feminist writing. The feminine has been ideologically determined to be a racial and bourgeois signification and therefore devalorized, but Ding Ling’s uneasy treatment of New Women makes a striking transvaluation of the feminine, and a no less significant degendering.
In Wei Hu, Ding Ling attempts to forge a new language to speak about the female body and sexuality within revolutionary discourse. In her other two novels, Shanghai, Spring 1930 (I and II), she shifts from speaking for the subjectivity of New Women to downplaying the decadent and bourgeois signs carried by New Women’s sexual bodies. Sacrificing self-consciousness and her special feminist point of view, she tries to adopt the language of revolutionary rationality. This transformation was also influenced by the emergence of class and mass consciousness and the decline of intellectuals’ individuality within leftist writings at the time.
Shanghai, Spring 1930 (I and II) is composed of two independent stories, which can both be read as variations on the Nora theme. Meilin, the heroine of the first part, is an educated woman who is unsatisfied with her bourgeois home and therefore plunges herself into the mass movement at the end of the story. Also walking out of her home with her revolutionary boyfriend, Mary, the bourgeois girl of the second part who refuses to catch up with the historical tide of revolution, represents a counterdiscourse of Meilin. However tinged with political messages, these two women’s action—walking out of the homes that confine them—still contains the residue of New Women’s subjectivity that Ding Ling once highly valued. Comparing Ding Ling’s exploration of the Nora theme with Hu Yeping’s, T. A. Hsia finds that “Ding Ling was allowed by her reservations to see at least the charms, problems, and meanings of a nonrevolutionary life,” but Hu Yeping’s “eagerness for revolution made it impossible to dwell on such trivialities or on anything or any person that was doomed to be swept away by the surging tides of history.” In his meticulous study of Shanghai, Spring 1930, Tang Xiaobing notes that “this nonrevolutionary life” reflects Ding Ling’s own situation, confined by her own pregnant female body in 1930 while her husband, Hu Yeping, was actively involved in numerous political activities. “By ascribing this nonrevolutionary life to a female body, Ding Ling both acknowledged the corporeality of her own gender and, more importantly, created a trope through which to imagine and prescribe her transformation.” Tang continues, “For this reason, her portrayal of Mary in the story is wrought with ambiguity.” Yet, no matter how much Ding Ling attempts to continue her exploration of New Women’s dilemma and sensibility, her political beliefs require her to allegorize New Women’s bodies.
In Shanghai, Spring 1930 (II), the love between Mary and her boyfriend, Wangwei, a devoted revolutionary, looks precisely like the love story in Wei Hu, but this time Ding Ling identifies herself with compulsory heterosexuality, depreciating the modern urbanized girl Mary on the basis of her gender and class identities. Since the emancipation of women is equated with the liberation of the oppressed class, Mary, a liberated woman who adopts bourgeois life, is inevitably excluded by the so-called women’s and proletarian movements. New Women who dwell on love but are not involved in revolution can no longer be considered progressive; rather, they suddenly represent depravity, vanity, and regression.
Ding Ling portrays Mary as a modern sexy girl who likes material life but lacks revolutionary interests. When she moves in with her revolutionary lover Wangwei, she brings a lot of delicate and trivial belongings. These feminine ornaments and trinkets are the unmistakable and irrefutable signs of degeneracy. As Naomi Schor points out, “the decadent style is inherently ornamental. Decadence is a pathology of detail: either metastasis or hypertropy or both.” This equation allows Ding Ling to discriminate between the healthy and the sick, the revolutionary and the bourgeois. As a material girl, Mary “does not love anybody but only herself.” Not only is she obsessed with trivia and ornaments, she also enjoys her own seductive body very much: “She casts an eye at her half-naked body with love and a playful gaze, enjoying that white neck and arm for a long time, then covers herself with the cotton robe.”  Although Lijia in Wei Hu lacks revolutionary consciousness, Ding Ling treats her sexy female body as an important form through which to reconsider post-May Fourth modern sex roles; but here Mary’s body is transformed into a satire of bourgeois ideology.
Therefore, by politicizing Mary’s sexy body—even if, compared to Wangwei’s disciplined body, it remains sensuous and feminine through the novel—Ding Ling tries to reduce Mary to the image of a typical material girl. However, Mary’s independent personality, which represents a generation of New Women who struggle for their own freedom, still obstinately and constantly jumps out from her “degenerate” sexy body. Though Mary loves Wangwei, she prefers their relationship to be that of free lovers, not of a married couple. When Wangwei attends revolutionary meetings and abandons her in the empty house, she finally acts like Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, escaping the loneliness her lover assigns to her. In The Diary of Miss Sophia, Ding Ling identifies with the similar bourgeois girl who is fully aware of her body and sexuality, but in Shanghai, Spring 1930 II she firmly denies that feminist position and the individuality she used to pursue. Mary’s repetition of Nora’s action becomes a sign of resistance against the historical tide—the revolutionary ideology. Hence, in the conflict between New Women and the mass, Ding Ling eventually sides with revolutionary ideology, subordinating herself by giving up her own subjectivity.
The writing of Bai Wei, Lu Yin, and Ding Ling are engaged with a historical transformation of the relationship between gender and politics, growing out of what is implicit in revolutionary ideology itself—the imaginative force of women’s gendered subjectivity. Through these women writers’ use of the “revolution plus love” formula, we can see women writers consciously and constantly negotiating with their social position, one that is fixed and consolidated by repressive social laws in the name of progress and revolution. Their different performances show that the feminist identities emerging within the matrix of power relations are not simple replications or copies of a masculinist identity, nor uniform repetitions in alliance with other subordinated groups. Rather, feminist identities are fluid, operating as sites for invention, exposure, and displacement of uncritically sexual power relations.
As Judith Butler argues, “the subject is the incoherent and mobilized imbrication of identifications; it is constituted in and through the iterability of its performance, a repetition which works at once to legitimate and delegitimate the realness norms by which it is produced.” See Butler, Bodies That Matter, 131.
Butler’s theory of gender perfomativity refuses to seek recourse to any essentialist positions, such as a sexual nature or a precultural structuring of sexuality. Instead, it suggests that sexuality is constructed through a “performative dimension,” which is neither a free play nor self-presentation, but is the forced reiteration of norms. Borrowing this First-World feminist theory does not mean I will not contextualize Chinese women’s writings, exposing under what kind of repeated constraints their sexuality has been constituted.
Tani E. Barlow, “Theorizing Woman: Funü, Guojia, Jiating (Chinese Woman, Chinese State, Chinese Family),” in Body, Subject, and Power in China, 266–68.
Xia Xiaohong, Late Qing Intellectuals’ Concepts of Women, 56–129.
After the Chinese translation of Ibsen’s celebrated play A Doll’s House (1879) appeared in New Youth (Xin qingnian) in 1918, the “Nora story” stimulated public discussion of women’s oppression and emancipation. Hu Shi’s The Greatest Event in Life (Zhongsheng dashi) is the most famous Chinese version of the “Nora story.”
See Rey Chow’s, Ching-kiu Stephen Chan’s, and Carolym T. Brown’s essays on gender and power in Modern Chinese Literature 4 (1988). Also see Amy D. Dooling’s essay on Yang Jiang in Modern Chinese Literature 8 (1994).
For a detailed analysis on the projection of male anxiety onto images of New Women, see Ching-kiu Stephen, Chan, “The Language of Despair,” in Modern Chinese Literature 4.1-2 (1988): 19-28. Also see Sylvia Li-chun Lin’s “Unwelcome Heroines: Mao Dun and Yu Dafu’s Creation of a New Chinese Woman,” Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese 1.2 (1998): 71-94.
Some Chinese male writers’ designation of New Women’s bodies coincided with their disillusionment with May Fourth ideology after the failure of the First National Revolution in 1927, but not every writer had a clear idea how to represent the new ideology they chose to identify with. Therefore, some images of New Women revealed male writers’ ambivalent attitudes toward both the political situation and the women at that time. For instance, Mao Dun’s representations of New Women are more ambivalent than Jiang Guangci’s.
See Rey Chow’s reading of Mao Dun’s fiction in Women and Chinese Modernity, 103–107. Criticizing Mao Dun’s descriptions of female physiological details, especially women’s breasts, she says: “The eroticized, because fetishized, images of women’s bodies, which no amount of narrative prose can penetrate enough the way it does women’s ‘mind,’ remain to haunt the liberating rhetoric of revolution, including Mao Dun’s new literary language.”
Butler, Bodies That Matter, 2.
The scholarship on Bai Wei during the last decade can be found in Meng Yue and Dai Jinghua, Emerging from the Historical Horizons (Fuchu lishi de dibiao); Amy Dooling, “Feminism and Narrative Strategies in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Women’s Writing”; Jianmei Liu, “Engaging with Revolution and Love”; David Der-Wei Wang, “An Undesired Revolution.”
Chen Xiying introduced two female writers in Modern Criticism (Xiandai pinglun) in April 1926: Bing Xin, “whom almost everyone knows,” and Bai Wei, “whom everyone hardly knows.” After Lu Xun published her Fight Out of the Ghost Tower (Dachu youling ta) in Torrent (Benliu), 1, 2, 4 (1928), she became “one of the top in the literary field.” See Bai Shurong and He You, The Biography and Criticism of Bai Wei (Bai Wei pingzhuan), 81.
Amy Dooling, “Desire and Disease: Bai Wei and the Thirties Literary Left,” paper presented at Contested Modernities Conference, Columbia University, April 2000.
Wang, “An Undesired Revolution.”
Bai Wei, Tragic Life (Beiju shengya), 884.
Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies, 157–58.
Bai Wei, Tragic Life, 746.
Wang, “An Undesired Revolution.”
Meng Yue and Dai Jinghua, Emerging from History (Fuchu lishi de dibiao), 164–67.
Mao Dun’s case is different from that of Jiang Guangci. In his early fiction, such as Eclipse and Rainbow, Mao Dun’s heroines also feel uncertain about revolution. See Wang, Fictional Realism in Twentieth-Century China, 25–110.
Bai Wei, A Bomb and an Expeditionary Bird, 29.
Although Mao Dun was also aware of the issue, he hesitated in articulating it. Of course, his vacillation after 1927 might have had a great impact on his narration, but to a certain extent it may be due to his position as a male writer writing about women and revolution.
In Judith Butler’s words, “If a resemblance is possible, it is because the ‘originality’ of the masculine is contestable; in other words, the miming of the masculine, which is never resorbed into it, can expose the masculine’s claim to originality as suspect.” See Bodies That Matter, 51–52.
The term “gender parody” is borrowed from Butler, Gender Trouble, 137–39. As Butler mentions, “the notion of gender parody defended here does not assume that there is an original which such parodic identities imitate. Indeed, the parody is of the very notion of an original; just as the psychoanalytic notion of gender identification is constituted by a fantasy of a fantasy, the transfiguration of an Other who is always already a ‘figure’ in that double sense, so gender parody reveals that the original identity after which gender fashions itself is an imitation without an origin.”
Shi Pingmei, “A Horse Neighing in the Wind” (Pima sifeng lu), in The Selective Collection of Shi Pingmei, 296.
See Shi Pingmei, “Writing After Dreaming in the Remnant Light Alone” (Menghui jiji candeng hou), in The Selected Collection of Shi Pingmei, 140.
Zhou Wurong, “Two Novels Depicting the Early Communists’ Love Lives” (Liangbu miaoxie zaoqi gongchandong ren aiqing shenghuo de xiaoshuo), Jianghuai xuekan 2 (1994): 180–87.
Shi Pingmei, “To Lu Yin,” in The Collection of Shi Pingmei, 41.
Lu Yin, Ivory Rings, 190.
 Leo Ou-fan Lee wrote, “In the context of the changed political temper in the late twenties and early thirties, it seems as if love had become the lingering vestige of a gilded and irresponsible world of the past. That romantic world, according to Ting Ling, was passé, and the poet Chu Tzu-ch’ing issued a similar comment in 1928: ‘Romantic used to be a good term, but now its meaning is reduced to slander and a curse. Romanticism was to release to the utmost one’s animated emotions, thereby expanding oneself. But now what is need is work and the animated emotions, undisciplined, cannot produce practical effects. Now is the time of urgency and such unimportant matters are not necessary.” See Lee, Romantic Generation, 173.
See Shi Pingmei’s “Ivory Rings,” in The Selected Collection of Shi Pingmei’s Prose, 95.
See David Der-wei Wang’s illustration of rationality versus emotional excess in his definition of the repressed modernity of the late Qing, and his close reading of Traces of the Flower and the Moon, in Fin-de-Siècle Splendor, 72–83.
Lu Yin, Ivory Rings, 141.
Ibid., 149, 152.
Ibid., 104–105, 160.
Shi Pingmei, “Heartbroken and Tears Turn Into Ice” (Changduan xinsui lei chen bing), in The Collection of Shi Pingmei, 102.
In Shi Pingmei’s letter to her female friend Yuan Junshan. See Yangyang, ed., The Collection of Shi Pingmei, 108–15.
Ibid. In one of her letters to Yuan Junshan, Shi Pingmei adds: “If I died and you wanted to write some articles to analyze my life, this letter would be perfect evidence.”
Lydia Liu, Translingual Practice, 33–60.
Ding Ling, “My Life in Creative Writing” (Wo de chuangzuo shenghuo), in Experiences in Creative Writing (Chuangzuo de jingyan), 24–25. The translation is adapted from Yi-tsi Mei Feuerwerker, Ding Ling’s Fiction, 53.
Feuerwerker, Ding Ling’s Fiction, 53.
T. A. Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 3–54.
Yu Yangqing and Zong Cheng, ed., The Autobiography of Ding Ling (Ding Ling zizhuan), 39–40.
I-ching, II:25 (Mar. 5, 1937), 19–20. Quoted from Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 45.
Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 44.
Yu Yangqing and Zong Cheng ed., The Autobiography of Ding Ling, 21.
Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 8.
Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 51.
Feuerwerker, Ding Ling’s Fiction, 55.
Ding Ling, Weihu, in The Selection of Ding Ling’s Novellas (Ding Ling zhongpian xiaoshuo xian), 53.
Hsia, The Gate of Darkness, 183.
 Tang Xiaobing, Chinese Modern, 109.
Naomi Schor, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine, 43.
Ding Ling, Shanghai Spring, 1930 (II), in The Collected Work of Ding Ling, 293.