Eileen Chang’s Feminine Chinese Modernity: Dysfunctional Marriages, Hysterical Women, and the Primordial Eugenic Threat
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CitationLeng, Rachel. 2014. Eileen Chang’s Feminine Chinese Modernity: Dysfunctional Marriages, Hysterical Women, and the Primordial Eugenic Threat. Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies, (March 2014), 13-34.
AbstractEileen Chang has been described by critics as an unapologetically introspective and sentimental but largely apolitical writer. When most other writers of her time were concentrating on the grand and the abstract in exploring the May Fourth modernist spirit, Eileen Chang’s approach to her writing poignantly laid bare an intense interest in the modern relationships between men and women, between an individual and the collective. Contrary to popular interpretation, this paper argues that there is a strong political and subversive dimension to Chang’s writings that has hitherto been glided over or ignored completely. Specifically, this paper suggests that recurring themes of abortive parent-child relationships, the dilapidated household, and disillusioned sexual unions throughout Chang’s work not only intertwines references to her own private life and love affairs, but reflects a larger sociopolitical history anchored in the rise of a national eugenics movement at the bedrock of Chinese modernity. The parallel narratives of The Golden Cangue (1943) and The Rouge of The North (1967) engage intimately in a social critique of the Chinese state’s propagation of eugenic practices related to reproduction. These stories unveil Eileen Chang at her best in uncovering, even allegorically, the relationship between the feminine and the sociopolitical changes besetting contemporary China. She limns a fictional world where Chinese modernity has engendered its own reflection in the image of the monstrous, embittered woman suffering from psychological and bodily decay and grapples with the corporeal manifestation of the malaise of social and marital relations in modern China.
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