Women were never strange to Chinese literature. In Chinese tradition it is believed that Cai, the Chinese word for literary abilities, for the talent of writing, can be possessed both by males and the females. But there was a small detail, which did not allow women take the central part in Chinese literature. It was believed, that lack of literary talent is rather a virtue than a drawback for a woman. However, the pieces by the female writers have always been seen as an integral part of Chinese literature. Still, in the XX century female writing became to a certain degree a standalone phenomenon within Chinese literature.
One of the main reasons why the situation changed in such a way was feminist movement, which, due to the beginning processes of globalization reached China from the west. And thus, as a part of this wave of feminist movement women began to more freely stand up for their rights, discuss the problems, with which they had to deal in the society, and one of the main fields where this discussion was held turned out to be literature. At that time a woman was facing a challenge, was forced to make a choice: she got to know, that the old traditions may not necessarily be correct in all aspects, she got to know that things could be different for a woman, and they are, probably, better off being different. But her challenge was to make a choice between struggling with the tradition and defending her rights on the one hand, and preserving, defending the piece and order in her family, which may otherwise be ruined. This challenge is what largely determines female Chinese literature of that time, what is reflected in the works by female writers of that time. Among other female writers of that feminist era in Chinese literature Ding Ling, Zhang Ailing, Shi Pingmei and Lu Yin are the ones most widely recognized.
A little later, in the 20-s and 30-s years of XX century Chinese feminist literature addressed the issues of intergender relations, family and tradition. This discussion was largely led from the Freudian perspective.
Mao, as commonly known, has brought liberalization for women immediately after coming to power. It is after 1949 that women gained the right to vote and divorce their husbands as well as a number of other liberties. But this has hardly made their lives much easier, but have made them face additional social difficulties. This is the issue, which is oftentimes addressed in the literature of Chinese women after 1950s. Tie Ning describes a scene, which hints the reader at this problem:
Zhu Xiaofen tried to explain that her husband wasn’t to blame, that it was she who had sought a divorce. Big Sister Zou interrupted her, saying that women of the eighties had sunk so low that they felt they must save face while shouldering incredible injustices”
However, this is not a rule without exception. There were some voices heard in Chinese female literature, the brightest example being probably Yuan Qiongqiong, who dedicated their literary effort to reflections on how much women would be capable of achieving if it had not been for men and how much better of a place the entire world would then be.
This is, certainly, only a brief overview of the previous century’s Chinese female literature, and the subject is certainly much wider than this. Chinese female literature of XX century certainly deserves a deep and thoughtful research and reviewing it is, no doubt, a serious challenge.
- Larson, W. (1998). Women and Writing in Modern China. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
- Ning, Tie. “Octday”.