Peter Barry discusses the fact that feminism was not new in the 1960s, but it was the revival of feminism in the 1960s which spawned feminist criticism as we know it today (2009). Literature was believed to serve as a means of indicating to both men and women how each gender should respond to situations and the goals and aspirations that those of that gender should have (Barry, 2009). Feminist criticism works to explore “the nature of the female world and outlook, and reconstructing the lost or suppressed records of female experience” (Barry, p. 117). How then, does this fit in to “The Romance of the Flowers in the Mirror” by Li Ju-Chen?
Ju-Chen’s tale, one of the Women’s Kingdom, wherein women dress as men and work in the political sphere, while men dress as women and take care of home and hearth, was as interesting when it was first written between 1763 and 1830 as it is today. In Ju-Chen’s tale the gender roles are completely reversed, offering a different perspective on the female world, the female outlook, and the female experience. The story begs the question of how Ju-Chen came up with this concept, where the idea came from, and whether or not she received any punishment for such a tale.
More importantly though, Ju-Chen’s tale shows her audience that the question of feminism is one that has been around for far longer than most people realize and, while the tale fits Barry’s definition of feminism, whether others who are concerned with feminist literary criticism would consider Ju-Chen to be a feminist writer, or whether those individuals would see her story as a subliminal desire to become a man, a la Freud. Regardless of the belief of the feminist literary critic, it is possible to see that Ju-Chen’s story works to promote thought and allow the reader to delve into the question of “What if?”
- Barry, Peter. 2009. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- Mair, Victor H., ed. 1994. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.