In this essay, I examine fictional works by two of the most influential and progressive male writers of the period—Mao Dun and Yu Dafu - to explore issues concerning the emergence of the new Chinese woman. My study will focus on Mao Dun’s story, “Chuangzao” [Creation], published in 1928, and Yu Dafu’s short novel, Ta shi yi ge ruo nuzi [She is a weak woman], written in 1932. I look at these writers’ depictions of two different types of woman and contemporary Chinese men’s reactions to a new gender relation. Male intellectuals, while heralding the advance of a new Chinese woman, were far from certain about the future of this new woman, and were troubled by further prospects of change once the “genie was out of the bottle.” They were, understandably, apprehensive over their own position in the new world order of the two sexes.

Male anxiety, compounded by contemporary social and political situations, manifested itself, in part, in a shift of focus from women's individual emancipation to women's collective role in mass liberation. In other words, whereas nationalism remained an overarching concern, the projection of male anxiety onto women in these texts subsumed women’s individuality. In the 1930s, the May Fourth belief concerning the contribution of women's liberation to national rejuvenation was being replaced by a proletarian conformity that erased gender differences. Such a shift was by no means unique; as Wendy Larson points out, the period from 1925 to 1935 [was] a transitional time when both writers and critics aligned themselves politically and socially, for or against a ‘new’ kind of socially engaged writing, and willing or unwilling to follow an overt political cause in their works”. The objective of my inquiry into this widely acknowledged shift is to investigate how two representative male writers1 works reflected conflicting and confused theories involving the incorporation of women into the project of nation building.



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