Onlookers of Modernity: Knowledge Anxiety and Consumption in Fiction of Chinese Women Writers in the Early 20th Century | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


Since the early 20th century, discourses of “Young China” which boast a linear progression and thorough rejuvenation stayed central in China’s social cultures. Under this sway, social groups “New Youth” accordingly became vital targeted audience/writing subjects of that era’s literature. The studentship, therefore, was closely correlated with grand issues like political reforms and nationality amid the mainstream fiction writing, which explains why today’s most research takes the “student” identity as their entry point to examine the last century’s Chinese modernity. This sheds adequate light on the masculine/nationality-oriented aspect of modernity, but yet leaves its feminine aspect which is often represented by female works of the same period underestimated. In this essay, Xiao Hong’s “The Spring in a Small Town” and Mei Niang’s “Crabs” which seemingly portray their (currently) unschooled female characters as “onlookers of modernity” but further display the subtle interplay between knowledge anxiety and consuming behaviors are mainly analyzed. Their consumption of (material/ cultural) fashion and imagination of modernity not only manifest potential ways of deconstructing the classic narrative mode “becoming students,” but also unfold the ignored femininity of modernity which mostly lies in daily, trivial and consistent living experiences. And by referring to the contemporaneous Shanghai-style literature, this essay reflects on the characterization that assumes female consumers as shopaholics, typical interpretations of women in traditional and domestic space as well as dynamics between gender, modernity and consumption.


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