Published In

Women's Studies Quarterly

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2013


Women -- China


Twenty-first-century Chinese cities are spaces not only of architectural hybridity displaying the co-temporality of the dynastic past and the postsocialist future but also locales in which young women perform and negotiate the polyvalent discourses of what it means to be a woman in China. When many students in U.S. college classrooms are asked to offer images of Chinese women, the most frequent (and in some instances pernicious) representations are those of the lotus-footed woman, the state-indoctrinated Maoist revolutionary, the dutiful mother who must adhere to the draconian one-child law, or the young athlete from the dour state-run sports training facilities.The U.S. popular press has added to this list by regularly portraying unisex-uniformed factory workers, female laboring drones whose undifferentiated, unadorned, and exploited female bodies seemingly drive the engine of China's economic growth and power. In many women's studies courses these same bodies become the singular markers of Chinese womanhood, distanced from Western conceptions of femininity. Yet two other figures of femininity have emerged directly from the spaces of consumption generated by the growing Chinese economy: one a fashionable femininity encoded by the white wedding gown of Western modernity, and the other a cultural femininity enrobed in a version of the traditional Chinese qipao. Both forms of femininity are seen across the Chinese metropolitan landscape of restaurants, photography studios, and mega-shopping districts. Arising at the intersections of global market capitalism, nationalism, and heteronormativity, these two garments and those who don them represent a dyad pointing to the complex, overlapping, and even contradictory embodiments of femininity in contemporary China.


Received publisher permission to archive publisher's version.

Persistent Identifier