Cambria Press author Professor Megan Ferry, Associate Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies and Chair of the Modern Languages and Literatures Department at Union College, gave a speech about her book, Chinese Women Writers and Modern Print Culture, at the Cambria Press reception at the AAS 2018 conference in Washington, DC.
Watch Professor Megan Ferry’s speech and/or read the transcript below.
“My story about this book begins when I was about twelve years old. I read about land reform and I just saw individual role models that got me excited and I just had to go to China and find out more.
So the first question I’ll give you is how I did get started on writing this book? The books we write represent important stories of our selves. They are life questions that nag us until we are able to bring them to expression. This book took about 20 years to write. I rewrote it at least six times, completely, and the stories were not ready to come out, and I was ready to shelve it just as many times, if not more. And yet, it is a book that is appropriate for this time of the #MeToo movement, the crackdown on the “feminist five” because it evokes a lot of questions about social justice, liberation, and universal human rights, as we certainly saw today at the Mall here in Washington, DC, and the dominant ideologies that construct the filters that determine how we think and feel.
So, my story begins with seeing in the Chinese women writers of the early 20th century as role models who were wanting to effect change in their culture and were also passionate about contributing to China. And as I read about the critics, the friends, and the lovers, I was constantly surprised by them saying they would qualify the women by saying “Oh, but Xiaohong, she wears her hair in pigtails” or “Ding Ling is a little bit short and stocky” and I’m thinking what does that have to do with her being a woman writer. Or they say that women writers only write about love, but when we read we see that there’s much more going on, much more than what meets the eye.
And what I realized is that women writers are qualified not by what they are writing, but the whole system of the publishing industry, which qualifies how we are supposed to read and understand them. So I went to China and was in the archives, looking through the journals for two years and went to interview scholars on Ding Ling. In particular, I encountered male scholars who, when I would ask them about women writers, they would seem to tell me to veer the conversation toward why did their female students look better–had better hair, better dress, better clothes–because they were kept women of many overseas businessmen. So there was some lamentation in there, and perhaps some jealousy. Another male scholar, a prominent male scholar on modern Chinese literature and Ding Ling–when I went to interview him about Ding Ling, he proceeded to show me nude photos of himself and asked me what I thought, to my surprise. What I realized was that these scholars had encountered a Western female scholar coming to asking about women writers, and what I also realized was that this was another story that was ready to be told as well.
So here I was, a young Western female scholar in China, encountering many different things but certainly understanding about the gender-culture encounters that we have through our mediated world.
The second question we ask is why did discussions of Ding Ling lead seamlessly to male scholars’ discussion of their gendered contemporary milieu and sexuality? In this media-driven world, this very heterogeneous society that we live in, is often very narrowly defined by the power of the few who own those media. Being familiar with media and how it operates in the West, I was looking into and seeing what was happening in China. I laid my hands on as many stories as I could find within China, and what I have seen is how deeply entrenched the gender norms are, equally in China as they are here in the U.S., how they are also reiterated in the media and that’s how we also learn how to construct our world and see our world as common sense. So, what I’m looking at is the structures, what we call the paratexts, for constructing how we understand those women writers–not just the pigtails, not just the stories that they write.
I would like to thank Toni Tan tremendously for the many years that she has been supportive as I hemmed and hawed about whether this book should come to print. I would also like to thank Professor Victor Mair for allowing my book to appear in the Cambria Sinophone World Series. It’s an honor. You’ve created an excellent series for Sinological studies, and it’s an honor to be with so many wonderful colleagues. So I thank you very much.”
* * * * *
About the book
The widespread public exposure of modern Chinese women writers in the 1920s and 1930s generated interest in women’s creative output. The publishing field was the chief cultural forum within which other women looking for role models assessed their experiences in modernity. At the same time, however, this forum was limited by parameters that defined the labor of “women writers” (nüzuojia) as largely sentimental, unstructured, politically disengaged or naively subjective and unable to see the “larger picture” of humanity. Therefore, the value of women’s creative output was classified alongside the dominant narrative that conditioned readers’ responses to women’s literary output as evidence of women’s incomplete emancipation. The liberation of the newly styled women occurred in an industry whose power was the basis of the nation’s new cultural construction, yet despite there being exemplary women within the industry, there is no evidence of women as drivers of culture or in sustained cultural leadership roles to the same extent or with the same cultural weight as their male peers.
Women intellectual’s status as cultural producers, as it was codified in print media, has yet to be more fully explored so that we can better understand the relationship between gender ideologies and media. By deconstructing the hidden visual and linguistic signs of modernity’s promise for women’s equality and freedom one can begin to understand why, a century later, contemporary female authors confront obstacles similar to their pre-1949 predecessors. The social category of “women writers” is one among many that lets us examine how media’s visual and linguistic signs of difference express cultural identity norms and codify the modern individual.
Employing media analysis to examine the way paratexts create and reproduce gendered norms, especially through persistent material and discursive mechanisms that framed women authors and their textual production, Chinese Women Writers and Modern Print Culture is the first study to analyze the gendered ideologies of Chinese print media and political culture in a single work. It is thus an important book for scholars in the fields of Asian studies, media studies, and women and gender studies.
Title: Chinese Women Writers and Modern Print Culture
Author: Megan M. Ferry
Publisher: Cambria Press
290 pp. | 2018 | Hardback & E-book
Book Webpage: http://www.cambriapress.com/books/9781604979381.cfm