69th Lecture - The Emerging Modern Woman: Images of “The Girl Student” in Early Twentieth Century Urban China
In the last decade of the Qing dynasty, nü xuesheng
(female student/girl student) emerged as a distinctive category to designate the Chinese women who were exposed to modern women’s education. Although the late Qing reformers attempted to refashion female students as the effective carriers of new knowledge in the national order, they simultaneously expressed concerns on the potential threats that female students posed to the society and the public spaces. This paper examines the transformation of the representations of the Female Student from the late Qing to the early Republic era. I argue that the Female Student was not always a passive object subject to the intellectuals’ criticism and public scrutiny. Rather, she assumed agency and appeared as a bold, active, and potentially subversive figure in the republican era. This Female Student image represented the prototype of the "New Woman" that was to be celebrated in 1920s China.