The paper should be between 2000 and 2500 words in length, double spaced.
Your answer must make relevance to the reading provided.
What did the readings on Chinese women writers in Manchukuo reveal about the nature of “collaboration” and “resistance” in Japanese-occupied China?
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Disrupting Narratives: Chinese Women Writers and the Japanese Cultural Agenda in
Author(s): Norman Smith
Source: Modern China, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp. 295-325
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
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Chinese Women Writers and the Japanese
Cultural Agenda in Manchuria, 1936-1945
Universityof British Columbia
This article assesses the lives, careers, and literary legacies of the most prominent Chinese women writers during the latter stage of the Japanese occupation
of Manchuria. The article reveals how they articulated dissatisfaction with the
Japanese cultural agenda while working within Japanese colonial institutions.
Empowered by ineffectual state policies and misogynous official neglect, the
women embarked on a decade-long quest to “describe” and “expose” the
reality of Chinese women’s lives under Japanese occupation. May Fourth ideals of women’s emancipation inspired them to forge careers as critics of
Japan’s cultural agenda, and they undermined Japanese efforts to sever ties
between Manchuria and the rest of China. This study adds to a growing body of
recent critical scholarship incorporating Chinese-language sources into
received interpretations of Japan’s colonial state of Manchukuo.
China; Manchukuo; feminism; women; colonialism
In the Japanesecolony of Manchukuo(1932-1945), official idealizationof “goodwives, wise mothers”(xianqiliangmu)was an essential elementof the colonial culturalagenda.Duringthe final decadeof
the occupation,Chinese women writersforged careersby critiquing
AUTHOR’SNOTE:I would like to thankGlen Peterson,Diana Lary,and CatherineSwatekfor
their guidance and encouragement.I also acknowledgethe unfailingsupportof Chang Guizhi,
RichardCheng,Li Ruomu,LiuHuijuan,Liu Qing,Ren Yuhua,andZhaoShuqin.Iam indebtedto
thefour survivingwomenof this studyand their respectivespouses: LanLing,Mei Niang, Yang
Xu and ZhangHong’en, and Zhu Ti and Li Zhengzhong.Manythanksare extendedto Modem
China’s anonymous readers and Philip Huang for their comments and suggestions. This
researchhas beenfunded by the Social Sciences and HumanitiesResearchCouncilof Canada,
the Chiang Ching-kuoFoundation,and the Universityof British Columbia.
CHINA,Vol.30 No. 3, July2004 295-325
296 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
the patriarchalprinciplesthatthey identifiedwith Japaneseambitions
for the region. From 1936 to 1945, Dan Di (1916-1995),1 Lan Ling
(1918-2003),2Mei Niang (b. 1920),3Wu Ying (1915-1961),4YangXu
(b. 1918),5Zhu Ti (b. 1923),6and Zuo Di (1920-1976)7togetherpublished hundredsof essays, novellas,poems, andotherworkscriticalof
Manchukuosociety and, especially, patriarchy.These seven Chinese
women writerssharedcomplex relationshipswith the Japanesecolonial state;they were simultaneouslybeneficiariesof statepolicies and
targets of persecution. All were educated and rose to intellectual
maturity within Manchukuo, where they established formidable
careers,as the nine volumes of their collected works that were published duringthe Japaneseoccupationattest.8
Each of the writers attaineda high-profilecareerin Manchukuo,
only to be condemnedby colonial officials andtheirChinese socialist
successors.In 1943, Dan Di beganthe firstof threetermsof imprisonment.From 1943, workby LanLing, Wu Ying, YangXu, ZhuTi, and
Zuo Di was either the subject of official investigation,censored, or
banned.For nearly three decades following the establishmentof the
People’s Republicof China(PRC)in 1949, these women were persecuted for their “colonial”careers,and theirlegacy was all but erased
from popular memory. The only women writers from 1930s and
1940s Manchuriadeemedworthyof recognitionor scholarlystudyin
the PRC were those who had left at the beginning of the Japanese
occupation. All literary production within the colonial state of
Manchukuoitself was condemnedas the work of “traitorsto China”
(hanjian). Ironically,the writers’very success in critiquingcolonial
society contributedto their downfall in the Maoist era (1949-1976).
Specifically, theirportraitsof colonial life made it possible, perhaps
even likely, that subsequentcritics would interpretthatperiod as one
in which only the most sycophantictraitorscould survive.Thus, from
the mid-1950s to the 1970s, the writers were condemned for their
activitiesduringthe Japaneseoccupation.This study arguesthe relevance of theirliterarylegacy for those wishing to understandJapan’s
In the PRC, throughoutthe Maoist era, official interpretationsof
life in Japanese-occupiedareasof Chinawereconstructedon the basis
of presumedloyalty to the Chinese state:Chinese who fought or fled
fromthe Japanesedid so for strictlypatrioticreasons,while those who
lived underJapaneserule were “traitorsto China.”As the Maoist state
moved to control historicalnarratives,it restrictedaccess to primary
materialsthatshed light on thatera. Effortsat understandingthe Chinese experience of Japanese imperialism were supplantedby the
imperativeof demonstratingChinese nationalistresistanceto it. The
contemptwith which the entireperiodwas treatedis illustratedby the
customaryadditionof the prefix wei (bogus) to all referencesto the
Manchukuo period, beginning with wei Manzhouguo (bogus
Post-Mao liberalizationis freeing scholars to reassess received
interpretationsof “literatureof the enemy occupation” (lunxian
wenxue). Shang Guanying, an avid consumer of this literatureas a
child in Manchukuo,has identifiedtwo dominantreactionsto it in the
Maoist era:disregard(totaldenialof its existence) andcondemnation
(rejectionof it as the work of traitors)(Shang Guangyin, 1989: 102).
Arguingthatboth stancesdistortthe writers’originalintentas well as
their impact on contemporaryreaders,Shang emphasizes that their
work mustbe evaluatedwithinthe contextof the regulatoryregimein
which they lived andwrote,a readinghe insists highlightstheirinsight
andcourage(Shang Guangyin, 1989: 105). ZhangQuanparallelsthe
traumaof Japaneseoccupation with that of the CulturalRevolution
(1966-1976), claiming thatliteratiin both periods”enduredhumiliation in order to carry out an importantmission” (ren rufu zhong).
Zhang believes that their work reveals “sufferingsouls and bodies”
(ling yu rou de monanzhong) strugglingto survivedesperatecircumstances (ZhangQuan, 1997: 494). ShangandZhangrepresentthe sea
change in the PRC regarding China’s colonial literary legacy.
298 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
However,Zhang warnsthatthe 1996 condemnationof ZhangAiling
(1920-1995) in the Chinesepress as a “traitorto China”for her activities during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai illustrates the
continuedpolarizationof the field (ZhangQuan, 1997: 493).
Outside the PRC, importanteconomic and militarystudies of the
Japaneseoccupationhave been produced,but they shed little light on
Chinese culturein Manchukuo.Indeed,RonaldSuleski’s (1994) The
Modernizationof Manchuria:An AnnotatedBibliographycontains
few entries on Chinese culture and not one reference to women’s
experiences.Scholarlywork on otheroccupied areasof Chinashows
the same pattern.Only recentlyhave historiansbegun to directattention towardthe “conflictingmotives,tacticalconcessions, sheerhelplessness, andall the otherexistentialuncertaintiesthatcharacterized”
Chinese lives duringJapaneseoccupation(Barrett,2001: 17).
The problemwith receivedinterpretationsof colonial life in China
is illustratedin Poshek Fu’s (1993) pioneeringstudyPassivity,Resistance, and Collaboration:Intellectual Choices in Occupied Shanghai, 1937-45. Fu cites May Fourthinfluencesthatrevolutionizedconcepts of individual autonomy in the 1920s and 1930s, enabling a
“cultureof criticism”to survive foreign occupation(Fu, 1993: xiv).
Fu highlightshow the complex colonial environmentcould empower
intellectualsto pursuethe “cherishedtraditionof using literatureas a
politicalmedium”(Fu, 1993: 10). His documentationof how levels of
censorshipandoppressionrose afterthe 1937 crackdownon publishing-as well as of the increasingly “darkworld” (hei’an shijie) of
Shanghai from December 8, 1941-provides significant parallels
with the “darkera”(hei’an shiqi) of Manchukuo(Fu, 1993: 33). More
recently,in “ResistanceandCollaboration:Chinese Cinemain Occupied Shanghai, 1941-1945,” Fu has furtherchallenged the “moral
binarism”thatinformsinterpretationsof colonial life by demonstrating how Shanghaifilmmakersengagedin both “passivecollaboration
andindirectresistance”(Fu, 2001: 197). He compellingly arguesthat
although “Shanghaicinema constituted an institutionalpart of the
occupying power, it did not articulate an ideological position to
legitimatethatpower”(Fu, 2001: 181).
Fu bringslight to a conditionpreviouslyneglectedby scholars:collaborationandresistancewithinthe sameinstitutionalspace.The Jap-
anese colonial agendain Shanghairequiredthe participationof Chinese, which in turnnecessitatedtheir accommodation.Fu asks,
Was filming any more “traitorous”than, say, removing garbage or
fighting fires as a profession? Of course, whetherthere was a difference dependson the extentto which theirfilms participated,as cultural
andsocialpractices,in the legitimizingdiscourseof the enemy.[Fu,
2001: 186, emphasis added]
Fu underlinesan importantdistinctionbetween working with or for
and proselytizingfor the colonial state. For the vast majorityof the
population,workwas necessaryfor survival.Thus,conductshouldbe
judged “traitorous”not accordingto the work engaged in but rather
accordingto whetherthat work legitimized the occupying power.Fu
differentiatesbetween intellectuals who occupied colonial institutional spaces and intellectuals whose culturalproductionsserved to
legitimizeJapanesecolonialism,a distinctionrelevantto the turbulent
literaryworld of twentieth-centuryTaiwan.
In Becoming Japanese: Colonial Taiwanand the Politics of IdentityFormation,Leo Chingexposes the cultural”triangulationbetween
colonial Taiwan, imperial Japan, and nationalist China” that
problematizesunderstandingof local Taiwanesehistory and identity
(Ching,2001: 8). Chingnotes how popularfiction fromthe eraof Japanese occupation,long condemnedas “enslavingliterature”(nuli hua
de wenxue), began to attractpublic and academic attention in the
1990s as Taiwan’ssociopoliticalclimatebecamemoreopen to discussions of colonial history; since then, interesthas “spreadlike a little
boom” (Ching, 2001: 113-14). He argues that in light of Taiwan’s
occupationby Manchu(1683-1895), Japanese(1895-1945), andChinese (1945-) forces, alternatereadings of “collaboration”must be
accommodated(Ching, 2001: 115). Ching demonstratesthat in Taiwan’s komin (imperial peoples) literatureof the early 1940s, “the
struggleover colonial identityemerge[d]as the dominantdiscourse”
(Ching,2001: 91). The resultant,often dire,criticismof colonial society was similar to that in work by Japanese leftists. Ching cites
HayamaYoshiki’spraisefor the novel by Lung Ying-tsung(Japanese
pen nameRyu Ei-so), Papaiyano aru machi(A Townof PapayaTrees,
1937). HayamalaudsLung’s workfor voicing “notonly the cry of the
300 MODERNCHINA/ JULY2004
Taiwanese,but also the cries of all the oppressedclasses. It is in the
spiritof Pushkin,Gorki,andLu Hstin;it [has much] in common with
Japaneseproletarianwork.It fully embodiesthe highest literaryprinciples” (Ching, 2001: 129). Thus, this “enslavingliterature”did not
legitimizeJapanesecolonial rulebutwas fixed withinan international
context of culturalcriticism.
In Taiwan,as in much of China,Japanservedas both a conduitfor
and a constrainton the analysis of contemporarysociety, especially
regardingthe statusof women. Recentstudiesof the intellectualworld
of the late Taisho (1912-1925) and early Showa (1926-1989) eras
have underlinedits vibrancyeven as Japanesesociety edged toward
maternityarose “new subjectivities”that rejectedsuch conservatism
onna) became a definingfeatureof urbanJapanesesociety. In 1926,
the writer TakamureItsue assailed “men, moder society, and the
West [as] …
all equally hateful” (Tsurumi, 1998: 342). In 1931,
IchikawaFusae urged “mothersof humanity”to work towardsocial
justice for all and to end the destructivewarsthatwere ravagingAsia
(Mackie, 1997: 144). Similarly, in 1932, the anarchistYagi Akiko
denounced the “slave” state of Manchukuo;she appealed to Asian
socialists to unite in opposition to Japanese imperialism (Mackie,
1997: 93). In Japan,new women began to challenge the patriarchal
principlesthatthey identifiedwith repressiveinstitutions.
Criticism of patriarchywas also fundamentalto China’s May
Fourthmovement(ca. 1915-1925). In Womenin the ChineseEnlightenment(1999), Zheng Wang reconstructsthe amorphous “thought
revolution”thatwas firedby anti-imperialist,antipatriarchal
in urban Republican China. The pursuit of “emancipation”and
“equality”enabledyouth to reconcileinheritedself-identitieswith an
influx of foreign influences. Wang arguesthat the “genderissue …
shape[d]Chinese society in the twentiethcentury”(Wang, 1999: 4).
Vera Schwarcz has also stressed how students during the “Chinese
Renaissance”of the 1910s and 1920s saw themselvesatwaragainst”a
pervasive, internalized passivity” (Schwarcz, 1986: 117). Passive
women proved the ideal trope for a weakened China. “Independent
personhood”(duli renge), for women as well as men, became a key
sloganthatsignifieda breakwith the Confucianandauthoritarian
(Wang, 1999: 20). As early as 1915, Chen Duxiu (1879-1942), a
founderof the ChineseCommunistParty(CCP)andof thejournalXin
qingnian (New Youth),argued,”Butloyalty, filial piety, and chastity
are not at all a mastermoralitythatextends standardsto othersfrom
the self; rather, they are a slavery mentality that makes oneself
subordinateto others”(qtd. in Wang, 1999: 45).
New women also rejectedthe “mastermorality”of autocracy,foreign imperialism,and patriarchy.Similardissent counteredthe conservatismof the Republic of China’s New Life Movement (inauguratedFebruary19, 1934) and Manchukuo’sWangdao(Kingly Way).
In Manchukuo,in particular,Japanesepromotionof a patriarchalcultural agenda fostered a vital Chinese feminist literature,which has
long since lain silenced.
CONFLICTING APPROACHES TO THE
“WOMAN QUESTION” IN MANCHUKUO
In the 1920s, publicdebateoverthe “womanquestion”(funiiwenti)
gripped Manchuriansociety. “New women” who aggressively pursued careersoutside theirhomes and chose their own mates became
powerful symbols of social change. When Manchukuowas established in 1932, constructsof womanhoodcame underfurtherscrutiny
as colonial officials promotedthe cultivationof “good wives, wise
mothers.”The independence advocated by young, urban Chinese
women was increasinglylinked with Westernindividualismand thus
virulentlyattackedin the press;new women were condemnedas “pitiful maggotsin a rougehell” (zhifendiyude keliande chongmen)(Wei
Zhonglan, 1943: 35).
The reconstitutionof genderideals was an essential element of the
Japanese cultural agenda in Manchukuo. In officially sanctioned
media, conservativeconstructsof womanhoodwere promoted.Without exception, “model”women were portrayedas submissive,meek,
and, most of all, obedient. Any perceived deviationwas denounced.
New women were criticized for lewd, selfish, and self-centered
behavior-“a prostitutestyle of life” (jiniishi de shenghuo)(Bai Wu,
1941: 30). Chinese housewives were exhortedto emulatetheirJapanese counterparts’abilityto “bearbitternessandendurelabor”(renku
302 MODERNCHINA/ JULY2004
nailao) (“Shidaixiaojiemen,”1936: 7). Educatedwomen, especially
those who had attendeduniversity,were to single-mindedlypursue
social responsibilities to prevent their degeneration into “flower
vases” (huaping)(Wei Zhonglan, 1943: 34). Thus, “newera”women
had nation-orientedroles to fulfill; they shouldnotjust “changefrom
garbageinto a toy”(youfeiwu gaicheng le wanwu),a criticismleveled
againsttraditionalandcontemporaryChinesewomen (Bai Wu, 1941:
30). Justlike men, women had responsibilitiesto the nation-in their
case, as wives, mothers,and workers.Men’s innate”ability”to wage
war was paralleled with women’s “abilities”to raise children and
work hard(Xi Yi, 1943: 31).
Such ambitionsremainedunfulfilled,however,andJapanesecommentators,women andmen alike, lamentedthe reluctanceof Chinese
women to embracethe “beautifulcustoms”of Japanesewomen. In the
journal Qingnian wenhua (YouthCulture),Mochizuki Yurikocriticized the Japanesein Manchukuo,arguingthatJapaneseculturalideals couldbe fully appreciatedonly in Japan.She stressedthatJapanese
colonists in Manchuriawere neitherrepresentativenor inspirational
in several importantrespects: they were young, single men who,
“withoutany gentle elders to guide them,”remainedsegregatedfrom
their Manchurianneighbors and exhibited little desire to associate
with them (MochizukiYuriko,1943: 35-36). Mochizukisaw the failureof local Japaneseto personifytheirown culturalideals as hampering Chinese acceptanceof official discourseon ideal womanhood.
Japanesecriticism was especially directedtowardurbanChinese
women, whose lifestyle was contrastedwith that of their ruralcounterpartsand condemned. In “Xin Zhongguo niixing de dongjing”
(“Sounds of the New Chinese Women’s Movement” 1945), Wei
Zhonglanrecountsthe JapanesewriterHayashiFusao’s portrayalof
Chinese women aftera visit to North Chinain the mid-1930s:
China’s urbanwomen love to eat, they are too lazy to work, they talk
trendily,and are not willing like Japanesewomen to eat bitterness.I
also went to the Chinese countrysideand saw the conditionof women
in the villages…. Chineseurbanwomen cannotbe called Hanpeople.
TrueHanwomen can only be foundin villages. [Qtd.in WeiZhonglan,
Significantly,Hayashi’s depiction of “trueHan women” (zhenzheng
Han minzuzhifunii) locates essential Chinese women’s characteristics in ruralwomen who lived outside the strong Japanesecolonial
presence of the cities (Wei Zhonglan, 1943: 33). Hayashi furtherargued that for a woman, the
true Han people’s spirit is to make fire, cook food, preparenoodles,
collect manure,cut wood, wash clothes, go to the fields to harvestrice,
watch the children,feed the animals[,] … eat bitternessand bear it,
obey her mother-in-lawand husband, to go through peaceful days.
[Qtd. in Wei Zhonglan, 1943: 34]
Hayashilaudedruralwomen’s ability to obediently”eatbitterness
andbearit,”a notablyconservativestance.But if we considerhis denunciationof urbanwomen in the contextof Japan’simperialproject,
it becomes clearthathis criticismsdo morethandescribethe so-called
decadenceof the urbanChinese women he aimedto critique.The behaviorhe cites manifeststhe resistanceof those women to the colonial
culturalagenda-Hayashi notes theirovertrefusalto mimic Japanese
gender ideals, work diligently, or quietly accept economic deprivation. The dichotomyin depictionsof ruralwomen who “eatbitterness
andbearit” and of the “lazy,””trendy”new women of the urbancenters is emblematic of attempts to resolve the woman question in
Manchukuo.This contrastilluminatesthe gulf thatlay between statesanctionedideals and the women who were expected to heed them.
The chasm between ideals pursuedby new women and those promotedby colonial officials persistedthroughoutthe occupation,spurring the steady promulgationof publicationlaws from 1932 to 1945.
Their cumulativeintent was to ostracize Manchuriafrom the rest of
China,to cultivatepatriotismforManchukuo,andto promoteWangdao;
any worksthatendangeredthe “nationalfoundation”or induced”bad
behavior”were forbidden(Jie Xueshi, 1992:190-91). Fourteenyears
of relentlesslegislation attestsboth to its limited effectiveness and to
continued state intransigencein the realm of culturalproduction.In
the early 1940s, restrictionsof unprecedentedscope wereunleashed.
On February21, 1941, the “EightAbstentions”(Ba bu) increased
vigilance over writerswho continuedto engage in culturalcriticism.
304 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
Sanctions ranging from censorship to imprisonmentwere leveled
against negative writing, “discussion of love affairs and lust,” and
“denigrationof women’s virginity”(YuLei, 1992: 181). Writingpessimistically, or about women’s sexuality in ways that contradicted
Japaneseconstructsof chastity,was perceived to denigratecolonial
state structuresand Japanese cultural ideals. But despite ceaseless
governmentalinterdiction,writersand readerscontinuedto revel in
bannedsubjects;not only did they make good reading,but they were
enhancedby their auraof illegality. The restrictionsoutlined in the
Eight Abstentions reflect the natureof contemporaryliteratureten
years into the occupation.They are a testamentto the complex blend
of regulation and dissent that characterizedManchukuo’s literary
world. Had the Eight Abstentions been vigorously enforced, they
wouldhavecrippledliteraryproduction.As it was, even these onerous
rules were viewed by colonial officials as inadequate and were
supplementedin following yearswith yet morestringentlegislation.
Despite this weighty regulatoryframework,the most prolific Chinese women writerscritiquedthe patriarchalnatureof Manchukuofor
much of the final decade of Japaneserule. The writersZhu Ti and Li
Keju (Li Zhengzhong)laterattributedcolonial officials’ indifference
to a misogyny that dismissed women’s writings as inconsequential,
effectively sparingmost women writersthe intense scrutinythatdogged male writers(Zhu Ti and Li Keju, 1992: 408). Colonial officials
viewed their work as relativelyharmless.After all, the writerswere
young, had been partly educated in Manchukuo, and were only
women. The critiques that they producedalso resonatedwith dissident Japanesewriters and, perhapsmost important,did not express
any supportfor the Republic of China. Officials in Manchukuothus
found themselves caught in a tangle of legitimizing discourse from
Japanese intellectuals, local sympathies, and their own legislation.
They responded with haphazardenforcement;writers transgressed
the Eight Abstentions at their peril. Male writers were forced into
exile (Liang Shanding),jailed (YuanXi), or executed (TianBen) for
levels of criticismthatwomen offeredwith impunity.Enjoyingpopular appealand criticalacclaim,the women wrote hundredsof stories,
poems, and articles;workedas editors;earnedmoney; and left a trail
of achievementsthat led to theirdownfall in the PRC.
EDUCATING YOUNG WOMEN IN MANCHUKUO
Recent migrationand humbleeconomic statuswere featurescommon to much of Manchuria’spopulationin the firsthalf of the twentieth century;they characterizethe family backgroundsof the writers
treatedin this study.Dan Di’s fathertraveledfromHunanto Manchuria to work as a soldier duringthe Russo-JapaneseWar(1904-1905).
After the war, he stayed and marrieda Koreanorphan(Xu Naixiang
and HuangWanhua,1995: 288-89). In 1925, Zhu Ti’s father,a merchant, took his small family from Beijing to Jilin city in search of
bettermarkets(QianLiqun,2000: 328). Mei Niang’s fathermigrated
from Shandongto Changchunto work as a messenger (Mei Niang,
1998a: 99). Most of the women were born in Manchuria,and all of
themgrewup in the region,surroundedby an alreadyprominentJapanese presence.When Manchukuowas establishedin 1932, the eldest
was sixteen years old; the youngest, age eight. Their youth put the
decision to stay or leave out of theirhands;they remainedwith their
FormalJapaneseoccupationdid not improvethe economic circumstancesof these families;following the establishmentof Manchukuo,
none prospered,andthe fortunesof severaldeclinedprecipitously.In
the state-managedeconomy, focused on heavy industryand resource
extraction,fewer opportunitiesexisted for Chinese prosperity.Mei
Niang’s father lost importantRussian connections and refused the
offer of a high-level governmentappointment(Mei Niang, 1998a:
111). Lan Ling’s fatherand Zhu Ti’s parentsabandonedManchukuo
for theirhometowns,which were by then also underJapaneseoccupation (LanLing, 1985:71; ZhuTi, 1945b: 1). The economic opportunities thatluredmanyChinesemigrantsto the regiondriedup duringthe
Japanese occupation. Manchukuo offered them not prosperitybut
rathera degree of stabilityunattainablein the rest of China.
The women’s households varied.Dan Di, Wu Ying, YangXu, and
Zhu Ti were raised by two parents,with several siblings. The backgroundsof Lan Ling, Mei Niang, andZuo Di were more tumultuous.
LanLing’s family consistedof hermother,herfather,his second wife,
and severalyounger children.In 1936, when she was eighteen years
old, her father left Manchukuo,and as the eldest sibling, she was
306 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
forced to shoulderadditionalresponsibilities(Lan Ling, 1985: 71).
Mei Niang was borninto an extended,wealthy household,where life
was far from idyllic: her birth mother was a concubine who was
houndedto suicide soon afterMei Niang’s birth(Mei Niang, 1998a:
99). When Mei was twelve years old, her family life dramatically
alteredupon her father’sprematuredeath. Zuo Di’s family was also
transformedby the deathof her motherwhen she was eleven; a semblance of normalcywas restoredwhen her fatherremarriedand two
more children were born (Luo Ping and Luo Ling, 1990: 220-23).
Whatever form the women’s families assumed, all struggled with
Most were raised in relativepoverty.Dan Di later recountedhow
her early life was shaped by education and poverty; her father’s
employmentas a middle school teacherin Qiqihaarensuredthem a
life of scholarlypenury(Fu Shangku,1982: 212-15). To help supplement the family’s income, she collected wood, leaves, and mushrooms in the forest;sold pig’s blood in the market;and workedin the
fields duringharvest.Like Lan Ling, she accompaniedher motherto
pawn shops and learnedfirsthandthe odious cost of credit, different
strategiesto overcome poverty,and the untenableposition of Manchukuo’slower classes (LanLing,  1996b). The instabilitythat
characterizedtheiryouth is reflectedin the careerof Zuo Di’s father,
who changedprofessionshalf a dozen times between 1920 and 1936,
when he lost ajob for the last time;he died in 1938 (Luo Ying andLuo
Yan, 1990: 230).
Mei Niang is the only member of this group who was born into
wealth. In the 1920s, her father, Sun Zhiyuan, became a major
regionalindustrialist.In the springof 1932, Sun rejectedthe offer of a
vice presidencyof the ManchukuoCentralBank, andthe family traveled for a yearin NorthChina(Mei Niang, 1998a: 111-15). But prohibitions against the conversion and export of Manchukuocurrency
severely straitenedtheir finances;held hostage to their property,the
Sun family returnedto Manchukuo.Sun’s death shortly thereafter
resultedin the breakupof the family,andthe comfortsof Mei Niang’s
youthbeganto disappear.The experienceof herfamilyis animportant
reminder that those who left Manchukuo forfeited their personal
property.They had to decide between remaining with their established lives underJapanesecolonial rule in a regionthathadonly ever
knowntentativeChineseruleandleavingwith nothingfor an uncertain
futurein the splinteringRepublic of China. These families chose to
The ethnicity of the writersreflects Manchuria’sreputationas a
meltingpot. LanLing, Mei Niang, ZhuTi, andZuo Di werebornHan.
But Dan Di was HanandKorean,Wu Ying was Han andManchu,and
YangXu is Hui. Theirethnicitysuggests the rich social fabricof Manchuria.Colonialofficials promotedManchukuoas a kingdomof multiethnic cooperation,but few of the women wrote of ethnicity and
none echoed the official rhetoric.Instead,they cited ethnicity as difference.Forexample,YangXu celebratedthe Hui dietaryrestrictions
thatenabledher to escape a restrictiveboardingschool environment;
Hui’s avoidanceof porkmade life at the Han Christianschool impossible (YangXu, 1943b: 102). Likewise, Wu Ying noted thatthe infant
son of a Japanesesocialite she interviewedinstantlyrecognized that
she was not Japanese;her interview contrastsChinese and Japanese
styles of raising children (Wu Ying, 1944a). In the hundredsof fictional works on which this study is based, the Japanese are rarely
alludedto, and the few mentionsthatappearare negative.For example, in Dan Di’s AndiheMahua (Andiand Mahua, 1940) the Japanese
invasiondestroysa young couple; in Mei Niang’s Xie (Crabs, 1944),
the Japaneseworkethic is shownto disruptChineselife in Changchun.
The ethnic harmonyidealized by colonial officials is not reflected in
this literature,a “stunning silence” also noted by PrasenjitDuara
Dan Di, LanLing, Mei Niang, WuYing, YangXu, ZhuTi, andZuo
Di all began theireducationat home, at threeor four years of age, in
Confucian classics and May Fourth literature.Each of the writers
noted the multiple regional, national,and foreign literaryinfluences
thatshapedherwork,fromBa Jin,Ding Ling, Lu Xun, andXiao Hong
to LordByron,Maxim Gorky,RabindranathTagore,andEmile Zola;
this conjunctionof domestic and foreign influences was a defining
feature of the contemporaryliterary world. Each was educated at
home and embarked on formal education during the Republican
period. All completedtheireducationunderJapaneserule; like most
childrenin Manchuria,theirschooling was only brieflyinterruptedby
Manchukuo’seducation system was criticized by these women,
who dreamedof intellectualchallenge and careeropportunitiesequal
to men’s. Most women rose no higherthanprimaryschool; those who
did encountered curricula that focused on women’s presumed
strengths.While boys were educatedin science and physical training
to become “the national backbone” (guomin gugan), girls were
directedtowardmore “feminine”pursuits(WangYeping, 1989: 114).
The WelfareDepartment,for example,sponsoredthe XinjingDomestics’ Instituteto train Chinese girls to become qualified maids and
housekeepers for Japanese homes; courses in etiquette, cooking,
hygiene, laundering, and Japanese language were stressed
(ManchoukuoYearbook:1941, 1942: 718). In state-runschools, the
curriculasharedthe contemporaryRepublicanfocus on Confucian
classics. Manchukuoeducationwas unique,however,for its focus on
Japanese-stylevocational classes and for the absence of the Three
People’s Principles of Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925). Upon graduation,
women were encouragedto “returnto the kitchen”(zouhuichufang)
or seek employmentin designatedfields such as nursing,education,
or factorywork (WangYeping, 1989: 170-71).
In the early 1940s, Mei Niang and YangXu explicitly condemned
the restrictivenatureof girls’ education in Manchukuo.They criticized Japanesestaff who soughtto inculcateJapaneseideals of womanhood, which stressed docility (xiaoya), obedience (xuncong), and
composure (duanzhuang) (Mochizuki Yuriko, 1943: 36). In Mei
Niang’s novella Xie, the female protagonist,Sun Ling, is “especially
put out” (tebie meiqu) by the requiredJapanese home economics
classes (Mei Niang,  1996: 455). In her own life, Mei Niang
refusedto returnto the kitchen.YangXu also rejectedthe conservative
culturalagenda:”School,family, society … seem to be combiningto
take advantageof me, this pitiful girl. As soon as I thinkabouthope,
realityimmediatelymakesme runinto a stone wall. Am I not to moan
while being attackedfrom all sides?” (YangXu, 1945b: 147). Colonial “reality”led Mei Niang andYangXu to contrastJapan’simperial
project with the modernity that they envisioned, and it convinced
them of the inferiorityof Manchukuoideals. The only aspect of the
colonial educationsystem praisedby Mei Niang was dormitorylife,
for introducingher to the “strongaffection”(nonghoude ganqing) of
collective womanhoodandto the inequitiesof patriarchy(Mei Niang,
 1997: 512).
Two of the writers,Mei Niang andDan Di, pursuedrareopportunities for advancededucationin Japan.In 1936, Mei Niang traveledto
Japanto study medicine, but she soon discovered that all that was
availableto herwas finishingschool (Mei Niang, 1998a: 123). During
hertwo yearsof studies,andthenwhile herhusbandworkedas an editor at the Daban Huawen meiri (Chinese Osaka Daily) in 1940 and
1941, Mei Niang was moved by the poverty of the common people;
she refused to condemn all Japanese for their nation’s aggression
against China (Mei Niang, 1998b). She improved her Japaneselanguageskills andtranslatedJapanesefeministwork,notablythatof
KumeMasao, into Chinese. Also in Japanin the early 1940s, Dan Di
was disconcerted by Japanese classmates who “rarelysing, rarely
smile, [andare]corrodedby silent melancholy”(Dan Di, 1987: 173).
In 1942, shejoined a women’shistoryclass, whichunderlined,forher,
fundamentaldifferences between Chinese and Japanesewomen. To
Dan Di’s chagrin,the class focused on “forgottenwomen, toyed-with
women whose fate is as if they are alreadydead”;she noted how contemporaryJapanesegender analysisjustified sexist economic structures based on women’s “physiologicalinferiority”to men (Dan Di,
1987: 179). She rejectedthe emphasison negativityand subjugation.
Dan Di’s experiencesin Japanaffirmedfor her the superiorityof Chinese ideals of womanhood.
Life in Japan influenced Mei Niang and Dan Di in one further
respect. In the early 1940s, Japan’sliteraryworld was freer than its
Manchukuocounterpart,allowingfor greateraccess to literaturefrom
ChinaandtheWest(DanDi, 1987:174-80). Tokyo’sChinese-language
bookstore, for instance, stocked works by Marx, Lenin, and Xiao
Hong;in 1940, Mei Niang boughtXiao Jun’svirulentlyanti-Japanese
Ba yue de xiangcun (Village in August) (Mei Niang, 1990: 232-33).
Ironically,these studentshadbeen encouragedby colonial authorities
to travelto the heartof the Japaneseempire,wherethey were exposed
to the literaturedeemed most dangerousby the Manchukuogovernment. Both women left Japan with diminished respect for Japan’s
imperialprojectand enhancedabilities to articulatetheirdissatisfaction. This confluenceof alienationandempowermenthad a formative
influence on constructsof womanhoodin Manchukuo.
310 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
CHALLENGING CONSTRUCTS OF
“GOOD WIVES, WISE MOTHERS”
May Fourthnarrativesregardingemancipationspurrednew women
in Manchukuoto deem individualcontrol over their love lives to be
integralto theirself-identities.Colonial officials condemnedthem, in
turn,for putativelylax morality,arguingthat”marriageis not at all for
pleasureor sex, butfor the developmentandextensionof the race”(Xi
Yi, 1943: 38). Personallives were to be subjectto statecontrol,which
was predicatedon conservativepatriarchalideals.
these writers to reject both conservativeChinese ideals of womanhood andtheirimportedJapanesecounterparts,which they viewed as
the proverbial”icingon the cake”(Mei Niang, interviewwith author,
Beijing, November 23, 2000). Zuo Di, Yang Xu, and Mei Niang all
specificallycited patriarchy’snegativeimpacton Manchukuosociety.
The title characterin Zuo Di’s novella Liu Qi laments the lack of
wei zhongxinde shehui) (Zuo Di, 1942: 77). YangXu, in her volume
of collected writings, Wode riji (MyDiary, 1945), rejectedofficially
sanctioned ideals of womanhood as antitheticalto Japan’s alleged
ambitionsfor the region;they were not “modem.”Indeed,Yang was
even praisedby a critic for her “determinationto not fear social rejection and not tolerateConfucianism[;]… [she is] absolutelyfighting
against[her]evil environment”(JiaRen, 1943:96). Yangconsistently
criticized”male-centeredsociety” (nanxingwei zhongxinde shehui)
(YangXu, 1943a: 130). Mei Niang engagedin similarcriticism.In her
novella Yu(Fish), the female
highly popular,explicitly antipatriarchal
society…, which recprotagonist
andtyrannizeme”(Mei Niang, 1943b:70-71). In an open letterto Wu
Ying in 1943, Mei declaredthatthe sufferingcaused by “malechauvinist society” (nanxingzhongshehui) made women more conscious
(juewu)and progressive(qianjin)thanmen, requiringthem to shoulder specialresponsibilities:”onlywomen can makethis worldchange
society needed rehabilitationby those who had been schooled by its
worst excesses, women.
The official promotionof chastity as the cornerstoneof women’s
morality was also hotly contested. In Mei Niang’s novella Bang
(Clam), the female protagonist,Meili, laments sexual double standards:”women’sroadis narrow,especially in this society, which uses
virginity(zhencao)to judge women”(Mei Niang,  1986: 188).
Meili arguesthatsexualityis a naturalpartof life thatshouldnot rightfully be denied: “No, I must not blame myself. That is a natural
instinct (benxing). Everyone must have it, to refuse it would be
immoral. I mustn’t feel sorry for losing my virginity”(Mei Niang,
 1986: 187). Thus, Meili’s engagementin premarital sex, an
activity explicitly condemnedby colonial authorities,is defendedby
Mei Niang. In Wu Ying’s Nii bantu (WomanRebel), Li Ping is a
“womanrebel”whose sexual conquests alarmher female colleagues
(WuYing, 1939: 31). Li’s deathaftera botchedabortionis sympathetically portrayedby Wu;herpursuitof sexualfulfillmentreflectsnegatively not on herbutratheron the prejudicesthatdroveher to an early
Colonial officials promotedchastity,but these writersemphasized
integrityin their work. This distinctionis clear in Lan Ling’s poem
“Xiaogang de chuxi” (“New Year in a Small Alley”), as a young
widow is forced into prostitutionto supporther baby:
She cannot steal,
she darenot rob,
she can only think of using her starvingbody,
to tradefor little scrapsof food. [LanLing, (1940) 1996a: 808]
In defianceof colonialregulations,LanLingsuggeststhatin Manchukuo,
even a devoted mother and widow was valued only for her body,
which was almostworthless.The poem ends with the womanfreezing
to deathon an abandonedstreetlit by fireworksas her starvingbaby
lies abandonedin an empty, darkapartment.
In theirpersonallives, the writersaimedto realizethe ideals thatinspired their work. Not one of them accepted an arrangedmarriage;
parentswho contrivedto pursuesuch marriageswere rebuffed.They
did all become wives and mothers,but on their own terms.In Wode
riji, YangXu rhetoricallyasks, “CouldI be thatkind of a ‘good wife,
wise mother’?Not a chance, not with my type of ‘wild horse charac-
312 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
ter”‘ (YangXu, 1945b: 151). Yangrefusedto accede to conservative
constructsof obedient women; she aggressively assertedher right to
date whomever she pleased. In “Ji” (“Mail”), Yang condemns
No matterwhat,do notget married,it’s simplyno differentfromconviction.Theso-calledhouseholdonlybringswomenhandcuffsanda
cangueto tie you up, you won’tget anydegreeof freedom.Whatis
love?It is whatwill makewomenjumpintoa cage,andafterjumping
intothecage,everythingis finished.[YangXu, 1943a:129-30]
By equatingmarriagewith imprisonment,Yangdirectlydefied regulationssuch as the EightAbstentions.Suchnegativedescriptionswere
also prevalentin popularfiction. The title characterin Zuo Di’s Liu Qi
dismisses marriedlife as “a meaninglessexistence”:”I once thought
of marriage,but thatis always a dead end for women. I must struggle
on with fate”(Zuo Di, 1942: 78). Subordinateroles in traditionalmarriageswere unequivocallyrenounced.At the climax of Wu Ying’s novella Ming (Howl),the female protagonistrejectsherabusivehusband
and leaves theirhome, refusingto “live like a pig in this greatworld”
(Wu Ying, 1943: 94).
Although the writers consistently critiqued “good wives, wise
mothers”in theirwritings,they personifiedmanyof the ideal’s essential elements. All of the women married,and (with the exception of
Dan Di and Lan Ling) only once, to men who were also engaged in
variousfacets of literaryproduction.Mei Niang andYangXu refused
arrangedmarriages,at considerablepersonalcost. Mei Niang infuriated her family by renouncing an engagement to marryLiu Longguang;the home they sharedbecame a salon for young writersin the
capital. Yang Xu similarlyrejectedan arrangedmarriageso that she
could marryZhang Hong’en, causing a lifelong alienationfrom her
parents.Both Liu andZhangworkedas editors.LanLing andZhu Ti,
with theirparents’approval,marriedneighborhoodboys who became
noted writers,Hu Dounan and Li Zhengzhong.Wu Ying and Zuo Di
marriedtwo of the most renownedManchukuowriters,Wu Lang and
Liang Shanding. Dan Di’s personal life was markedby relentless
political persecution.Her first husband,an editor she met at work in
1946, divorcedher when she was imprisonedby the Communistsin
1947. Her second marriagewas interruptedwhen she was jailed during the CulturalRevolution;her husbanddied shortly after she was
released. Her thirdmarriage,while she was in her 70s, lasted only a
few years before her deathin 1995.
As they matured,the women came to live whatthey had so roundly
criticized.All marriedandhad children.Mei Niang was widowed for
morethan50 years;in imperialChina,she would have been laudedas
a chastewidow.WuYing died shortlyafterherhusband’ssuicide.Zuo
Di did not remarryafterher politically motivateddivorce.YangXu’s
andZhu Ti’s marriageslasted more thanhalf a century,andLan Ling
was with her second husband,Qiu Jingshan,for more than40 years.
Thus, their criticisms of colonial constructs of ideal womanhood
shouldbe readas resistanceto the Manchukuoculturalagendarather
thanas oppositionto the entireConfuciancorpus,which shapedmuch
of their marriedlives. Ironically, the colonial state that they condemnedfor its conservatismaffordedthem the freedomto pursuethe
FORGING CAREERS INA COLONIAL CONTEXT
Financial necessity and idealism drove the women to establish
careersin Manchukuo.All of them workedto earna living and fulfill
personal ambitions,most often combining writing with other work.
Paradoxically,the success that they attained belies the negativity
expressedin theirwritings.It was in theirprofessionallives thatthey
came closest to realizing the ideals thatinspiredthem.
Lan Ling, Zhu Ti, and Dan Di wrote and pursuedanothercareer
open to women in Manchukuo:education. Upon graduation,they
were assignedto teachin primaryschools, the mainsite for conveying
culturalideals, literacy,andvocationalskills. LanLing recognizedthe
potentialof educationto empowerwomen but was waryof conservative values and the required”houseworkstudies”(jiashi ke) for girls.9
In Zhu Ti’s novella Wo he wo de haizimen (Me and My Children), the
female protagonist,a teacher,arguesthather duty is to save students
“fromthe contagiouspoisons in the common world”(Zhu Ti, 1945a:
80). While it is impossible to know theirin-class activities, theircritiques of the Manchukuoculturalagenda must have influenced their
work, and each was officially investigatedwhile teaching. In 1943,
Dan Di’s careerwas terminatedby the military.In 1944, several of
Zhu Ti’s novellas were banned, and Lan Ling’s home was searched
twice. Theirexperiencesuggests that subversiveactivitiescould take
place within importantcolonial institutions.
Teachingwas not the only professionopen to educatedwomen. In
1938, after completing a two-year course in pharmacology,Zuo Di
worked briefly as a pharmaceuticalclerk (Luo Ying and Luo Yan,
1990: 230). Low wages promptedher to searchfor a more lucrative
job. Good connections,Japanese-languageskills, anda middle school
educationlandedhera position as a clerkat the NationalStatePublicity Department.Zuo Di was drivenby financialnecessity and ambition and also was empoweredby her colonial educationto work in a
state institution.There, Zuo acquiredher dreamed-ofindependence
and a wage thathelped to supporther family. Of all the writersin this
study,Yang Xu pursuedthe least orthodoxcareerpath. In 1938, she
fled an arrangedmarriagein Fengtianand found work at the Central
Bank in Xinjing. In 1939, Yang left the bank to join the JapanesesponsoredArts DramaTroupe(Wenyihuajutuan);Yang’sdecision to
abandona steadybankjob andbecome a performerscandalizedfamily andfriendswho were aghastthatshe gave up a life of relativesecurity to entera professionconsidereddubiousat best, immoralat least,
and far too close for comfortto the Japanese(YangXu, 1945a: 101).
Yangspentthe next two yearspursuinga careerin entertainment.She
performedfrequentlyon radiobroadcastsand at the 1940 Pan-Asian
Expositionin Korea,starredin theatricalproductions,recordedalbums,
and graced the cover of the prominentmagazine Qilin (June 1942).
Througha boyfriend,Yangwas introducedto Xinjing’s writingcommunity and embarkedon a writing careerthat determinedthe rest of
The youth of these writers,most of whom beganto publishin their
teens, is significant.These women establishedcareersat a young age
in a subduedliteraryworld. Althoughtheirpredecessors,such as Bai
LangandXiao Hong, balkedat workingin suchproximityto the Japanese, they knew nothingelse. Manchukuoappearedto be a permanent
entity.If they were to survive,they had to work.Writingearnedthem
money and enabledthem to experimentwith self-expression.Thus, it
was rewardingon two levels. The critical natureof their work must
have lessened any pangs of conscience at working closely with the
Japanese; none of the women portrayedcontemporarysociety in
Against a backdropof colonial regulationsproscribingcriticism,
pessimism, and discussion of sexuality,they wrote candidly of their
despairanddesiresin Japanese-sponsoredmedia,includingthe newspaperDatong bao (Great UnityHerald) and magazines such as Xin
wenhua. Dan Di, Mei Niang, Wu Ying, Yang Xu, and Zuo Di also
workedas editors. At various stages and in differentcapacities,Mei
Niang, Wu Ying, and Zuo Di were employed by Xinjing’s Datong
bao, which was devoted to pro-governmentnews and commentary;
within its pages, Mei Niang criticized contemporarygender ideals,
and Zuo Di edited her husband’snovel, Luse de gu (Green Valley,
1943, by Liang Shanding),which was promptlybanned.Within the
most prominentjournals and the preeminent Japanese-sponsored
Chinese-languagenewspaperin Manchukuo,the writersengaged in
Contemporarieslaudedthe writersfor theirimpacton Manchukuo’s
literaryworld.In 1936, WuYing was hailedby Chineseliterarycritics
as “a symbol of vitality andhope”for the region;in 1939, in recognition of herpopularityandto enhancethe fameof the “SelectedWorks”
faction(of which she was a foundingmember),WuYing was awarded
its highest distinction, the Number One People’s Artist Award(Xu
NaixiangandHuangWanhua,1995: 285). In 1941, hernovellaDilapidation (Xuyuan)won the top prize in a writingcontest organizedby
the Japanese-sponsored”Manchukuo-ChinaArts Exchange” (Qian
Liqun, 2000: 355). Dan Di’s first novella, Andi he Mahua, was
awardedthe Daban Huawen meiri’s first prize for best midlength
novel in 1942 for its portrayalof colonial hardship.When her collected writingswere publishedin December 1943, Wu Ying andother
writer”(Wu Ying, 1944b: 26-27). Ironically,even while Dan Di was
hailed as “aheadof her times,”she languishedin a Japanesemilitary
jail (Shang Guangyin, 1989: 109).
Of all the writers,Mei Niang receivedthe most criticalandpopular
attentionin the early 1940s, when she was living in Beijing. In the fall
of 1942, when bookstoresin Beijing and Shanghaiconductedpolls to
determinethe most beloved Chinese woman writer,the resultslinked
her name with Shanghai’s Zhang Ailing (1920-1995) in the catchphrase “the south has Zhang Ailing, the northhas Mei Niang” (nan
Ling, bei Mei). In 1943, her novella Yuwon the GreaterEast Asian
Writers’Congress Second Prize for Literatureeven as it was condemnedby the rankingcontemporaryJapanesescholarof Chineseliterature,YoshikawaKojiro,as “amongstthe most degeneratepieces”
he had ever encountered(Gunn, 1980: 37). Mei Niang’s positive portrayalof Fen, the love-starvedadulterouswoman who was the main
character,was extremely popular;this book was reprintedsix times
within half a year. In 1944, the title work from her fourthcollection,
Xie, whichrecountsthe decline of a wealthyfamilyin Changchunduring the Japaneseoccupation,was acclaimedas “novelof the year”by
the GreaterEast Asian Writers’Congress.Mei Niang, like the rest of
the writers,won recognitionfor overtcriticismof Manchukuosociety.
The writersattaineda profile that officials could no longer ignore.
In 1943, censorshipbeganto affecteven women writers.WuYing’s
Ming and Dan Di’s Jie (Warning)were cited for antipatriarchalcontent,which was perceivedto be anti-Japanese(YuLei, 1987). Censors
interpretedWu’s portrayalof a divided family in Ming as critical of
political divisions between Manchukuoand China. The female protagonist in Dan’s Jie similarly outragedcensors by alluding to the
anti-Japanesestruggle as she vowed “victorywill certainlybe ours”
(Dan Di, 1943: 85). In 1944, publicationof YangXu’s Wode riji was
haltedby the Manchukuostateinspectionbureaubecauseof its sexual
content. Also in 1944, two of Zhu Ti’s works were banned: Ying
(Cherry)andXiao Yinzihe ta de Jiazu (LittleYinziand HerRelations).
Both werecensoredfor theirexplicit condemnationof Manchukuo;in
Ying,forexample,a ChinesewomantravelsfromChinato Manchukuo,
where she is raped, jailed, and sentenced to hard labor (Zhu Ti,
1945c). In 1944, LanLing was twice interrogatedaboutthe negativity
of her writings.
Censorshippales in comparisonto the persecutionmeted out to
Dan Di andZuo Di. In December1943, Dan Di was takeninto military
custody to awaittrial. In June 1944, she was sentencedto two years’
imprisonment for attempting to leave Manchukuo (Fu Shangku,
1982: 214). Several months later, consistent with legal practice in
Japan,herfrailhealthled to herreleaseto guarantors;herhouse arrest
endedwith the collapse of Manchukuoin 1945. Zuo Di’s personallife
was also shatteredin 1943. After Zuo edited Liang Shanding’sLuse
de gu, their family was targeted by the National State Publicity
Department’sinvestigationunit, a subdivision of the departmentin
which she had workedfive years earlier.Luse de gu was banned,and
Liang left for Beijing in September;by December,ongoing searches
haddestroyedtheirhome, andZuo Di fled as well. Dan Di andZuo Di,
like most of the writers, were targetedas anxious officials became
increasinglyconscious of the subversivenatureof their work.
All of the writers won praise for their critical reflections on the
nature of Manchukuo society. Proselytizing for the colonial state
made no contributionto theirsuccess; indeed, not one of themlauded
Japan’simperialproject.Eachof the women used colonial institutions
for personalandprofessionalgain yet attractedonly the ire of officials
in the final stage of the occupation.The writersfaced far greater,sustained persecution in the Maoist era. The careers of their youth
broughttheminternalexile, separationfromtheirfamilies, anduntold
misery.All of themremainedin Chinaandhadtheirlives andfamilies
POSTCOLONIAL RETRIBUTION AND REDEMPTION
The early Maoist period broughtstabilityto the women’s lives as
they becameintegratedinto the new socialist order.They believedthat
their patriotismwas clearly evidenced by their work and was thus
unassailable.They did not view theiractivitiesas any more traitorous
than those of the other 30 million Chinese who had also lived and
workedthroughthe Japaneseoccupationof Manchuria.None of their
writingspraiseJapanor Japaneseculturalideals. Nor did they praise
the conservative and anti-CommunistRepublican regime. In fact,
many viewed the CCP sympathetically,believing that it offered the
best hope to heal Chinese society. As the CCProutedthe Nationalists
in the late 1940s, none left China,and Lan Ling, Zhu Ti, and Zuo Di
joined the Party.Certainthattheirworkdemonstratedtheirdistastefor
both the Japanesecolonial and Republicanstates, they never anticipatedthata Chinesesocialistregimewould wreakmoredevastationin
Persecutionbeganin earnestin 1951 andreacheda peakin the CulturalRevolution,as theirearly triumphstransformedinto heavy burdens. They had assertivelypursuedand advocatedideals of womanhood that were personally empowering,potentially alienating, and,
from the 1950s onward,utterlycondemnedas bourgeois.Theirhighprofile careersin Manchukuosealed their fate, as attackson people
with “bourgeois”characteristicsand foreign connections drove the
politicalcampaignsthatravagedMaoistChina.The women writersof
as “writersof the enemy occupation,””rightists,””suspectedspecial
agentsof Japan,”and “traitorsto China.”Unbeknownstto them at the
time, these assaultsof the 1950s were but a preludeto the tribulations
to come with the start of the CulturalRevolution, when most were
jailed or sentencedto hardlaborin the countryside.The CulturalRevolution silencedthe most forthrightManchukuowriters.It was only in
1978, at the conclusion of the Maoist era, that the political verdict
against”writersof the enemy occupation”was repealedin toto. Since
then, few of the survivingwritershave resumedtheirliterarycareers,
choosing insteadto focus on restoringtheirfamily lives.
The Japaneseoccupationof Manchurialasted for fourteenyears,
from 1931 to 1945. During this period, membersof one generation
grew to maturitywhile the life courses of others were permanently
altered.But despitethe lengthof the occupationandits manifoldramifications for the people of the region, the Chinese culturalworld of
the eraremainslargelyunexamined.Severalfactorshave lessened the
perceived value of these women’s writings in particular.In China,
popularfiction was long thoughtto have little value, historicalor otherwise. Confucianmaxims that directedwomen to “internal”household mattersmeant that their writings, regardlessof artistic merit,
were believedto have little historicallyrelevantcontent.In the Maoist
era, all literaturefromManchukuowas taintedby its colonial genesis
andremovedfromcirculation.Today,LanLing, Mei Niang, YangXu,
and Zhu Ti reasonthat young people in China are more interestedin
business than cultureand are repelledby the maudlinnatureof their
work.’?This study stresses the significance of theirforgottenlegacy.
Manchukuo’swomen writerssharesimilaritieswith theircounterpartsin German-occupiedFrance.Both groupslived within colonial
states that sought to control genderideals and literaryproduction.In
France, the rejection by the Vichy regime (1940-1944) of slogans
such as “Liberty,Equality, Fraternity”in favor of “Work,Family,
Country”reflected that puppet state’s relationshipwith its German
1995: 28). In Franceas in Manchukuo,stateofficials directedwomen
to devote themselves to state, not individual, interests. Each state
linked gender ideals with the strengthof the nation and sought to
the culturalaspirationsof colonial officials attractedright-wingsupporterswhile alienatingmore socially progressivewomen and men.
emphasizedcriticismof patriarchyratherthanof foreign occupation,
were largely dismissed. Jennifer Milligan has argued that women
writersin Franceduringthe 1920s and 1930s sustained”anoverriding
aim of reformulatingor rejecting traditional,reactionarynotions of
female identity”(Milligan, 1996: 212); underthe Vichy regime,writers such as Edith Thomas and Elsa Triolet continued such activism.
Theireffortsto establishthe individualindependenceand equalityof
women appearedto transcendnationalpriorities,ensuringthat they
would be first condemnedby the Vichy regime and then left to languish, as the title of Milligan’s work suggests, as a “forgottengeneration.”Similarly,Mei Niang arguesthatManchukuo’swomen writers
were overlookedin post-1949 Chinabecause of the Maoist obsession
with nationalistinterpretationsof literature(Mei, interview,November 23, 2000). In FranceandManchuria,these forgottenlegacies constitute missing links, whose displacementdistorts understandingof
colonial life as surely as it silences pioneeringfeminists.
I argueherethatofficialdenigrationof “newwomen”in Manchukuo
fatallycompromisedJapan’simperialproject.While colonial officials
viewed male writersas potentialtroublemakers,new women writers
were perceivedto be relativelyharmless.Official prejudicesempowered the women to engage in both cooperative and subversive
320 MODERNCHINA/JULY 2004
intellectual activities. Working within colonial institutions, which
devaluedtheir work, set them free to criticize contemporarysociety.
Despite extensive surveillanceof culturalproduction,colonial officials never gained the control that they sought. The constantly
expandingframeworkof literaryregulations,which was loudly trumpetedbutachievedseemingly few results,hadthe unintendedeffect of
encouraging even greatertransgressionby Chinese women writers.
They thus bequeatheda rich literarylegacy that exposes the weaknesses of Japanesecolonialism, the tenacityof Chinese new women,
and the vitality of a Manchurianliterarytradition.
The most prolific Chinese women writers in Manchukuo consciously emulatedtheir predecessorsBai Lang and Xiao Hong. All
were raisedin Manchuria,weaned on May Fourthideals of women’s
emancipation,and fired by idealism. They were repulsedby the conservativeconstructs of “good wives, wise mothers”through which
officials sought to “modernize”them. May Fourthrenunciationof
political autocracyand imperialismpredisposedthe women to reject
official propagationof womanly “obedience.”My interpretationof
theirwritingsstressesthe perseveranceof May Fourthculturalideals
that energized urban society in the Republic of China during the
1920s. Genderedidentities, girded by Chinese ideals of modernity,
underminedJapaneseeffortsto severties betweenChineseresidingin
Japanese-occupiedareas and those in the rest of China. The patriarchal underpinningsof Japan’simperialprojectwere fundamentalto
the writers’alienationfrom Manchukuo;they defined themselves as
modem women within and, even more important,against Japan’s
In Manchukuo,socially progressiveChinese writers whetted the
appetiteof the readingpublicfor fundamentalsocioeconomic change.
Womenwritersused the space relegatedto themto denouncecolonial
society fromwithin.They soughtequalityandlived theirlives accordingly. But in the post-“liberation”period, they were condemnedfor
their focus on issues that were of directrelevanceto them as women
and individualsliving in a colonial state-instead of on nationalsubjugation and class warfare.Their outspoken, antipatriarchalstances
and their seeming inability to live like most of their contemporaries
drew visceral reactionsin the Maoist era. Ironically,the women who
wrote to discredit a misogynous colonial state were silenced by a
Chinese regime theoreticallycommittedto female equality.Officials
in Manchukuomay not have given women credit for the political
poweremanatingfromtheirpens, buttheirMaoistcounterpartsappreciated thatwriters,female and male, were too dangerousto be left as
loose cannons.Those who were most successful duringthe Japanese
occupation thus became convenient lightning rods for the political
forces thatthey had played no small partin unleashing.
The final paradoxof these women writersis that they enjoyed far
greaterfreedom, personally and professionally,duringthe Japanese
occupationthanduringthe “liberation”of Maoist China.Theircareer
successes and literarylegacy reveal a freedom that belies both contemporaryregulationsand the contentof theirwritings.This was the
resultnot of magnanimousJapaneserule butratherof ineffectualand
misogynisticcolonial practices.By viewing theirwritingsas inconsequential,colonial officials allowed the women to flourish as cultural
critics.Theirsuccess was not to be repeated.To this day,theirliterary
legacy is largely forgottenyet retainsrelevancefor Chinese society.
Theirportraitsof society in tumult,of the menacingpower of money
and foreigners, and of the continued, inexplicable devaluation of
women all strikea responsive,albeit bleak, chord-more thanhalf a
centuryafterthe collapse of Manchukuo.In the twenty-firstcentury,
as the PRC looks for tools to bridgedivides between Chinese regions
and heal the wounds of the twentieth century,the literarylegacy of
women writers during the Japanese occupation of Manchuriahas
much to offer.
1. Dan Di is the pen nameof TianLin, bornin Tangyuancounty,Heilongjiang.Tian’sother
pen names are An Di, Luo Li, Ma’dini, Ma’erhua,Maruo,Shan Ying, Tian Xiang, Xi Xi, and
2. Lan Ling is the pen name of Zhu Zhenhua,born in Pingjing, Hebei. Lan’s other pen
names are Ah Hua and Li Suo.
3. Mei Niang is the pen nameof SunJiarui,bornin Vladivostok.Sun’s otherpen namesare
Fang Zi, Lao Xia, Liu Qingniang,Lu Yin, Min Zi, and Sun Minzi.
4. WuYingis the pen nameofWu Yuying,bornin Jilincity. Wu’sotherpen namesareXiao
Ying and Yingzi.
5. YangXu is the pen nameof YangSuanzhi,bornin Fengtian.Yang’sotherpen namesare
Ah Jiao and Jiao Fei.
6. Zhu Ti is the pen name of ZhangXingjuan,bornin Beijing. Zhang’sotherpen name is
7. Zuo Di is the pen name of Zuo Xixian, born in Yanji,Jilin. Zuo’s otherpen names are
Ba’er, He Qi, Hong Ping, Jin Tanzhi,Luo Mai, Yue Di, Zuo Xin, and Zuo Yi.
8. Dan Di’sAndi he Mahua(AndiandMahua, 1944);Mei Niang’sXiaojieji (YoungLady’s
Collection, 1936), Di’er dai (The Second Generation, 1940), Yu(Fish, 1943), and Xie (Crabs,
1944);WuYing’s Liangji (TwoExtremes,1939);YangXu’s Luoyingji(Collectionof FallenPetals, 1943) and Wode riji (MyDiary, 1944); andZhuTi’s Yinghuaji(Collectionof CherryBlossoms, 1945).
9. Mei Niang noted thatthese classes stressedJapanesestyles (Lan Ling and Mei Niang,
interviewswith author,Beijing, November23, 2000).
10. LanLing andMei Niang, interviewswith author,Beijing, November15, 1999;YangXu
and Zhu Ti, interviewswith author,Shenyang,November 12, 1999.
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NormanSmithreceivedhis doctoratefrom the HistoryDepartmentof the Universityof
British Columbia.He is currentlypursuingpostdoctoral studies at the Critical Asian
Studies Project, Universityof Washington.His research interests include Manchuria,
women’s history,and popular culture,and his recentpublications include “Nenjiang
nii’er” (Daughter of the Nen River), Tongzhanyuekan (2003); “‘I am an ordinary
woman’: YangXu and theArticulationof ChineseIdeals of Womanhoodin JapaneseOccupied Manchuria,”Asian Journalof Women’s Studies (2002); and “Yidai guren de
huisheng” (Echos of an Elder), Bolan qunshu(2001).
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