The figure of the New Woman, soon to become a major signpost of
Chinese modernity, was in the process of being composed at the turn
of the twentieth century. This was a liminal moment in Chinese
history, a period of great possibilities and much fluidity. At this
time, the term "xin nuxin" or "xin funu" (the New Woman) had not
yet achieved currency, for she represented an ideal yet to be fully
The cultural production of this period in China illustrates that
the New Woman was constructed vis-a-vis her significant "others,"
whether domestic or foreign, male or female. To know the New Woman,
then, it is necessary to know not just "herself" but also her
"others." Instead of offering a model of Western influence or
indigenous origin, this study employs a model of translation, in
which both the self and the other are subject to multiple
transformations. It reads several popular Chinese writers and
translators of the period whose abundant fiction (whether original
or translated) bristles with difficulties in presuming either
fidelity of translation or adequacy of depicting cross-cultural
experience in the construction of the New Woman.
The late Qing era witnessed the translating, printing, and reading
of a vast amount of Western literature, amounting to what has been
called a "translation fever." The author focuses on the fictional
and translational representation of a range of Western female
icons, including Sophia Perovskaia (the Russian anarchist and
would-be assassin of the tsar), the French Revolutionary figure
Madame Roland, and Dumas's "la Dame aux camelias." In tracing the
circulation and transformation of these popular figures through
travel books, biographies, newspaper articles, oral performance
scripts, and novels, this book narrates the complex relationship
between imagining a foreign other and re-imagining the self. In
investigating the very processes of translation, it provides a
sustained analysis of the cultural and historical forces that
produced the New Woman in China.
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