Rethinking China’s Future

Gender, Youth, and Technology in post-1990s Chinese Popular Literature
11:00 am – 12:45 pm
Room E

  • Organised by Federica Gamberini
  • Fang Wan, Chair
  • Federica Gamberini, “All Youth Need is Love: Love Stories, Youth Subjectivity, and Multimodality in Luo Luo’s The Last Woman Standing and Jiu Yuehui’s The Fleet of Time
  • Chen Ma, “Time Immigrants: A Sense of Risk and Destination”
  • Fang Wan, “‘Strong Women’ in an Online Matriarchal World”

The past two decades witnessed an unprecedented technological and economic development in China, inviting Chinese writers to question the foreseeable effects of these changes and rethinking questions of gender and identity. Fostered by the favourable circumstances set by the liberalisation of China’s publishing market and the Internet’s democratisation of writing, Chinese popular literature witnessed a boom in works problematising the construction of the Chinese social reality while representing new forms of subjectivity recording the impact of China’s technological development on gender and cultural identity.
This panel presents research in three areas: it discusses how female writers represent womanhood in matriarchy online fiction blurring traditional gender boundaries; how science fiction responds to the ecological challenges of the country problematising human earning for modernity; and how balinghou youth narrative challenges normativity to express their generation’s life experiences and concerns.
Adopting a feminist, ecological, and a socio-semiotic approach to Chinese popular literature, this panel explores how writers from different age and cultural groups engage with the political and social structure of China, using technology to rethink questions about gender identity and individuality amidst China’s economic boom. Embracing the technological development of their country, Chinese writers, however, took advantage of new technologies—as a medium of communication or as a trope in their stories—to ponder about the role of the individual at the dawn of a new era, where technology could both be an empowering tool and a threat for the human world.

Federica Gamberini, “All Youth Need is Love: Love Stories, Youth Subjectivity and Multimodality in Luo Luo’s The Last Woman Standing and Jiu Yuehui’s The Fleet of Time

As the interest toward romantic stories rekindled during the 1980s and the 1990s, idealised representation of love and courtship started appearing on TV and the Internet voicing young people’s life views and concerns. At the crossroad between romance novels and soap operas, balinghou love stories relocate love in a central position in the life of high-school students, but also young and successful career people, to question the role of youth in the ‘Chinese dream.’ Combining the affordances of their books with movie adaptations, balinghou writers challenge social stereotypes related to singlehood and ‘precocious love’ while opening up a public forum of discussion to celebrate youth’s individual choices and to rebel against normativity.
Following Gunther Kress’s socio-semiotic approach to multimodality, this presentation investigates love representations, individuality, and self-expression in balinghou romantic fiction in two case studies: Luo Luo’s The Last Woman Standing and Jiu Yehui’s The Fleet of Time. By looking at these two works, this presentation explores how the individualism of balinghou youth narrative underpins a problematisation of the normative function of young people within China’s post-Deng society. By employing the affordances of visual modes of communication and writing, balinghou romantic narratives not only explore young people’s feelings and life views in-depth, but they use courtship as a way to discuss individual’s self-assertion, independence, and freedom to choose.

Chen Ma, “Time Immigrants: A Sense of Risk and Destination”

Scholarly discussions on science-fictional accounts of climate change suggest that they have a marked potential impact on the public reaction towards ecological challenges. Scholars have pointed out how the “right elements” of science fiction (SF) participate in the ongoing debate on the advance of climate change. Liu Cixin’s Time Immigrants (2014) responds to the above discussions with its accentuation of a strong sense of risk which interrogates the illusion of not only environmental well-being but also both humanity and society’s well-being. This paper focuses on Liu’s interpretation of the risks that develop from the transitional status of a modernised society facing climate change. He delineates a developing risk society in which human yearnings for a more modernised world form a stark contrast with their inherent insecurity regarding the very same world they created. In his explorations of the changing natural landscapes over different time periods, he also stresses how people’s internal landscapes are affected continuously and reshaped by climate change and the external environment.

Fang Wan, “‘Strong Women’ in an Online Matriarchal World”

Chinese internet literature has flourished since the end of the 1990s. The low threshold of online publishing provides some traditionally marginalised groups, such as women, a relatively free platform to express their thoughts and start writing creatively. In light of this, this essay will focus on the vital role of online female writing in the development of Chinese women’s literature.
This essay will discuss Flowers of Four Seasons (Sishi huakai, 四时花开) by Gongteng Shenxiu 宫藤深秀, a representative matriarchy novel published in Jinjiang Literature City in 2006. Through analysing this novel, this essay argues that matriarchy fiction’s construction of a women’s space to be produced and consumed is a ‘dance with shackles’. Female authors and readers of matriarchy fiction have indeed constructed a women’s space where they can discuss their desires, imagine alternative gender relations, and blur traditional gender boundaries. However, rather than a ‘space of their own’ away from state and market intervention, their rebellious potential is limited by the constant negotiation of authors’ intentions, readers’ expectations, economic factors, state censorship, and national and transnational gender norms.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room E
Gender, Youth, and Technology in post-1990s Chinese Popular Literature