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This talk imagines a dialogue between Lu Xun and Eileen Chang, usually believed to belong to diametrically opposing camps, political vs. apolitical, left vs. right, feminist vs. feminine. I begin with Lu Xun’s What Happens after Nora Walks Out and compare his conception of this iconic New Woman with a few of his male “roamers.” I then examine a subset of Eileen Chang’s works that feature female characters from old elite families who awaken to the stifling environment of their homes and struggle to “walk out.” I argue that the concerns of Lu Xun and Eileen Chang converge more often than not, in their trenchant social critique as well as in the ways their celebrated realism unfolds into allegories of modern Chinese history. The points of their divergence provide us a window into the gendered positioning of each writer and their respective response to the formation of modern subjectivity. In putting the two greats of modern Chinese literature side by side, my goal is to think with them on the conditions, limitations and pitfalls of the modern individual, whose “walking out” serves as a foundational metaphor of her agency and modernity.
Bio: Profesor Hu Ying‘s research focuses on the literature and culture of late 19th to early 20th century China, a fascinating period that witnessed rapid changes in every aspect of the Chinese world. She is specifically interested in seeing how women at the time understood and intervened in such changes of political system, cultural values and gender norms.