Introduction
by Tani
E.
Barlow
In a satire on love and literature, the writer Ding Ling confronted her
fictional poet Ouwai Ou with a choice. His bound-footed, oriental-style
lover,little Ajin, is a tubercular prostitute. Wendy, the so-called modern girl
he courts one pale grey Beijing morning, is a profligate hysteric. Which
arouses him more (and via the magic of modernist literary metonymy,
stiffens his flagging creative resolve), the nativized girl or the modernized
girl? Actually, bad-faith relations with female objects are so prominent in
the story that it is easy to overlook the modernist codes "A Woman and a
Man" brings into play.l What codes are these? Ouwai becomes a man by
acting out a stylized heterosexual gender politics that casts him in the role
of the desiring subject drawn to a female object and held there in thrall to
her narcissism. The woman who makes him feel most manly is the one he
desires the most. His manhood, and thus his personhood, in other words is
constructed during the dance of bourgeois sexual play. The term that best
captures Ouwai (an agent who becomes a self by desiring women and
representing reality; see Ching-kiu Stephen Chan's essay in this volume) is
zhuti, which I translate "sovereign subject." Ouwai is Ding Ling's parodic
male, May Fourth intellectual who nominates himself to be the agent of
Chinese modernity. Though he is an unsavory specimen of a man, nonethe-
less Ouwai's gender performance and class skills denote him a subject in
relation to Ajin and Wendy.
The story of Ouwai Ou' s erotic dalliances, then, is a parable about the
historical mission of the gendered, class-stratified, male-dominated treaty
port elite. This class shaped its peculiar national political position through
a strategy of appropriating knowledge from the colonial powers. Along
with electricity and moving pictures, for instance, professional elites took
over social Darwinian discourse on elementary sex differences. Scientific
notions, including the dictum that male versus female constitutes the
originary difference in nature, fed into the discourses of sernicolonial
modernity in China, as a constituting element of modernist codes. That is
1
Ding Ling, "A Woman and a Man," trans. TaniBarlow(with Gary Bjorge),
inl Myself
am a Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling
(Boston: Beacon Press,
1989),82-103.
I thank Gail Hershatter, Jnderpal Grewal, Donald M. Lowe, and two anonymous readers
who commented or contributed to this essay in various ways. Parts of this introduction were
lifted out of a shorter essay that prefaced the earlier, special issue of
Modem Chinese
Literature.
My thanks to Howard Goldblatt, editor of
Modem Chinese Literature,
who
encouraged me to take on the enjoyable task of guest-editing the journal's first special issue
on gender, feminism and women's literature.
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