n their optimism and agony, 1920s–1930s progressive Chinese feminists
proposed a subject in evolutionary eugenic theory, which they believed to
be an indispensable ingredient of China’s future. That singular subject
the collectivity of women. Nüxing’s centrality in foundational Chi-
nese feminism distinguished eugenic feminism from other contemporary,
popular evolutionary schemes. General theories of evolution were circu-
lating widely in the late nineteenth century in Europe and Asia. Translator-
philosopher Yan Fu’s treatment of Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics
broadcast social Darwinian thinking widely among the generation of the
first Chinese Enlightenment. Many of that era’s leading thinkers presumed
the scientific truths of evolution. But unlike social evolutionists in this
broad stream, which Charlotte Furth has called ‘‘a combination of progres-
sive Darwinism and more traditional outlook on the times,’’ eugenicist
feminists placed women at the center of their theory. The Gao Xians and Yi
Jiayues could not imagine a future without a Chinese woman who freely
selected Chinese men for sexual intercourse and formed modern nuclear
families with them.∞
One of the dubious powers of general theory is its capacity to project an
inevitable future out of a present truth. The relation I drew in chapter 6
between Zhang Jie’s 1981 short story ‘‘The Ark’’ and Li Xiaojiang’s 1989
thesis in ‘‘Sex Gap’’ is an example of this point. Creative writers and critics,
women and men inclined to thinking about injustices through colloquial
fiction, no doubt also appreciated Chinese progressive feminism. But Hen-
rik Ibsen and Lu Xun, two writers often said to represent the best of
Chinese feminism, did not propose a general theory. Rather, they focused
on a perceived riddle of women’s liberation—without liberation women are
abject, but then liberated women had no way to live—through a hypotheti-
cal, the fictional subject of Nora in Ibsen’s internationally significant play,
A Doll’s House.
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