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Untamed Shrews: Negotiating New Womanhood in Modern China

Book cover with political cartoon bisected by title. Above title is a woman breastfeeding while delivering a political speech, below title men take notes.

Author: Shu Yang

Untamed Shrews traces the evolution of unruly women in Chinese literature, from the reviled "shrew" to the celebrated "new woman." Notorious for her violence, jealousy, and promiscuity, the character of the shrew personified the threat of unruly femininity to the Confucian social order and served as a justification for punishing any woman exhibiting these qualities. In this book, Shu Yang connects these shrewish qualities to symbols of female empowerment in modern China.

Rather than meeting her demise, the shrew persisted, and her negative qualities became the basis for many forms of the new woman, ranging from the early Republican suffragettes and Chinese Noras, to the Communist and socialist radicals. Criticism of the shrew endured, but her vicious, sexualized, and transgressive nature became a source of pride, placing her among the ranks of liberated female models.

Untamed Shrews shows that whether male writers and the state hate, fear, or love them, there will always be a place for the vitality of unruly women. Unlike in imperial times, the shrew in modern China stayed untamed as an inspiration for the new woman.

"Untamed Shrews offers original interpretations of the relationship between traditional conceptions of female transgression and modern portrayals of progressive womanhood. Combining cultural history and detailed literary analysis, Yang persuasively argues that shrewish qualities were rehabilitated and embraced in numerous representations of modern women."   
—Tze-lan Sang, Michigan State University, author of Documenting Taiwan on Film

"Untamed Shrews provides an innovative historical perspective on the emergence of the New Woman in Republican China. Timely and sorely needed, its focus on the cultural reconciliation of the traditional shrew figure spans a range of familiar and unexpected texts. This is a brave, imaginative, and inspiring book."   
—Howard Chiang, UC Davis, author of Transtopia in the Sinophone Pacific



Additional Information



  • Book

  • Cornell East Asia Series

Publication Details

Publication Year: 2023

Publication Number: 213

ISBN: 9781501770616