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Zhan, Feifei (2023) Pain, Mother-daughter Relationships, and Subjectivity in Post-1980 Fictions by Chinese Women Writers. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis examines the representations of women’s pains, subjectivities and motherdaughter relationships in fictional writing published between 1980 and 2020 by Chinese women writers. More specifically, this project addresses three issues prominent in Chinese women’s writing, including (1) the representation of physical pains that are specific to a female body, such as labour pain, menstrual pain, and menopausal pain; (2) how mothers and daughters live the shared experiences and memories of these physical pains; and (3) the dynamics of pain and mother-daughter relationships in the construction of female subjectivities. I argue that by delineating the nuanced physical pains and mother-daughter dynamics felt, lived and experienced by women, these literary creations have demonstrated heterogenous female subjectivities that resist the social, historical and medical frameworks attempting to claim, contain, and appropriate Chinese women and their bodies. This thesis includes an introduction, a theoretical framework, five core chapters with textual analysis of eight works of fiction, and a conclusion. The introduction chapter contextualises the three key terms of this study by drawing on social and literary scholarship as well as histories and local contexts about women, bodies and pain in China. Chapter One establishes the theoretical framework by theorising pain, the key concept that glues together my discussion of mother-daughter relationships and female subjectivities; Foucauldian body politic; and Kristeva’s theory on abjection and mother-daughter relationships. Chapter Two examines three works of fiction categorised as Girls’ Literature and focuses on how girls’ puberty pain informs them of their gendered identity, which at the same time reflects mothers and daughters’ own imaginations of ideal girlhood and motherhood. Chapter Three investigates two fictional texts drawing on Western mythology, and how Chinese women writers rewrite these Western stories in the voice of Chinese women, about how mothers and daughters, with their bodies as a medium, react to the consumptive, materialistic society. Chapter Four discusses Bi Shumin’s “Life Never Ends”, an elegy of a mother who loses her only daughter in the context of the One Child Policy. Chapter Five focuses on Chen Ran’s A Private Life and discusses how this avantgarde, experimental novel portrays the uncertainty of women’s pain, tackles female sexuality and the political trauma brought by the Tiananmen Crackdown. Chapter Six, the last core chapter, examines Zhang Ling’s Contractions and how the pregnant women in the story turn into active moving subjects trying to escape tragic events in modern China and take control of their own lives. The Conclusion concludes that by portraying the most intimate physical experiences and relationships, these writings demonstrate that these pains, motherhood, and daughterhood constitute lives actually lived and owned by women. They show the numerous situations, possibilities and obstacles faced by women as subjects, opposing the recurring appropriation of women’s gendered pains and their experiences as allegories or political tools in Chinese history and its literary landscape

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Cosima Bruno, Wen-Chin Ouyang and Alyosxa Tudor
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 07 Sep 2023 10:46

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