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Crafting the New Woman in Chinas Left-Wing Cinema of the 1930s: Sun Yus Three Films

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image of Frontiers of History in China

“New Woman” and “Modern Girl” discourse prevailed in China in the early twentieth century. The left-wing cinema of the 1930s engaged in this discourse and created a filmic space in which to negotiate gender and modernity. Focusing on three films directed by Sun Yu (1900–90): Wild Rose, Little Toys and The Highway, this paper compares Sun Yu’s new women with those in two other films: Lessons for Girls, a lesser known but interesting caricature of “new” women, and the New Woman, the best known of the “new woman” genre, both of which depict how urban, petty bourgeois women failed in their struggles for independence. In sharp contrast, Sun Yu used poetic realism to create a series of refreshingly independent working class women characters that successfully combined traditional moral values and modern patriotism and resisted the radical anti-traditionalism of the new woman discourse. This paper offers a differentiated analysis of the diverse and complex ways in which China’s left-wing cinema negotiated gender and modernity in the 1930s.


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