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Virtue in Silence: Voice and Femininity in Ling Shuhua's Boudoir Fiction

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New Culture intellectuals avidly promoted new narratives and models of femininity as the cornerstone of a new culture; the gender discourse they advocated, however, continued to be refracted through traditional notions of femininity and writing. This paper examines the means by which one woman writer, Ling Shuhua, attempted to navigate the contradictions of this discourse, to forge her identity as a modern woman writer. The shifting nature of Ling Shuhua's literary negotiations is particularly salient when her portrayals of traditional femininity and use of voice in Temple of Flowers (1928) are contextualized against her lesser-known works—her early stories published in 1924 in Chenbao and her later fictionalized autobiography in English, Ancient Melodies (1953). Unlike her lesser-known works, which are deeply sympathetic to the plight of boudoir women and critical of New Culture discourse, the stories in Temple of Flowers are often framed with a sense of ambiguity in relation to both feminist and New Culture agendas. While these disparities may reflect a resourcefulness on Ling Shuhua's part in her bid to carve out public writing spaces, they also suggest the kinds of negotiations and self-effacing gestures that her literary endeavors may have entailed.

Affiliations: 1: Pomona College


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