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Inventing a Discourse of Resistance: Rhetorical Women in Early Twentieth-Century China

by Wang, Bo.

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation investigates Chinese women’s rhetorical practices in the early twentieth century. Tracing the formation and development of a new rhetoric in China, I examine women’s writings that were denigrated or ignored in the May Fourth period (1915-1925). Based on my study of historical documents, I argue that influenced by a new culture embracing Western humanism and feminism, a sizable group of women intellectuals consciously used writing to resist the feudal social norms. As an important part of the new rhetoric, women’s texts explored women’s issues and created the modern self in the May Fourth period by critiquing a patriarchal tradition that excluded women’s experiences from its articulation. I begin by challenging the assumptions that rhetoric is a Western male phenomenon. Situating my study in the area of comparative rhetoric, I critique the previous scholarship in Asian rhetorical research and delineate the research methodologies I use in this dissertation. I point out that rhetoric is better understood as including the various speech acts people use to argue, persuade, communicate, and inform. In Chapter 2 I locate women’s rhetorical practices within the specific social and historical contexts of the May Fourth period. I examine the new intellectuals’ discourse that was preoccupied with critiquing the old traditional culture and advocating a new culture informed by various Western ideological principles. Through a comparative analysis of women’s writings, I argue that the May Fourth women’s literary texts are rhetorical, considering the different conception of rhetoric in the Chinese rhetorical tradition as well as the social impact these texts created at that historical juncture. I also 9 explore the cultural and historical factors that have caused the denigration of Chinese women writers such as Lu Yin and Bing Xin. In Chapter 3 I extrapolate Lu Yin’s feminist rhetorical theory and practice from her sanwen (essays) and fiction. I argue that by emphasizing tongqing (sympathy) in her literary theory and using renaming and the first-person narrative as textual strategies, Lu Yin’s discourse offers an example of how gendered and culturally specific rhetorical concepts and strategies influence the reader and exert social changes. Chapter 4 provides a case study of Bing Xin, another well-known woman writer in the May Fourth period. I argue that by advocating a “philosophy of love” throughout her lyrical essays and fiction, Bing Xin injected a distinctive female voice in the male-dominated discourse in which women and children were either belittled or silenced. Bing Xin’s view of writing as expressing the writer’s individuality as well as her unique feminine prose style transformed this classical genre into a more vigorous rhetorical form. Using my case studies as reference, I conclude by drawing out the implications of Chinese women’s rhetorical experiences for the studies of rhetoric and comparative rhetoric. I examine how theories of comparative rhetoric can be developed with dialogic investigation on different cultural perspectives of rhetoric. I also show how such a crosscultural study of particular rhetorics can help further our exploration of human rhetorical practices in general. 10
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School:The University of Arizona

School Location:USA - Arizona

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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