Arts and Culture
When traditional representations of feminine beauty collided with Western aesthetics to give rise to the trope of the “modern girl” in the Republican era, how did feminist writers of the time reappropriate them? How was the male gaze reflected back in their works? And how were ideas of beauty, power and withcraft articulated differently than by their male contemporaries? Taking lipstick and “girls who drink human blood” (Market Street, 1936) as a starting point, this paper explores how Xiao Hong stages the male gaze of the literati in the collected stories of Market Street. Departing from previous scholarship which had mainly focused on Xiao Hong as patriotic writer or as feminist advocate of rural women’s plight, this paper focuses more specifically on her tales of attraction and fascination (the trope of the modern-girl-as-vampire being reminiscent of Shi Zhecun’s witches). Set against the background of her theoretical essays, and more prominently On the psychology of women’s adornment (1936), they highlight how dress and makeup in China came to be associated with feminity in a socio- historically constructed moment. Indeed, as many of her stories and essays were written in Japan at a time when the country was a major vector of Western feminist thought entering China, juxtaposing them will allow us to further articulate Xiao Hong’s criticism of gender relations of power, and ultimately her positioning and legacy vis-à-vis Western and local feminisms.