China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Powerful women continue to play peripheral roles in modern Chinese political narratives. Drawing on historical, cultural, literary, and performance-based sources, this panel places female political figures at the center of Chinese politics and raises questions about how using unconventional sources opens new understandings of both political and women’s history. Kate Merkel-Hess begins by reassessing the part of Madame Chiang Kai-shek Song Meiling in 1930s nation-building, and the ways that her reliance on a public image of glamorous and domestic wife led her savvy politicking to be maligned or overlooked. Niuniu Teo explores the archive of self-criticisms cultivated by Chen Xiuliang, one of the highest-ranking women in the CCP in the 1950s, to demonstrate that writing about oneself was not just a profoundly political act but a form of resistance. Mei Li Inouye analyzes the aesthetic choices made by Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing, in her engagement with the Cultural Revolution "model works," and considers the way it contributed to Jiang 's rise to power. Together, these papers rely on a variety of disciplinary perspectives to assess the narratives that women created about their political roles, arguing that taking such sources seriously leads us to reevaluate our assumptions about women’s political power in modern China.