LRCCS Noon Lecture Series ~ Rethinking the Socialist Heroine: Feminine Agency in Chinese Dance Dramas of the late 1950s
The standard argument about women’s representation in socialist Chinese performance art is that androgyny replaced gender difference, while women remained politically subordinate to men, even when playing the heroine in revolutionary tales of empowerment and social change. Such figures have tended to be identified in works of the late Mao era, also known as the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), rather than in the earlier, more prolific periods of Maoist cultural production. By examining the three most popular dance dramas of the pre-Cultural Revolution era—Magic Lotus Lantern (1957), Five Red Clouds (1959), and Dagger Society (1959)—I challenge conventional claims about the socialist heroine in Maoist China, by showing leading women that enact “feminine agency”: political empowerment performed through conventionally gendered female bodies.
Emily Wilcox is assistant professor of modern Chinese studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. Her current book project, National Movements: Socialist Postcoloniality and the Making of Chinese Dance, was the recipient of a 2014-15 American Council of Learned Societies national research fellowship. Her other current projects include a co-edited anthology Dancing Global East Asia and a digital humanities collection Pioneers of Chinese Dance, co-directed with Liangyu Fu of the University of Michigan Asia Library. Emily's past publications appear in Asian Theatre Journal, TDR, CHINOPERL, and other venues, and she has forthcoming articles in positions: asia critique and Journal of Asian Studies. Emily is a board member of the Society for Dance History Scholars and president-elect of the Association for Asian Performance.