From Tie Gu Niang to Sheng Nu: Gender Issues in China

In the last week or so, China’s new generation of leaders was announced, in a statement that only really happens every 10 years or so. The fact that all the figures who walked onto the dais at the Great Hall of the People were men wasn’t really a surprise, but it was a disappointment.   Whilst imperial China was very much a patriarchal, chauvinist society,  the 1950s and 60s brought forth “Tie Gu Niang”(铁姑娘),or the iron maidens. Neither the torture device, nor the east London metallers, but strong, robust young women who frequented the battlefield, ploughed the fields and shoveled coal into the steelmaking furnaces. These androgynous, almost masculine women are often found on propaganda posters. Cradling farm tools, or machine guns, gazing off into the glorious new dawn. The public face of these industrial heroines also stretched to Cinema, and Tie Gu Niang graced the screens of two classics of this period, Five Golden Flowers (1959) and The Red Detachment of Women (1961).   In a relatively rare romance from this period, Five Golden Flowers tells the story of village youth, Ah Peng, who falls in love at the March Festival with a girl who dismisses his vows of undying love, instead giving him her name and the place to meet the following year. What follows is a comedy of errors featuring four other girls of the same name, a man only known as “the old meddler” and two bumbling artists of Chang Chun Film Studios from the city Continue Reading →


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