More selected projects

Under the Confucian Context: 

Chinese Feminist Literary Archive and the Cyberspace

Produced by: Yundan Qiu

Literature and discourse are closely related. In this essay I wish to explore under the Confucian culture context, the literary development of Chinese feminism on the cyberspace, including both female’s right to speech/create and their position in the literary.


  • gallery-image

This figure describes how does Confucius teach students

Introduction to Confucianism

Contrast to religion, Confucianism was pioneered by Confucius. It did not create the concept of gods but compiled and annotated traditional Chinese cultural practices as human ideological norms. Smith (2009) clarity that Confucianism concluded the ancient Chinese practices into one focus, making it retain own distinctive features for 2500 years. However,  in China and even the whole of Asia, the status and the role of Confucianism seem to be equivalent to religion. It is used by everyone to regulate social order and human behaviour. Today, Confucianism still be the concept of governance in Asia.

Confucianism is idealistic. It encourages tradition because the concept of Taoism philosophy of the one gave birth to two things, three things, up to all things. Confucius believes that tradition is the pattern evolved by a successful society, one society without effective pattern may disappear. The shift from autonomous to deliberate traditions requires the critique of whole public opinion to maintain the power of restriction. However, when it turned into deliberate, tradition becomes the word to shape power, and the public opinion is punishment (Foucault, 1975). A woman will feel safe if she is properly dressed on a certain occasion, this sense of security even cannot be given by religion (Smith, 2009). 

Confucianism is single, linear and dualistic. Confucianism claimed that reformation follows two laws: one is the change has to continue the tradition, the other one is the infeasibility of the old point has to be proved before establishing a new concept (Smith, 2009). That made not only more stereotype and contradictions on human and nature, but also more collectivism.


Chinese Feminism under Confucianism

Traditional concepts, as well as norms in Confucianism, are mainly established in patriarchy perspective, which results in the female have to assume all family and reproduction cost and unable to reject family. Same to the theory of Beauvoir (2010) in Second Sex and Butler(2011) in Gender Trouble, gender is constructed by language and power, and female is a concept instead of the ontological subject in Confucianism, who exists in a subservient relationship to male, so they lost sexual and reproductive rights. Society used the idea of nüzi wu cai bian shi de (lack of talent and learning is a credit to the virtue of woman) from Confucianism to deny women access to any social activities (Wang, 2010 and Fincher, 2018). 

During the founding of the new China and women’s liberation movement, the slogan of equality between men and women has become popular. Women were encouraged to work but without liberating them from family responsibility. Confucianism still supports the patriarchal family system based on an idealized republican. Zheng and Zhang (2010) noticed women’s liberation movement in China represents not only state feminist success in defending women work and vote rights but also the socialist patriarchy success in defining women’s liberation as doing whatever men can do in the service of the state. 


Chinese Feminie Archive in the Traditional Literature

Since the formation of Chinese society, Confucianism restraints and belittles desire expression, especially under the patriarchal system, made women marginalized in the art and literary creations. There are a few literature and paintings for female. Since the Tang Dynasty, portraits for women are generally in a specific environment such as an imaginary landscape or narrative environment. Hong (2018) claimed that portraits of an independent woman appeared after the 6th century, but due to the decorative attribution of women, they rarely appear in the context of religious or educated significance. During the literati movement, the arts were ranked according to ideology and social function. Religious and social admonishment themes are the first pair, followed by landscape theme, which was appreciated as endless fun, while women and animals are ranked last, with neither religious education nor poetic painting (Hong, 2018). The social significance of female literature archive is only the object for nobles to watch but has no aesthetic value.

Due to the restrict of women in the family system, female poets and writers whoever appeared in ancient China or the period of New China mostly expressed feminism by adopted the theme of love, the marriage of their selves, such as Qingzhao Li, Xuanji Yu and Ailing Zhang. I think that results from the long period of construction and performance of second sex, the view of women was trapped in love (family) relationship (Butler, 2009). the married right is the only approach they could request at that time, and thought obscure metaphors and symbolizes. That reminds me of M Archive and Frankenstein. M Archive described the dilemma of the black female by imagining Anthropocene and interpretation between black females and nature ontology. Frankenstein portrays female as a hideous sapient creature created by an unorthodox scientific experiment, who was regarded as a monster due to physical differences and failure to establish family relationships. But compared to these two, I think the theme is the reason why Chinese women literary are hard to attracting attention. M archive expresses from the posthuman perspective, and Frankenstein is the first science fiction novel in Europe. However, in the Confucian system, the desire for love is regarded as the most invaluable (Smith, 2009). Despite Chinese female artists express feminist concept and women dilemma, they have not obtained the discourse power through words.


Chinese Feminism on the Cyberspace 

In the digital age, relying on the equality of the network connection between the cultural product and receive, social media has become a tool for cultural production, political expression and participation, which is more free and personalized. The Internet has created a new discursive space on social media, which is a key weapon that enables “powerless” to resist cultural norms (Lian, 2014; Liu, 2015; Lu and Chu, 2012). At the same time, cyberspace has removed gender difference to some extent owing to the virtual space. Due to the virtuality of personal accounts, we can generate a sense of empowerment by creating a virtual profile to avoid unnecessary bias and rumour. An important part of cyberspace experience is that from selecting and editing user profile to build their virtual personality in cyberspace, also evolving into critical self-expression or self- empowerment under some certain cultural conditions (Chang, Ren and Yang, 2018). Among all Chinese social media platforms, middle class, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), young women and LGBT activist groups have been the most active self-expression and social mobilization (Svensson, 2016).

However, continuing to develop and be used in patriarchal societies, the cyberspace is inevitably full of masculine sense and values.​​  A feminist predicted a pessimistic approach in the 1990s to discussing that Internet development was designed as a male technology despite it was managed by the female at the early stage, and male still exerted power on female (Judy Wachman 2000, 2004; Faith Wilder 1998; Liesbet van Zoonen (1992, 2002). This assertion is based on the roots in the military-industrial complex of the Internet, as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, which was the precursor of the Internet was designed by male engineers and for military purposes (van Zoonen, 2002). Liu (2008) resulted that except providing a highly-accessible medium for computer literate young women, an online environment of “mixed gender” also limits a set of women freedom, which resistance is by and large set by the real society they are living in, and the kind of gender socialization that they have been subject to. Hence this situation reflects again that Confucian power and hierarchy from the real world has been brought into the cyberspace. 

Similarly, when China introduced the term "feminist" to the Internet again, it was stigmatized. Since the literally translated feminist into Chinese emphasized the ‘women’ character, from the dualistic perspective of the Confucian framework, the public thought that feminist aimed that women have power over man, breaking the social harmony and value, which led to the negative connotation of feminism. In China, a feminist is recurrently described as a metaphor for a disliked woman since it challenges the core views of sexual morality, norms, and values ​​enshrined in the Confucianism(Han, 2018).

It is a well-acknowledged fact that the Internet in China is under strict control and surveillance. Due to the social harmony and collectivism emphasized by the Confucian framework, real-name system and censorship system obliterates the right of speech on the cyberspace, making it difficult to express for Chinese feminist. The government regards feminism as a social or political revolution owing to the origins of this word that suppresses the potential threat to political stability (Han, 2018). In February 2017, Gender Watch Women's Voice (GWWV), one of the Chinese feminist groups, which had posted a message on Sina Weibo to call for a strike to women to celebrate the International Women's Day, then was forced to close their account for 30 days. Sina Weibo officially stated that this article reached on “feminist struggles”, which had been classified as a highly sensitive subject with the potential to undermine social stability (Han, 2018).

Due to stigmatized feminist that mentioned above, I saw plenty of feminist nonactivists do not recognize their feminist identity on cyberspace. Instead, they avoid using “female vocabulary” and claimed to be “equality supporters”. For my perspective, it was caused by two reasons. One is the group opinions may be directly close to post-feminism, opposing not only dualism, but also emphasizing gender. However, they ignore the fact that different to the west, Chinese female has not owned sexual and reproductive rights, being liberated from the Confucian patriarchal framework. The other reason I think is that misogynistic online environment leads the group afraid of admitting their gender, fear of the negative effects brought from the female gender identity. Megarry (2014) believes that women’s identity will make women become targets of online shame and harassment, and feminized stereotypes have been used in a derogatory way. Therefore, in order to avoid being attacked, they reject to use sensitive words such as gender, female to express their position.


  • gallery-image

Punchbags by Zhen Guo. This is one of the few Chinese artworks about feminist, which directly expresses the social status of Chinese women by deconstructing female genitals (breasts).


Feminist Literary on the Cyberspace 

After Chinese women liberation movement, the economic independence of female results in their consumption power has gradually improved, and the consumer market for women has gradually expanded. There are more literature and film works that talk about female growth on the cyberspace such as online fictions and online plays. However, after searching and analysing currently literature for female, I found the majority of famous works are based on ancient Chinese background, and the story is mainly about how main female character become the queen from a slave. This kind of works focus on the female characters, but female images still originated from the male perspective, being constricted in the patriarchal family framework. The approach to success for the female is still defined by ingratiating power males and fighting with other females. Compared to that, I would better to see the literary written by the female. 

Recent years, with the popularity of the cyberspace, a large increasing number of Danmei (耽美) literary has emerged on the Chinese Internet to become the main way for female to meet sexual fantasy. Danmei or Boys' Love (BL) fiction originated from Japan, is a genre of male-male romance created by and for heterosexual women and sexual minorities (Yang and Xu, 2017). Due to the double association with homosexuality and pornography, major BL works can only be spread online, and it is still a sensitive target for Chinese censorship. But that did not stop it developing from subculture to mainstream culture, also becoming the leading theme of female online creations in the digital age. 

The norms of Confucianism has made Asian women lose their sexual rights, and has suppressed their sexual desire for a long period. Women are still not allowed to talk about sex-related publicly even on the relatively equal and diverse digital environment. Tatlow (2014) said that China is still harsh on women in terms of erotic fantasy on arts, and they must be very careful when displaying their fantasies because of suffocating social norms. Thus,  Chinese female projects their sexual fantasies onto males, gaining a moral sense of security.  Production and consumption of BL novels seem to be the way for Chinese women to explore their own sexual desires, and it is a sexual revolution with the characteristics of feminism in China (Tatlow, 2014). Contrast to the realistic literary with a love theme created by Chinese women before, Danmei writers generally tend to try diverse styles and themes, including the posthuman world. Yang and Xu (2017) concluded that the main Chinese Danmei novels have incorporated elements of science fiction, sports, and other traditionally nine genres, which creativity has turned it into the trendsetter for the whole industry of the cyberspace literature. 

However, similar to previous female literary creations in China, I think women artists do not completely escape the Confucian framework when express feminism through writing Danmei works. In the Danmei novel, one partner must be the seme (on the top), the other one is uke, and the assignment of the roles is usually fixed and no reversible. There still have stereotypes on the BL concept. Seme has defaulted strong and dominant, and usually, the uke has to be emphasised beautiful appearance, innocent personality, and physically shorter and weaker than the seme (Yang and Xu, 2017). Particularly in some science fiction views that can be reproduced between males, uke becomes a subservient relationship of seme after marriage and response for having a baby with the family name of seme. The nature of BL relationship is similar to the Confucian rules for women. It can be regarded as a female who projects their current situation and struggles on another male. 


The video is a derivative 3d animation from a BL literary work Hetalia


Annotated Bibliography

Han, X., 2018. Searching for an online space for feminism? The Chinese feminist group Gender Watch Women’s Voice and its changing approaches to online misogyny. Feminist Media Studies, 18(4), pp.734-749.

This article focused on some famous feminist accounts on Weibo (similar to twitter, is the most popular social media in China). Drawing on a two-phase ethnographic study to analyse how feminists act through Chinese social media and what kind of influence they made. However, the social evolution of digital feminist activisms on the current cyberspace is not optimistic.

Hong, W., 2018. Feminine Space in Chinese Painting. SDX Joint. 

The book discusses female images in Chinese art history materials including painting, hand rolls, screens, etc.. The so-called "women's space", in my personal opinion, the feminine space should be the "space" where the female image is located. This book analysed through three dimensions: seeing the definition and attitude to females in that era through the environment in the image, understanding the cognition and responsibility for different genders from the space inside the image and the position of Chinese men and women in the visual space, and learning the social status of women from the specific physical position of the painting. 

Smith, H. and Marranca, R., 2009. The world's religions. New York: HarperOne.

The book covers major religions, including Confucianism. The origin, history, core claims, and development of each religion are described quantitatively. Through the comparison between Confucianism and other religions, I found that the difference between Confucianism and religion is not only the origin, but also the way of advocacy and attitude to human and nature. But it almost has the social function equivalent of religion.

The powerful feminist-embodied sculptures of Manhattan artist Zhen Guo. (Becher, N.). 2016. Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art.

 This installation is one of the few Chinese artworks about feminist. It deconstructed female body, placing breasts onto punchbags to expresses the social status of Chinese women: the was plundered physical includes sexual and reproductive rights, at the same time praises women for the determination and bravery as mothers.

Yang, L. and Xu, Y., 2017. Chinese Danmei fandom and cultural globalization from below. Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols: Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, pp.3-19.

This book shows how Danmei culture developed from Japan to China and how it be transferred into special forms and styles with Chinese features through online media and technology. It analysed the differences in the composition of different Danmei groups in China and how they achieve cultural integration (from novels to visuals and physical art forms). Also, how Chinese Danmei culture has constructed its own cyberspace to spread and develop under the nationalistic and Confucian environment.


Full Bibliography

Butler, J., 2009. Performativity, Precarity and Sexual Politics. AIBR. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, 4(3).

Butler, J., 2011. Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. routledge.

Chang, J., Ren, H. and Yang, Q., 2018. A virtual gender asylum? The social media profile picture, young Chinese women’s self-empowerment, and the emergence of a Chinese digital feminism. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 21(3), pp.325-340.

De Beauvoir, S., 2010. The second sex. Knopf.

Fincher, L.H., 2018. Betraying big brother: The feminist awakening in China. Verso Books.

Foucault, M., 1975. Surveiller et punir. Paris, 1, pp.192-211.

Han, X., 2018. Searching for an online space for feminism? The Chinese feminist group Gender Watch Women’s Voice and its changing approaches to online misogyny. Feminist Media Studies, 18(4), pp.734-749.

Hong, W., 2018. Feminie Space in Chinese Painting. SDX Joint. 

Lian, H., 2014. The resistance of land-lost farmers in China. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration 36(3): 185–200.

Liu, T., 2008. “Cyberactivism in the Women’s Movement.” In Chinese Women and the Cyberspace. Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce, 95–116. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Liu, T., 2015. Minority youth, mobile phones and language use: Wa migrant workers’ engagements with networked sociality and mobile communication in urban China. Asian Ethnicity 16(3): 334–352.

Lu, Y. and Chu, Y., 2012. Media use, social cohesion, and cultural citizenship: an analysis of a Chinese metropolis. Chinese Journal of Communication 5(4): 365–382.

Megarry, J., 2014. Online Incivility or Sexual Harassment? Conceptualising Women’s Experiences in the Digital Age. Women’s Studies International Forum 47 (Part A):46-55. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2014.07.012.

Smith, H. and Marranca, R., 2009. The world's religions. New York: HarperOne.

Svensson, M., 2016. Connectivity, engagement, and witnessing on China’s Weibo. In: De Lisle J, Goldstein A and Yang G (eds) The Internet, Social Media, and a Changing China. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 49–70.

Tatlow, D. K., 2014.  May 21. Why Many Young Chinese Women Are Writing Gay Male Erotica. Sinosphere Blog.

van Zoonen, L., 2002. Gendering the Internet: Claims, Controversies and Cultures. European Journal of Communication17 (1): 5–23. doi:10.1177/0267323102017001605.

Wajcman, J., 2004. TechnoFeminism. Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity.

Wang, B., 2010. Engaging Nüquanzhuyi: The making of a Chinese feminist rhetoric. College English, 72(4), pp.385-405.

Wilding, F., 1998. Notes on the Political Condition of Cyberfeminism. Art Journal 57 (2): 47–60. doi:10.1080/00043249.1998.10791878.

Yang, L. and Xu, Y., 2017. Chinese danmei fandom and cultural globalization from below. Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols: Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, pp.3-19.

Zheng, W. and Zhang, Y., 2010. Global concepts, local practices: Chinese feminism since the fourth UN conference on women. Feminist Studies, 36(1), pp.40-70.