Stepping into the Public World: Traditional Women and Philanthropy in Early Twentieth-Century China


Henry Luce Foundation/ ACLS Program in China Studies Postdoctoral Fellowships




Much scholarship has focused on the so-called “New Woman” and neglected what traditional women were doing beyond the domestic sphere, especially during a unique transitional historical period when more women were stepping into the public world. It therefore echoes the progressive reformer Liang Qichao’s famous portrayal of traditional women as parasitic, unproductive and backward subjects contributing to China’s profound national crisis of 1890s. This project fills this conspicuous lacuna in Chinese gender history by investigating the public life experiences of some traditional women through the lens of philanthropy, a traditionally-sanctioned field for women’s activism, to show how they moved out of domestic seclusion and repositioned themselves as effective actors in modern urban society. It sheds crucial light on how reconfigured traditions became essential components of modernity in the development of modern Chinese gender roles. It also adds a much-needed and indispensable gendered perspective to the burgeoning historiography on Chinese philanthropy.