Lamenting loss: transforming Confucian womanhood in modern China

Eliza S. K. Leong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study is concerned with the faithful maiden cult in China that offers perhaps some of the most compelling evidence regarding women’s involvement in China’s reform. Women’s poetic laments provide a rare glimpse of the emotions and understanding about their roles, identities and meanings during the Taiping Rebellion. Taking Yuan Shou’s lamenting poem, I examine how the author challenges her gender role by shouldering household responsibilities as a male and responding to the political unrest due to which the outer world is disrupted. Here, women’s laments not only challenge the persistence of the ideology of Confucian womanhood, but also illustrate the distinction between women’s conception of themselves and social reality. Thus, this study suggests an ongoing and consistent effort to redefine the limits of women’s space, which results in the construction of a separate space between the private and public domains. This represents an arena where the public space and the private space overlap. In other words, this is a privately managed space that functions as a public domain. By writing about their immediate experience during chaotic times, women’s writing reflects a transformation in their definition of themselves, but one that is often not recognized and is sometimes neglected. This paper redefines our understanding of gender roles in wartime literature and promotes an alternative strategy for reading women’s literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-113
Number of pages19
JournalAsian Journal of Women's Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016


  • Ming Qing dynasty
  • Poetic laments
  • Taiping rebellion
  • The faithful maiden cult
  • Women’s wartime literature
  • Yuan Shou


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