Paper Title

Power and Position: Exploring the Historical Role of First Lady through the Lens of Modern Chinese History

Location

Evans Room, Third Floor, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Start Date

March 2016

End Date

March 2016

Keywords

Power, Position, First Lady, China, History, Dragon Ladies

Abstract

Because the wives of male leaders figure so prominently into the 20th and 21st centuries, the role of First Lady provides a place to explore modern constructs of female power and agency, and perhaps more importantly, the way that female exercise of power is viewed by the public. Yet, very little research has emphasized this uniquely gendered exercise of power, and what little scholarship has been conducted is primarily situated on the historical role of American First Ladies. I place my research at the intersection of modern Chinese history and contemporary women’s studies, and through a survey of newspapers, interviews, comics, and biographies, I explore the role of First Lady in the context of Chinese history and the ways in which the images of First Ladies, particularly Madame Chiang Kai-shek, shifted as the public began to criticize powerful women more heavily than their similarly powerful husbands. Outward from this gendered discrimination radiated a powerful and still resonant stereotype, the Dragon Ladies of Asia. In light of the diminished role of First Ladies in contemporary Asian politics, I argue that we must upend the gendered conversations surrounding power and question the images, metaphors, and language that we use to describe it.

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Mar 31st, 2:00 PM Mar 31st, 3:15 PM

Power and Position: Exploring the Historical Role of First Lady through the Lens of Modern Chinese History

Evans Room, Third Floor, DiGiorgio Campus Center (DiGs)

Because the wives of male leaders figure so prominently into the 20th and 21st centuries, the role of First Lady provides a place to explore modern constructs of female power and agency, and perhaps more importantly, the way that female exercise of power is viewed by the public. Yet, very little research has emphasized this uniquely gendered exercise of power, and what little scholarship has been conducted is primarily situated on the historical role of American First Ladies. I place my research at the intersection of modern Chinese history and contemporary women’s studies, and through a survey of newspapers, interviews, comics, and biographies, I explore the role of First Lady in the context of Chinese history and the ways in which the images of First Ladies, particularly Madame Chiang Kai-shek, shifted as the public began to criticize powerful women more heavily than their similarly powerful husbands. Outward from this gendered discrimination radiated a powerful and still resonant stereotype, the Dragon Ladies of Asia. In light of the diminished role of First Ladies in contemporary Asian politics, I argue that we must upend the gendered conversations surrounding power and question the images, metaphors, and language that we use to describe it.