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Journal of the History of Sexuality 13.1 (2004) 49-70

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Regulating Chinese Women's Sexuality during the Japanese Occupation of Manchuria:

Reading between the Lines of Wu Ying's "Yu" (Lust) and Yang Xu's Wo de riji (My Diary)

University of Washington

For both government officials and Chinese writers in the Japanese colony of Manchukuo (Manzhouguo, 1932-45), women's sexuality was a defining element of cultural identity. No other aspect of women's lives garnered more attention from the state. In what was a key component of their "Japanization" project, colonial officials in Manchuria aimed to structure Chinese women's sexuality by introducing a network of literary regulations designed to mold conservative cultural identities. From their establishment of the colony, Japanese officials attempted to restrict references to sexuality, and in the early 1940s they banned writing about "falling in love and lust, love triangles, denigration of women's virginity, sex, homosexuality, suicide, incest, and adultery."1 Nevertheless, these topics remained a prominent feature in popular literature. Why did women's sexuality play such an important role in Japanese ambitions for Manchukuo? How did Chinese women writers defy colonial law to express their own sexual ideals? This paper seeks to answer these questions through an examination of the nearly forgotten work of two popular Chinese women writers in Manchukuo, Wu Ying (1915-61) and Yang Xu (1918-). Both [End Page 49] Wu Ying's short story "Yu" (Lust, 1943) and Yang Xu's volume of collected writings Wo de riji (My diary, 1944) openly discuss women's sexuality, but officials responded differently to the two works. When read in conjunction, "Yu" and Wo de riji shed light on the battle to define and control women's sexuality in Manchukuo.

In Manchukuo, the clash between colonial statutes and writers' ambitions made writing about sexuality a political act. The subjects of this study, Wu Ying and Yang Xu, represent a number of young Chinese women writers whose work defied colonial regulations. Deeming individual control over sexuality to be an integral element of modern Chinese womanhood, they opposed officially sanctioned, colonial constructs of chaste, submissive xianqi liangmu (good wives, wise mothers). Their portraits of sexuality and femininity played key roles in delegitimizing Japan's cultural agenda in Manchuria. To date, most historical research on Manchukuo has relied on Japanese sources to examine economic and military history. This paper focuses on popular Chinese literature to reveal a very different aspect of the occupation—the centrality of constructions of women's sexuality to Japan's imperial project.

The Literary World in Colonial Manchuria

In China during the second decade of the twentieth century, when the Qing dynasty was replaced by a republic, faltering political institutions and foreign aggression unleashed waves of indigenous fury at the condition of the nation. The antipatriarchal as well as the anti-imperialist critiques of the New Culture (1915-23) and May Fourth (1919) movements fired the imagination of urban youth in the Republic of China. Citing famed Chinese writer Hu Shi's argument that "each epoch has its own literature," Leo Oufan Lee notes that during the May Fourth period the concept of "modernity" came to be viewed as a new mode of historical consciousness, which was reflected in popular culture.2 Wang Zheng has recently argued that the "gender issue . . . shape[d] Chinese society in the twentieth century."3 The discussion of ideals of emancipation, especially the emancipation of women, enabled young people to reconcile inherited self-identities with the influx of foreign influences and pressures: "May Fourth cultural revolutionaries . . . turned the woman question [funü wenti] into a cause célèbre" by injecting new words and concepts into the debate over the future of China.4 The May Fourth era [End Page 50] did more than compel debate over ideals of modernity, women's roles, and the Chinese nation. It also gave birth to a rich literature that invigorated Manchurian...


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