American women in the new China: muted exceptionalisms at twilight
Abstract In his 1914 book America through the Spectacles of an Oriental Diplomat, Wu Tingfang worried about the ‘one fault’ he found with American women; their inquisitiveness. If Wu were alive today, he would see many exemplars of the inquisitive American woman in the globalized sphere of popular culture. He would also note the increase in the number of American women who are curious about China. This paper considers several contemporary China-focused ‘texts’ written/created by ‘inquisitive American women.’ These texts enjoy a global readership/viewership as they are all circulating in the public sphere in China, in the US, and beyond, particularly in the wake of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. From books such as Sara Bongiorni’s, A Year Without ‘Made in China’: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy and Robyn Meredith’s The Elephant and the Dragon: The Rise of India and China and What It Means for All of Us, to Anna Sophie Lowenberg’s internet television show Sexy Beijing, a Beijing centred look at life in China based on the HBO series Sex and the City, American women are asking a range of questions about China. As these women quell their curiosity about a ‘foreign’ nation, however, they are concurrently manifesting a particular national identity of their own. The preoccupations of these women, then, are worth noting for what they say about the US as well as China.
Keywords: Women’s History, Transnational Feminism, Popular Culture, Gender, Transnational American Studies.
Dr Stacilee Ford is a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong. She teaches in the departments of History, American Studies, and Comparative Literature and is a co-convenor of the Women’s Studies Research Centre at HKU. She writes extensively about the cross-cultural encounter between Hong Kong and the US and is interested in how Hong Kong film views US culture. Her latest book, Troubling American Women: Narratives of Gender and Nation in Hong Kong was published by HKU Press in 2011. She is currently working on a study of comparative national exceptionalisms in the 20th and early 21st centuries.