Rethinking JOSA(H)

Okinawa: a lesson for peaceful coexistence?—Reflections on Hugh Clarke’s ‘A Place for Okinawa: Changing perceptions of Japan’s Southern Islands’ (2009)

Okinawa: a lesson for peaceful coexistence? – Reflections on Hugh Clarke’s ‘A Place for Okinawa: Changing perceptions of Japan’s Southern Islands’ (2009)

Dr Adam Broinowski, ANU, Canberra
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Hugh Clarke’s article ‘A Place for Okinawa: Changing perceptions of Japan’s Southern Islands’’ was originally published in JOSA vol. 41 (2009). Download the original article here.

In his A R Davis Memorial Lecture ‘A Place for Okinawa: Changing perceptions of Japan’s Southern Islands’ in 2009, Emeritus Professor Hugh Clarke broadly outlines a long and complex history of the Okinawa archipelago. Ranging across the Ryūkyū kingdom in the context of the Chinese tributary state system, Okinawa as part of the home islands of the Japanese empire and more recently as a component of diverse Japanese culture, he emphasizes Okinawa’s rich tapestry of local traditions, diverse identities and hybridising experience at the crossroads of several ocean-going trade routes. This typifies the experiences of boundary states which consistently negotiate and mediate exchanges between internal and external forces.

Clark’s lecture was presented at a critical moment in the region. In 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the US ‘Pivot to Asia’ which was confirmed in Hanoi at the ASEAN Regional Forum in July 2010. China would follow with its much hyped ‘Nine-dash line’ and its reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, a variation on the ‘Eleven-dash line’ declared by the Republic of China in 1947. For years since then, China’s rapid development of its maritime silk road south and west has been dogged at critical hotspots by militarisation and conflict.

Following the recent visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in early August and with the US Taiwan Policy Act 2022 currently under review in the US Senate, none were surprised that China condemned the visit as a destabilizing provocation and conducted live-fire, missile and blockade operations around the island.[1] None were surprised that China condemned the visit as a destabilising provocation, and followed up with live-fire, missile and blockade operations around the island. China has been presented with a stark choice: either accept the recognition of Taiwan as an independent sovereign state and a heavily militarised territory 161kms off China’s mainland east coast, or attempt to reclaim the island by force as a province of China and engage in a kinetic war with the United States and its allies.[2]

For context, China’s apparently aggressive recent expansion in the East and South China Seas is framed by US military bases which have encircled China in the region for decades. These reinforce US-led large-scale joint military drills, manoeuvres and surveillance with its allies and re-assert its claim to absolute Freedom of the Seas (FoS). Unlike China, the US has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), enabling the evasion of EEZ regulations.[3]

In a period of flux and tensions higher than any time during the Cold War, beyond the policy orthodoxy of increasing military interoperability, weapons stockpiles and troop rotations, these conditions make it even more critical to consider how to promote an environment of peaceful coexistence.

As elucidated in Professor Clarke’s historical accounts of Okinawan experience as a boundary state, encouraging an interrelational approach of porous borders, fluid identities and shared trade routes as found in Okinawan experience as a boundary state will more likely succeed in the longer term than will forcing regional nations to choose between militarized trade blocs in the short term. As Okinawans know from the prolonged militarization of their territory from the Second World War to the present, when the narrow lens of military-strategic thinking is prioritised over cultural, economic, social and ecological knowledge exchange, progressive change is denied as we are drawn closer to war in the Asia-Pacific. [4]

Adam Broinowski is a visiting researcher at the School of Culture, History and Language in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. His publications include Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War (London and Sydney: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017).

About Hugh Clarke 

Hugh Clarke is Professor of Japanese at the University of Sydney. Now retired, he publishes on Japanese language and is a world leading expert on Okinawa language and culture. HIs leadership in the promotion of Japanese language learning in Australian universities and schools was crucial to its early growth and success.

[1] Purnendra Jain, ‘Okinawa: Japan’s Frontline Pacific Prefecture – Australian Academy of the Humanities’, (August 2022).

[2] If the US Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 becomes law, Taipei would be granted up to $6.5 billion in US financing for weapons procurement over five years, in addition to Taiwan’s boosted military expenditure ($19.41 billion in 2023).

[3] RIMPAC military drills held off Hawaii typically involve 25,000 personnel and 52 ships from 25 nations. Until 2014, CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) exercises were held off Singapore with around 17,000 personnel and 73 ships from 9 nations. Many other similar drills are regularly conducted including the recent trilateral Japan-ROK-US anti-submarine warfare exercise.

[4] As part of its steadily increasing military expenditure, Japan has boosted missile and radar systems, ammunition and troop rotations on Okinawa islands including Miyako, Amami, Ishigaki and Yonaguni. In 2023, Japan will likely increase its military budget to become the third largest military spender in the world (5.59 trillion yen/39.19 billion dollars US).



2022 ASAH Emerging Scholar Winner Announced

2022 ASAH Emerging Scholar Winner Announced

The Australian Society for Asian Humanities is pleased to announce the winner of the inaugural ASAH Emerging Scholar Award, Soo Choi (University of Sydney). Impressed with the quality of the submissions, the judging panel also awarded an honourable mention to Estelle Rust (Keio University).

Winner: Soo Choi (University of Sydney)

“Found” in Translation: A Relational Approach to Deborah Smith’s Translation of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian 

Soo Choi is a Korean-New Zealander currently residing on the land of the Gadigal people. She completed a BA(Hons) in English in 2019 and is now completing a LLB, both at the University of Sydney. Her research areas of interest are translation, post-colonial literature and food literature.

“As a Korean-New Zealander who speaks English as her primary language, my article’s focus on the interpretations of English translations of Korean literature has huge personal significance. Given that my article centres around the act of creating transboundary relationships through translation, I am honoured to be the inaugural recipient of the ASAH Emerging Scholar Award which celebrates the strength and presence of Asian humanities scholarship within Australia.”

Honourable Mention: Estelle Rust (Keio University)

Contents Tourists and Content Production: The Negotiation of Site Narratives by Tōken Ranbu Fans in Japanese Domestic Tourism

Estelle Rust is a PhD Candidate at Keio University, Japan. After graduating from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and History, I travelled to Japan under the MEXT (Monbukagakusho) Scholarship to undertake the Masters, and subsequently PhD program, at Keio University’s Graduate School of Media and Governance. I focus on anthropological research involving the intersection of grassroots communities and local cultural heritage in both Australia and Japan.

I am extremely honoured to have received the honourable mention for ASAH’s Emerging Scholars Award. While I wrote my paper from the lens of travel, at its core is the dedication of independent researchers and community members in promoting the often overlooked pasts and places they connect with. To have my paper so warmly received has given me new confidence in being able to convey the enthusiasm of my research participants as independent actors contributing to the sustainability of Japan’s cultural places. I am extremely grateful to ASAH for providing these opportunities to early career researchers, and for the support in further refining my research practice!


ASAH would like to thank the judging committee for the 2022 ASAH Emerging Scholar Award: Professor Louise Edwards (UNSW), Dr Shin Takahashi (Victoria University of Wellington), and Dr Jon Glade (University of Melbourne). Judges reviewed submissions through a blind review process. 

Find out more information about the next round of the ASAH Emerging Scholar Award here.

Rethinking JOSA(H)

All this was Poetry—Reflections on A.J. Prince’s “The Countryman in the Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen” (1978)

All this was Poetry—Reflections on A.J. Prince’s “The Countryman in the Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen” (1978)

Jeffrey C. Kinkley, Retired Professor, St. John’s University, New York
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A.J. Prince’s “The Countryman in the Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen” was originally published in JOSA 13 (1978). Download the original article here.

Anthony John Prince’s “The Countryman in the Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen” (1978) represents a pioneering and influential approach to the study and appreciation of a seminal twentieth-century Chinese literary talent. The article’s observations and conclusions have proved important and enduring, though Prince himself went on to explore rather different fields of scholarship. Paradoxes of hiatus, revisitation, and redirection abound.

Begin with the literary subject. Shen Congwen, as we spell his name today (he lived 1902-1988), was a major New Culture Movement writer of fiction and other prose. His name was prominent in Republican-era biographical dictionaries and Kaiming Press in the 1940s published and republished a multivolume series collecting his best-loved works, some of which were translated into English, French, and Japanese; Shen’s Biancheng (Border town) appeared in two English versions (1936, 1947). After 1949, however, Shen Congwen mostly disappeared from China’s literary scene, as Prince indicates in his article. The Chinese writer was forgotten by scholars and lovers of literature almost everywhere else as well, until C. T. Hsia extolled his achievements in his A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (1961). It was Tony Prince who then wrote the first Ph.D. dissertation on Shen Congwen in any language, “The Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen” (University of Sydney, 1968). His mentors were A. R. Davis and W. P. [Wei-ping] Liu.

Prince’s research on Shen Congwen came into print for the first and last time only a decade after that, in the 1978 article below. (Pure speculation: Did A. R. Davis or someone else at Prince’s alma mater in Sydney, where the young scholar returned to teach after six years’ study and teaching in Taiwan and Japan, grab Prince’s dissertation off his desk to ensure that at least a portion of it was published, as John K. Fairbank had done with David Tod Roy’s dissertation on Guo Moruo a few years earlier?) The JOSA article below extracts from the dissertation primarily Prince’s biographical analysis and exploration of the “countryman” theme in Shen’s writings. These perspectives stimulated those who went on to study Shen and his works in the 1970s, me among them, although we specialists read the full dissertation (on microfilm back then; today it can be read online). A biographical, regional, and local-colour approach became dominant also in China’s own studies of Shen in later years, but that research and criticism proceeded from different wellsprings and was facilitated by much easier access to Shen’s writings than Prince or any scholar in China enjoyed in the 1960s or 1970s.

Outside China, there had been, by 1963, an ideologized debate between Jaroslav Průšek and C. T. Hsia about literary history methodology and who belonged in the modern Chinese literary canon. The place of Lu Xun and more orthodox leftist writers was of greater prominence in the two scholars’ original polemics than the place of Shen Congwen, but Hsia’s noteworthy esteem for Shen and Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing) had a greater impact as time went on. Impassioned methodological debates continued in back-to-back 1974 symposia at Harvard and Dedham, Massachusetts, which were academically star-studded and led to the founding of what later came to be called the Modern Chinese Literature and Culture journal, databases, and information networks. Historical, sociological, and contextual analyses of modern Chinese literature (called by some the Harvard school) were opposed by a “cite nothing outside the literary texts” tendency favoured by many thematic, New Critical, and structuralist scholars. (Poststructuralism had not quite arrived yet in English-language Sinology.) Active in Dedham on the pure-textualist side was William L. MacDonald, who had written the world’s second dissertation on Shen Congwen: “Characters and Themes in Shen Ts’ung-wen’s Fiction” (University of Washington, 1970). It, too, discusses the countryman motif. Unfortunately, MacDonald’s dissertation never became a book either. Prince’s study bridges the two methodological “camps.” In fact his dissertation, more than MacDonald’s, continues C. T. Hsia’s interest in Sino-European comparative literature perspectives. Prince’s 1968 work compares Shen Congwen and D. H. Lawrence.

Another inspiration and challenge in related scholarship was Hua-ling Nieh’s Shen Ts’ung-wen (Twayne’s World Authors Series, 1972). It begins with biographical chapters based on the immortal Congwen zizhuan (Congwen’s autobiography) that gave Prince and all us later researchers our start; Nieh’s renderings of it benefited from research and translations by her collaborators, the Hong Kong poet Wan Kin-lau (Wen Jianliu) and Filipino novelist Wilfredo Nolledo. Her subsequent chapters of original literary criticism then discuss Shen’s countryman persona, likening it to Camus’ Stranger. Probably Nieh had not read Prince; existentialism had been a significant intellectual trend in 1960s Taiwan literary circles. Prince in his 1978 article cites Nieh’s book and the 1973 encounter between Shen and Kai-yu Hsu (Xu Jieyu), who discovered that the time for interviewing Shen and filling in gaps about his life and work had not yet arrived; the ex-writer was very guarded in speaking about his literary past, even with Hsu, his former student. Prince in the revised pages below does not mention C. T. Hsia. That was probably not a political judgement, for the dissertation does include him, along with a smattering of China’s own largely perfunctory and derogatory left-wing commentary on Shen Congwen, up to but not including that of later literary historians such as Wang Yao. Although Hsia emphasized echoes of Daoism and more abstract religious and moral concerns in Shen’s fiction, matters of religion and philosophy could not have been been an issue between Hsia and Prince. A career-long element of Tony Prince’s own story is his interest in such subjects, notably Buddhism.

We get a glimpse of Prince’s Buddhist erudition in footnote 79 below, and at greater length already in his 1968 dissertation, in which he traces the origins of story plots in some of Shen’s fiction to particular Jataka tales and Buddhist scriptures. Prince perused the religious texts in English and Japanese translations. Among Tony Prince’s major publications in later years are his annotated cotranslated book with Adrian Buzo titled Kyunyŏ-jŏn: The Life, Times and Songs of a Tenth Century Korean Monk (Wild Peony, 1993), The Dawn of Enlightenment: The Opening Passage of Avatamsaka Sutra with a Commentary (Taipei: Kongting, 2006), and Universal Enlightenment: An Introduction to the Teachings and Practices of Huayen Buddhism (Taipei: Kongting, 2014; 2nd ed., 2020). At the University of Sydney, Tony Prince taught Chinese language, literature, and thought for 28 years, until his retirement in 2000. He did not abandon his interest in modern Chinese literature. He joined Naikan Tao as cotranslator in Eight Contemporary Chinese Poets, whose subjects range from Haizi to Xi Chuan (Wild Peony, 2007), and again with Tao and Mabel Lee in Lee’s edited book, Poems of Hong Ying, Zhai Yongming, and Yang Lian (Vagabound Press, 2014).

Tony Prince’s article below is unmatched for its analysis of Shen Congwen’s “countryman” persona, and also for Prince’s moving renditions of the colourful prose in Congwen’s Autobiography. To this day that work has never been fully translated into English. The article below is notable for integrating Shen Congwen’s full range of overtly autobiographical writing, including his later essays and even his confessions, with self-revelatory material from the author’s stories and essays. The result is a stimulating picture of Shen Congwen that has been filled out but not greatly modified by subsequent research and new materials. Prince’s writing is a window on his meticulous scholarship. It is also a reminder, suitably present through its near-absence in this particular incarnation, that Buddhist narratives once inspired Shen Congwen.

About A.J. Prince

A.J. Prince (Tony Prince) began his Chinese studies at the University of Sydney under the recently appointed Professor A.R. Davis and Mr. (subsequently Dr.) Liu Wei-ping 劉渭平. Having completed a B.A. course with honours in Chinese, as well as three years of Japanese, he began to undertake postgraduate research on the 20th century Chinese writer Shen Ts’ung-wen 沈從文 ( ‘Shen Congwen’ in Hanyu Pinyin). He submitted his Ph.D. thesis on “The Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen” in 1968.

A couple of years after receiving his Ph.D. degree, while attending a conference at the Australian National University in Canberra, he was introduced to the Buddhist nun and artist Ven. Hsiao Yun 曉雲 (Cantonese romanization ‘Hiu Wan’), who invited him teach at her Institute of Buddhist Studies 佛教研究所 in the College of Chinese Culture 中國文化學院 (subsequently Chinese Culture University 中國文化大學) in Taiwan. He spent three and a half years in Taiwan, during which time he began to take an interest in the Huayen School 華嚴宗 of Chinese Buddhism.

On leaving Taiwan, he moved to Japan with a view to improving his Japanese and perhaps finding an opening in the field of Buddhist Studies there. He failed to discover any such opening, but by sheer coincidence, he happened to encounter Prof. Davis again in Osaka. Not long after this, a vacancy was advertised in the Department of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney, for which he submitted a successful application. After spending a couple of months travelling through various countries in South and Southeast Asia, he returned in 1977 to Sydney University to take up the advertised post of lecturer in Chinese.

The following year an article based on his Ph.D. thesis, “The Countryman in the Life and Works of Shen Ts’ung-wen”, was published in the Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia. Subsequently two other articles by him appeared in the same journal: “The Concept of Buddhahood in Earlier and Later Buddhism” (Dec. 1970) and “The Hua Yen Vision of Enlightenment” (1983-4).

In the 1990s he presented a paper at a conference on ‘Religion and Biography in China and Tibet’ which was held at the Australian National University in Canberra. This paper, “Everyday Miracles”, on the miraculous or supernatural element in Buddhist hagiographies, was included in a book published under the same title as that of the conference by Curzon in 2002, and republished by Routledge in 2013. Meanwhile he had collaborated with Adrian Buzo on a book about an early Korean Hwaeom (Huayen) text, Kyunyŏ-jŏn: The Life, Times and Songs of a Tenth Century Korean Monk (Wild Peony, 1993). At the same time he was working with Naikan Tao and Mabel Lee on translating works by some contemporary Chinese poets; the results of this collaboration appeared in two books: Eight Contemporary Chinese Poets (Wild Peony, 2007), Poems of Hong Ying, Zhai Yongming, and Yang Lian (Vagabond Press, 2014).

In the late 1990s he returned briefly to Taiwan to speak at a conference organized by Huafan University, which had been founded some years earlier by Ven. Hsiao Yun. The title of this talk was “Patterns of Heaven and Earth: The Significance of Poetry in the Chinese Tradition”. After his retirement in the year 2000, he returned to Huafan University to deliver another talk, entitled “Perceiving Reality: Learning and Meditation According to the Huayen School”.

Subsequently two Huayen-related books were published by Kongting Press 空庭書局 in Taiwan: The Dawn of Enlightenment, a translation of the opening section of the Avataṁsaka Sūtra, together with an oral commentary by the present-day Huayen master Ven. Haiyun Jimeng 海雲繼夢; and Universal Enlightenment: An Introduction to the Teachings and Practices of Huayen Buddhism, an attempt to explain the Huayen teachings as a coherent system of doctrine and practice leading to Enlightenment, rather than as the abstruse school of Buddhist ‘philosophy’ commonly depicted in histories of Chinese Buddhism. A reformatted and enlarged edition of Universal Enlightenment was later published as an e-book. Tony Prince is still studying and writing about the Huayen teachings, but he now lives in Sri Lanka.


Rethinking JOSA(H)

Traditional Chinese family values were not so virtuous and Republican women were not so quiet—Reflections on Bernice Lee’s ‘Women and the Law in Republican China’ (1977)

Traditional Chinese family values were not so virtuous and Republican women were not so quiet—Reflections on Bernice Lee’s ‘Women and the Law in Republican China’ (1977).

Louise Edwards, UNSW, Sydney
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Bernice Lee’s article ‘Women and the Law in Republican China’ was originally published in JOSA 12 (1977). Download the original article here.

Bernice Lee’s 1977 article pioneered research in women’s legal history in China. It was among the very first to explore the dramatic shifts in the legal status of women contained in the Nationalist’s (GMD) 1931 Civil Codes that recognised women’s personhood and legal equality. Lee not only maps the differences between the old and new laws but also places them into a rich historical context revealing the deep cultural challenges the new Civil Codes presented. At the time of publication, the article broke new ground because it was commonly assumed that there was nothing worth researching in legal history about women. Apart from the low status that accrued to any scholarly research on women prevailing at that time, there were two other conventions that stymied growth in the field. First, researchers sometimes assumed that the CCP, not the GMD, granted women equality in 1949. And second, for those who did recognise the advances of the GMD’s civil code, that these laws remained paper decorations to an incompetent, corrupt state. Lee’s meticulous research revealed the weaknesses in both these assumptions and as a consequence the article remains a classic reference in the field.

Her detailed discussion of the key legal texts and their related secondary literature revealed not only the emergence of ‘legal equality’ in the 1930s but simultaneously the extensive nature of the discrimination women faced under the Qing codes. In contrasting China’s ‘old and new’ legal codes, Lee shows the many inglorious aspects of the now much-vaunted ‘traditional Chinese family values’. The practice of ‘hiring out’ (prostituting) wives and daughters was sufficiently frequent that there were imperial-era laws prohibiting or limiting the practice. But, reaffirming the status of wives as property, Ming and Qing codes only prohibited men and mothers-in-law from pawning or hiring out wives to other men if they were not poor. For the poor, no such legal constraints against prostituting a wife or daughter-in-law applied. Girls who were traded for cash between families as child brides also had some protection in the imperial laws—it was illegal to beat them to death. Against this backdrop, the achievements of the 1931 Civil Codes in championing the principle of equality of all human beings becomes evident. The GMD codes outlawed the pawning, renting, buying, and selling of people altogether. In the first thirty years after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, evidence of women’s status as chattels in the Qing, served as proof of the evils of ‘feudal values’ and the virtue of the socialist state. One wonders how, or if, current advocates of ‘traditional Chinese family values’ reconcile their nostalgia of such ‘traditional values’ in the creation of the harmonious society.

How has the field of women’s legal history built on Dr Lee’s foundational research?

First, we know that women did in fact use their new legal rights in courts of law. Work by Lisa Tran and Margaret Kuo draws on archival records of the police and courts and provide lively and sometimes distressing evidence of fiery divorce cases, concubinage, adultery, bigamy and domestic violence.[1]  These sources were inaccessible in the 1970s. Lee tentatively concluded in 1977 that the new laws were not entirely moribund, even while she noted their limited reach and had, in the middle of the article, equivocated about their actual impact on the daily lives of women. The evidence available in 1977 about the extent of the legal activity undertaken by women, or the change in social practices these laws produced was extremely limited. Lee’s tentative conclusion is a mark of responsible scholarship. As the field of Republican era legal history has expanded, archives have opened, and new sources have come available, Lee’s suspicion has been confirmed.

Second, we now know far more about the activism of women in the first half of the twentieth century for women’s rights. One of Lee’s key arguments is that women were the beneficiaries of a change in law that was originally prompted by China’s leaders’ desire to abolish the extraterritorial rights of imperialist powers. This perspective accords with a long-held view that Chinese women did not seek their own liberation, but rather were granted it by enlightened men. And, in this case, Lee posits that women were almost inadvertent beneficiaries of a process in which 95 per cent of contemporaneous western laws were being adopted by China, and these just happened to include sex equality. On this view, women in China almost accidentally secured legal equality in the GMD Civil Code. We know now that China’s feminists were extremely exercised about legal reform, active in seeking their rights as ‘#people too’ and argued frequently in protests, associations, magazines, and newspapers to that end.[2] The educated women of China wanted equal status with their brothers and husbands in all matters of family law including inheritance and divorce rights and protection as independent persons. The extensive sources now readily available, such as women’s journals, daily newspapers as well as parliamentary documents and legal records show that China’s feminists had laid the groundwork in advance of the drafting of the Civil Code. In so doing, they ensured the drafters did not blithely eliminate the sex equality provisions. The inclusion of French-trained lawyer, Zheng Yuxiu (Soumay Tcheng), an outspoken feminist, in the drafting committee, was a significant indication that the GMD was taking women’s views into account.

Finally, Lee’s article contributed to elevating scholarly work on women’s history—before ‘gender’ had emerged as a common analytical tool—and provided a launchpad for what is now a dynamic field of many scholars, such as Tran and Kuo, working on gender and the law in Chinese history.

[1] Concubines in Court: Marriage and Monogamy in Twentieth-Century China. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015); ‘Adultery, Bigamy, and Conjugal Fidelity: The ABC’s of Monogamy in Republican China’, Twentieth-Century China 36.2 (May 2011): 99-118; ‘Sex and Equality in Republican China: The Debate Over the Adultery Law’, Modern China 35.2 (2009): 191-223.

Margaret Kuo, Intolerable Cruelty: Marriage, Law and Society in Early Twentieth Century China (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012); ‘Spousal Abuse: Divorce Litigation and the Emergence of Rights Consciousness in Republican China’, Modern China 38.5 (2012): 523-58; ‘The Legislative Process in Republican China: The 1930 Nationalist Family Law and the Controversy over Surnames for Married Women’, Twentieth-Century China 36.1 (2011): 44-66.

[2] For example, Louise Edwards, Women’s Suffrage in China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008); Zhang Yun, Engendering the Women Question: Men Women and Writing in China’s Early Periodical Press (Leiden: EJ Brill, 2020).

About Bernice Lee 

Bernice Lee (née Silk) first became interested in Chinese language and literature while teaching English to Chinese Primary school children in Hong Kong in 1960-62. Learning Cantonese became one of her spare time activities. 

After returning to Sydney, she enrolled in a BA at Sydney University and her Hong Kong experience motivated her to study Chinese. In 1969 she graduated with First Class Honours in Chinese and a major in History.

Between 1970 and 1975 she undertook graduate research and completed her PhD thesis, titled “The change in the legal status of Chinese women in civil matters from Traditional Law to the Republican Civil Code” under the supervision of Professor A.R. Davis, Head of the Department of Oriental Studies at Sydney University, and with the assistance of Dr Agnes Syrokomla-Stefanowska. As part of her graduate studies she conducted research in Taiwan during 1972-73 where she received invaluable advice and guidance from two Chinese legal scholars, Professor Tai Yen-hui, Vice President of the Judicial Yuan and Professor of Law at National Taiwan University, and Dr Lee Tzu-wen.

From 1976-79 she was a tutor in Asian History in the Department of History at Sydney University. During that time, she wrote numerous articles on topics such as Chinese women and the law, the tong yangxi (where a young girl is brought into the family to be a future daughter-in-law for the family’s son), infanticide, footbinding, concubinage and revolutionary Chinese women.

In 1980 she joined the Commonwealth Public Service in Canberra where she worked in various roles until her retirement in 2002. Two of her positions related directly to China; China analyst at the Office of National Assessments 1981-86 and a posting to Beijing in 1990-93. She was also posted to Hanoi in 1997-2000.

From 2005-2008 she returned to Hanoi to teach at RMIT International University.

Retirement has given her the opportunity to renew her interest in China through reading widely and giving a series of talks to the University of the Third Age – U3A in Sydney and Canberra on Chinese literature, history and culture. 



Rethinking JOSA(H)

Creating space for feminist subjectivity and feminist history in China Studies—Reflections on T. Kobayashi’s ‘Chang Chu-chün for Women’s Rights’ (1976)

Creating space for feminist subjectivity and feminist history in China Studies—reflections on T. Kobayashi’s ‘Chang Chu-chün for Women’s Rights’ (1976)

Louise Edwards, UNSW, Sydney
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T. Kobayashi’s article ‘Chang Chu-chün for Women’s Rights’ was originally published in JOSA 11 (1976). Download the original article here.

When JOSA published Kobayashi’s article in 1976, universities considered feminism to be a radical fringe movement. At Sydney University in 1973, two graduate students, Liz Jacka and Jean Curthoys, proposed a new course on feminist philosophy only to have it rejected by the Professorial Board.[1] The issue generated such heat that an extended strike of staff and students ensued on the need for democratizing the university.[2] In 1974 at the Australian National University students occupied the Chancellery for 24 hours demanding women’s studies courses. The success of the course the protests secured led to the ANU hiring Susan Magarey to design the first Women’s Studies major in any Australian university in 1978.[3]

So, at the time of Kobayashi’s research Women’s Studies had marginal institutional traction, feminists were derided as either deviant, bra-burning man-haters or mad. Perceived as a direct threat to the established structures of academia, families, and workplaces, they faced derision and abuse. Publishing on women’s history or feminist history was a risky career move in the 1970s and for much of the 1980s and academics undertaking this research often first felt the need to ‘prove themselves’ in more conventional fields before moving to research ‘women’.

In this climate, one wonders why a male academic would take up the challenge of writing about a leading female advocate of women’s rights in Chinese history. How would the topic be handled? Kobayashi’s opening paragraph provides an inkling: ‘Since I am not a devoted feminist, I should like to deal with the subject mainly in the light of modern Chinese history.’ The awkward ‘I am not a feminist so…’ caveat could have led along the path of belittling the feminist frame, but rather it marked Kobayashi’s willingness to take unconventional women seriously as figures worthy of scholarly investigation and to take feminism seriously as a movement deserving historiographical treatment. In his article Kobayashi builds a biographical portrait of Zhang Zhujun (Chang Chu-chün) 张竹君 (1876-1964), narrating her early life experience, engagement with Christianity, medical training, activism in the 1911 revolution, welfare service provision and publishing—and explores how each connected to the larger project of promoting women’s standing in society.

Kobayashi’s awkward, but explicit mention of feminism in the opening is an indicator of what is to follow. Although distancing himself from feminists throughout the article, he builds the space for a feminist subjectivity in Chinese history (for Zhang Zhujun specifically but for her contemporaries as well). And he also frames an academic arena in which Chinese feminist history can be marked out. Kobayashi’s tentative tone belies its role in building a historical Chinese feminist voice and a scholarly field for Chinese feminist history. In his biographical study Kobayashi tests Zhang’s activities against an idea of ‘real feminism’ while never explicitly discussing what this ‘feminism’ might be. This exploratory process presents the potential feminist terrain across which JOSA’s readers are invited to survey. Initially, Kobayashi examines what this ‘real feminism’ is not. For example, he describes Hu Shi and Li Ruchen as ‘not really the forerunners of the modern feminist movement’ (p. 62), and the equality of the Taiping Kingdom as ‘hardly be[ing] included in the modern women’s rights movement” (p. 63). Kang Youwei’s anti-footbinding campaign similarly ‘strictly speaking, in itself, it was not a feminist movement to assert women’s rights’ (p. 63).

Kobayashi’s desire to establish the boundaries about what is in and what is out of ‘real feminism’ takes as given that there is a feminist movement (somewhere out there) that can be tracked and that warrants our attention. While hardly revolutionary today, in 1976, this was a significant step to building the robust field of women’s history in China Studies we currently enjoy. Why? because the very existence of a distinct Chinese feminist movement was largely denied or disregarded in the historiography of China. By framing the research problem through the question of ‘Who is a feminist and who is not?’ he asserts the existence of the Chinese feminist as historical actor, even if he declares himself not to be a feminist.

Next, Kobayashi builds the subjectivity of the modern feminist as a critical judge of the historical past. In writing of Liang Qichao’s advocacy of women’s education for the purposes of raising better sons, Kobayashi says this ‘must enrage modern feminists’ (p. 65). While collapsing a diversity of possible feminist positions into one, Kobayashi is nonetheless also establishing the ‘modern feminist’ as an actor, both political and scholarly, in the appraisal of historical events. The field that is worthy of research also has its guardians.

As the paper continues, the feminist movement and its female actors become more clearly defined for JOSA’s readers at a historical moment when they too were ‘feeling their way’ through a major social and political shift. Kobayashi establishes what will become in many later histories of the Chinese women’s movement, the image of an ‘acceptable’ Chinese feminist—the woman who was really a nationalist and a patriot. The logic runs that while feminists existed in China, they were the good type. ‘Unlike the feminist movement in other countries’ that rebelled against men, Chinese feminists wanted to meet the needs of the nation and were ‘not hostile at all towards enlightened men’ (p. 77).  In establishing China’s first feminists as the ‘good sort’ that recognised the bigger picture of nation-building, Kobayashi reflects orthodox narratives of women’s history emerging from the PRC and ROC. But he also creates simultaneously the possibility of the other type of historical feminist actor—the hostile one. Chinese women’s feminism is situated in relation to a global movement in which exists a putative pure or true feminism. China’s feminism might be the ‘good’ type but it is not the ‘real thing’. This conception of a uniquely Chinese feminism still circulates today in myriad guises and usually serves to contain and moderate contemporary feminist activism by appealing to ‘Chinese feminine values’ that are more refined than the supposedly more confrontational feminists of the west.

Kobayashi’s article is one of the first to bring Zhang Zhujun to western readers’ attention and was completed before the vast range of materials on women’s history became available from the late 1980s. As a result, while this article is no longer the ‘go to’ piece on Zhang that it was in the 1976, Kobayashi’s willingness to write on her life as a ‘Chinese feminist’ and within the frame of ‘a history of Chinese feminism’ forms an important part of the building of credibility for feminist academic history as a field and the value of researching feminist historical actors.

[1] For Curthoy’s piercing critique of the state of academic feminism see Jean Curthoys, Feminist Amnesia: The Wake of Women’s Liberation (London: Routledge, 1997).

[2] Lewis d’Avigdor, ‘Let the Lunatics Run their Own Asylum: Participatory Democracy at the University of Sydney, 1960-1979’, Bachelor of Arts (honours) thesis, June 2011. Available at:’Avigdor,%20Lewis_2011.pdf;jsessionid=7F8CD98A654E8AAF2F40E202F6B9B994?sequence=1 (accessed 29 September 2021).

[3] Lyndall Ryan, ‘Women’s Studies in Australian Higher Education: Introduction and Brief History’, The Australian Universities Review 34.2 (1991): 2-7.

About T. Kobayashi

Toshihiko Kobayashi, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, taught at the Departments of Oriental Studies and of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney for over 40 years. He died in 2017 at the age of 93.