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My research goes toward two apparently different directions. Growing up in the age without women’s history in the collegial curricula, I became interested in women’s history when studying in the United States, in particular about how Chinese women coped with their new roles when opportunities of education and employment became available to them in the modern times. My dissertation, “Searching for ‘New Womanhood’: Career Women in Shanghai, 1912-1945,” investigates the emergence of career women, defined as those who received education and applied their learning for work, and how the state and society constructed images of the “new woman” in response to urgent calls for national salvation and strengthening. While many represent the “new woman” as the so-called “May Fourth heroine” that would combat all “traditional values” and therefore label “reactionary” those who upheld the ideal of “good wife wise mother,” I argue that the discourse of “new woman” appeared controversial and often comprised with social expectations of women’s roles. In other words, the “new woman” was not a static imagery as a result of May Fourth New Culture Movement, but represented dialectic negotiation between state official, social reformers and women of multiple identities.
Upon returning to Taiwan for work, I have developed a new project on department stores in Republican Shanghai, though this was not the first time I came across the subject of department stores. My Master’s thesis investigates the management of Wing On Company, the largest department store in pre-1949 China, and shows how Chinese merchants introduced modern retailing while maintaining the so-called “traditional form of family business.” Nearly a decade apart, I reread my old material with a new angle, focusing on social and cultural implications of the new business. As an invention of the mid-nineteenth century, the department store represented not only a “retailing revolution” in which the way of conducting commerce dramatically changed, but also a “consumer revolution” that created new manner toward consumption and rhyme of work and leisure. Through cultivating new tastes and lifestyle department stores came to remold “modern citizens,” an ambition that fortuitously tuned in to Chinese state’s modernizing channel. In light of everyday life and politics, this study will bring us back to the long-lasting debate over institutional (state and entrepreneurial) intrusion versus consumer agency: instead of looking at the power of entrepreneurs or consumers, I hope to emphasize the limitedness of power which either party could exercise reflected in the glamorous emporium.
Ph.D., History, University of California, Irvine
Monographs, Collected Essays
Compilations (including oral history)
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