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The Reinterpretation of Female Chastity by Revolutionists in Late Qing China

Xing Yuan (苑星)

Pages 213 - 230


This article explores how the traditional virtue of female chastity was reinterpreted, modified, and imbued with modern values by the revolutionists during the transitional period of late Qing. In most cases, chastity, especially when defined as a woman’s personal quality, was still highly appreciated. Meanwhile, Xu Tianxiao, an anti-Qing racialist, set the heroines who possessed both chastity and martial virtues as paradigms for his revolutionary propaganda, transforming a woman’s loyalty to her husband into her dedication to the nation. Xu Zihua, a chaste widow herself, took advantage of her identity to get involved in social and political affairs. She also explained two female students’ deeds of clearing their reputation by committing suicide as a defense of women’s rights to acquire new knowledge and enter the public realm. On the other hand, the praise of chastity was denounced as a form of oppression of women by the anarchist and feminist He Zhen. However, her views on chastity are somewhat contradictory because she still approved of the mutual loyalty between couples on the premise of equality and took chastity and virginity as criteria for judging that “equality”. Her denial of chastity is in fact a part of her general denial of almost all the conventional and modern notions, which was meant to pave the way for the anarchist revolution she admired.


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