An Ethnographic Study of a Neotraditionalist Ladies’ Academy in Contemporary Urban China
This ethnographic study of one neo-traditionalist “ladies’ education” institution critically reinterprets the search for the traditional lady as an imaginary deification of masculinity in an era of growing social insecurity. Citing mythology, dynastic history, and the classics, teachers ideologically naturalize a fundamental difference between male and female, while at the same time declaring this balancing difference lost in modernity. Numerous contemporary social ills, from money worship to poisoned milk powder, are then attributed to the intrusion of the purportedly culturally imperialist concept of gender equality, producing a narrative of decline which portrays the Chinese male as at once an innocent victim as well as the sole savior capable of recapturing tradition and revitalizing national glory. The exaltation of the pure yet lost traditional lady is thus ironically an imaginary purification and deification of contemporary maleness; yet female students nevertheless come to be invested in this normative yet highly marketable vision of “lady-hood.”
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