Ode to Joy: Representations of single women in contemporary China

Yuk Ming Lisa LEUNG, Yiu Fai CHOW

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


Informed by the global phenomenon of singlehood, this paper probes into the Chinese case by delving into popular culture and analysing dominant representations of single women in contemporary China. It focuses on one television drama series Ode to Joy (Huanlesong). Roughly comparable to the New York-based Sex and the City, this series is set in Shanghai, and follows the love and work life of five single women – the oldest of which is approaching 30 – from different social backgrounds who live in the same building. Premiered on 18 April 2016, the series has been hugely popular, capturing a daily audience of more than 500 million views while attracting an abundance of postings and discussions on China’s microblogging sites. According to its scriptwriter Yuan Zidan, a woman born in the 1980s who worked in the advertising industry, the show is ‘to explore the lives of modern women in a new way’ and what is being portrayed ‘is very close to my own life’. Based on textual analysis of the first season (42 episodes of 45 minutes) as well as of media commentaries and audience responses, the paper examines the latest discursive formations surrounding Chinese single women in an urban setting. Such formations will also be juxtaposed with other representations of single women across a plethora of genres and platforms: in commercial films, television drama series, dating shows and advertising campaigns, cross-referenceing with popular terms emerged and circulated in the last couple of decades, such as 3S Lady (‘single, born in the seventies, stuck’), shengnü (literally ‘left-over woman’) and the more recent nühanzi (‘female man’). It aims to contribute to a better understanding of the realities, symbolic or otherwise, that they have to live with, and ultimately to contemplate what it means to be single, to be woman.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017
EventInter-Asia Cultural Studies Conference 2017: Worlding Asia Beyond / After Globalization - Sungkonghoe University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of
Duration: 28 Jul 201730 Jul 2017


ConferenceInter-Asia Cultural Studies Conference 2017: Worlding Asia Beyond / After Globalization
Abbreviated titleIACS 2017
Country/TerritoryKorea, Republic of
OtherInter-Asia Cultural Studies Society and Sungkunghoe University
Internet address


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