“Wise wives and good mothers”: Disobedience in disguise under the collaborationist regime in Guangzhou (1940–1945)

Bianca Yin-ki CHEUNG*

*Corresponding author for this work

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In East Asia, social expectations of women being “wise wives and good mothers” have encountered new definitions and challenges. Discussions of women’s “proper” roles arrived in the wake of nationalism and modernization in China during the early twentieth century and continued throughout the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937–1945). The existing wartime literature focuses on the women’s movements led by the Nationalist government and the Chinese Communist Party. However, women’s issues in the co-existing collaborationist regime remain a relatively underexplored area. This study fills this gap by examining Wang Jingwei’s official rhetoric on women’s liberation in Guangzhou, which urged Chinese women to emulate the Japanese “wise wives and good mothers.” However, many educated women questioned and subtly reinterpreted this norm with their personal experiences to resist such an encompassing and singular ideal of womanhood. This article focuses on the discussions on women’s issues in Guangzhou in the first half of the 1940s. As a collaborationist regime, Wang’s Nationalist government introduced the Japanese housewife as the model for Chinese women to emulate. While Chinese and Japanese cultural affinity was emphasized, Chinese women were often criticized by the official propaganda mouthpiece, The Ladies World, for their “hedonistic” behavior. Such a paternalistic and didactic tone was, in fact, commonplace in women’s magazines in Republican China. It is interesting, however, that some editors and readers of The Ladies World had their own interpretations of the definitions of “wise wives and good mothers.” They made use of the official rhetoric of nation-building and peace to propagate their versions of ideal womanhood. Their voices give us an insight into exploring the diversity and plurality of gender norms within the East Asian context of the Japanese invasion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen in Asia under the Japanese Empire
EditorsTatsuya KAGEKI, Jiajia YANG
PublisherTaylor and Francis Group
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781000845280
ISBN (Print)9781032247625
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Mar 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia


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