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Socialist Feminisms Compared: The Flower Girl and The White-Haired Girl

The University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies presents a comparative talk by Suzy Kim, Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at Rutgers University.

November 3, 2015 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Suzy Kim is Associate Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at Rutgers University. She received her PhD in History from the University of Chicago. Her book Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 (Cornell University Press, 2013) was awarded the 2015 James Palais Book Prize. She is currently preparing a monograph on the cultural history of gender formations in North Korea during the Cold War. Her teaching and research interests focus on modern Korean history with particular attention to social and cultural history, gender studies, and critical theory.

Two revolutionary operas from two different contexts staged at different times – The Flower Girl (1972) from North Korea and The White-Haired Girl (1950) from China – have been noted for their similarities in plot. They are both set in the 1930s during the period of anti-imperialist armed struggle against Japan; the major source of conflict, however, is that between landlord and tenants; the main protagonist is a peasant girl whose family is ruined by the landlord; and the resolution to injustice is brought by a liberating army. Despite these similarities, the two female cultural icons offer quite different conceptualizations of gender and women through the protagonist’s rape and subsequent pregnancy in The White-Haired Girl. Through an analysis of this critical difference between the two works, this paper seeks to apprehend the diverse strategies to deal with the ‘woman question’ in socialist China and North Korea and the possibilities opened up by socialist feminisms as varied ways to address the status of women. In doing so, I deliberately challenge simplistic understandings of not only socialism, but more importantly, the socialist woman question, illustrating the extent to which feminism was indeed part of the socialist agenda.

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October 15, 2020 - 4:00pm

Please join the USC U.S.-China Institute for a book talk with author David Lampton. His new book examines China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors.