December 17, 2015
Kyoim Yun, Associate Professor of EALC, has received a Korea Foundation Field Research Grant for her project entitled “The Temple Stay in South Korea: Searching for Peace in Uncertain Times.”
Professor finds damaging female stereotypes in Chinese culture's portrayal of divorce
May 30, 2014
LAWRENCE – In China, where a skyrocketing divorce rate is the focus of national attention and everyday conversation, popular culture offers cautionary tales of middle-aged women undergoing self-improvement campaigns to save their marriage.
But research by Hui Faye Xiao, an assistant professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of Kansas, shows that women trying desperately to keep their marriage intact isn’t the reality in China, where more than half of all divorces are initiated by females.
“The mainstream stereotype is that women have to make self-improvements to achieve a better quality of life for everyone in their family, and as this imagined ultimate cure for the current social unrest,” Xiao said. “But, for some women, divorce means a new life, new opportunity and empowerment, but you don’t see much of that in these narratives.”
This spring, Xiao published the book “Family Revolution: Marital Strife in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Visual Culture,” the first book-length study on Chinese divorce narratives.
Xiao began studying the subject a decade ago when she returned to China for research and found everyone, including her parents, absorbed in the megahit television show “Chinese-Style Divorce.”
Xiao watched the show, which centers on a middle-aged woman attempting to save her marriage, with shock, indignation and intellectual curiosity. The series is just one example she provides in her book on recent portrayals of divorce in China.
Depending on gender, age and class, divorce in China produces different narratives, Xiao said. For well-educated and financially secure women, divorce can be a way out of an unhappy marriage. For their husbands, it can be seen as a threat to their masculinity. And, for some less well-paid or even laid-off women, divorce can leave them vulnerable.
In “Chinese Style Divorce,” the female lead was a hard-working and well-respected teacher. She left her job to care for her son, leaving her financially insecure. In the end, the character strives to save her marriage, including self-criticism in front of her husband and his colleagues.
“It suggests that women in unhappy marriages should make every possible effort to improve their gender qualities instead of seeking a divorce,” Xiao said.
For generations China had seen a low divorce rate, in part due to a combination of social policies and a longstanding Confucian tradition emphasizing domestic order and family relationships.
Over the past three decades, the divorce rate climbed as China enacted major economic and social reforms
Marriage and divorce laws loosened. In the 1980s, couples could separate based on the mutual alienation of feelings. In 2003, employees no longer needed permission from the head of their work unit to get married or divorced.
The following year, 2004, was dubbed “The Year of Divorce” in China. It was also the same year that “Chinese-Style Divorce” aired.
Since the state no longer provides free housing to married couples, a greater degree of privacy, freedom and autonomy exists in the home. However as more emphasis is placed on domestic life, the burden of maintaining it falls largely on women. That shift has caused a resurgence in traditional gender roles, Xiao said.
Contemporary Chinese society emphasizes self-fulfillment and individual identities, but much of the time domestic order comes at the expense of a wife’s emotional, educational and professional fulfillment. Xiao points to women who were laid-off so they could return to the domestic sphere and the emergence of a quasi-concubine system where wealthy businessmen have one “legal wife” and multiple “second wives” living in different housing units.
“The privatization of domestic life is very much dependent on gendered division of labor, which is why you see rampant gender-related issues,” Xiao said.
See more information about Xiao’s book at the University of Washington Press.
Published by Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts Faculty in 2013
Tue, April 1, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Hall Center Conference Hall
*Sponsored by the Friends of the Hall Center. Space for this event is very limited. To see if there is any room for attendance, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hall Center is pleased to host a celebration of faculty authors who published books in 2013. The event will consist of a reception, a display of books, and a brief program featuring faculty authors who talk about their recent books and take questions from the audience. Please join us to learn about the engaging work of our humanities, social sciences, and arts faculty.
- Christina Bejarano, Political Science: The Latino Gender Gap in U.S. Politics
- Greg Cushman, History: Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History
- Keith McMahon, East Asian Languages & Cultures: Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao
Thursday, Feb. 6, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Digital Humanities Seminar, Crispin Williams
"Ancient Chinese Scribal Hands: Visualizing Scribal Practices in the Fifth-Century BC Wexian Covenant Texts"
Hall Center Seminar Room 1
This seminar is open to faculty, staff, and graduate students only.
Tea and Talk Lecture:
"The Future is the Past: Memory, Nostalgia, and Youth Crisis in Chinese Cinema"
H. Faye Xiao, Assistant Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures
Tuesday, March 25, 2014; 4 p.m.
Malott Room, Kansas Union
Keith McMahon published Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines from Han to Liao, in June 2013. The book is a history and analysis of the institution of imperial polygamy, focusing on the lives of the wives and concubines of emperors from the legendary past to the 12th century. For an interview with Professor McMahon and more information on this publication, please read "Professor's new book examines deep roots of opposition to female rulers."
Kyoim Yun received the J. Michael Young Academic Advising Award (May 6, 2013).
Crispin Williams was awarded tenure and promotion to Associate Professor (March 11, 2013).
H. Faye Xiao, Assistant Professor, was awarded a leave for fall 2011 as a Hall Center Resident Fellow. She will conduct research on her first book project, "Chinese-Style Divorces: Narratives of Gender, Class and Family in Contemporary Chinese Literature and Culture." The book will examine contemporary Chinese divorce narratives, including fiction, films, and TV dramas produced between 1980 and 2006.
Keith McMahon was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship to work on his book, "Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from the Legendary Past to the Aftermath of Empress Wu," during the 2009-2010 academic year.
Open-access Uyghur textbook:
The University of Kansas is pleased to announce the publication of our first-year Uyghur language textbook and grammar, Greetings from the Teklimakan: a Handbook of Modern Uyghur, by Tarjei Engesæth, Mahire Yakup and Arienne Dwyer. The textbook and accompanying audio are available for download» *at no cost*.
The textbook, which also serves as a reference grammar, is suitable both for self-study and for classroom use and is equivalent to one year's study of the language.
For further information, please contact The University of Kansas Uyghur studies group: email@example.com