Shu Yang, "Untamed Shrews: Negotiating New Womanhood in Modern China" (Cornell UP, 2023)


If you are familiar with traditional Chinese literature, you have likely come across the figure of the “shrew,” a morally threatening woman who is either transgressive and polluting, promiscuous, or violent (or perhaps a combination of all three). Scholars of literature typically write about how this archetype faded out after 1911, while the figure of the more ‘modern’ “new woman” came to dominate. In Untamed Shrews: Negotiating New Womanhood in Modern China (Cornell University Press, 2023), Shu Yang shows how the shrew persisted and actually served as the basis for the celebrated “new woman,” thus revealing an entirely different relationship between the shrew and the new woman and a new origin story for symbols of female empowerment in modern China. 

In Untamed Shrews, Yang charts how the figure of the shrew was used to depict early Chinese suffragettes, pulled into discussions of female jealousy, reworked in reconsiderations of female promiscuity and henpecked husbands, and repackaged in Communist reconfigurations of how reasonable revolutionary wives ought to behave. Throughout, Yang provides careful and detailed readings of a wide range of sources, scrutinizing the historical context and wider meaning of the shrew as she appeared in newspaper accounts, fiction, and theater. 

Untamed Shrews is sure to be of interest to anyone who works on modern Chinese literature, Republican history, global 'new women,' and print culture, as well as those fascinated by literary repackagings and depictions of the shrew -- both in tamed and untamed forms. 

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Sarah Bramao-Ramos

Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a Research Assistant Professor at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. She is a cultural historian of Qing China (1644–1911), with a particular interest in Manchu studies. She can be reached at
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