Gender and the “Virtue of Violence”: Creating a New Vision of Political Engagement through the 1911 Revolution

in Frontiers of History in China
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In this article, we explore the way men and women used the idea of violence to transform their broader political roles in their desired new Republic. We argue that the espousal of violence, whether or not actually undertaken, became an important part of the accoutrements of progressive political forces in China at this time. Violent action was perceived as virtuous rather than villainous among reformers and radicals in the late Qing and early Republic. We demonstrate that the impact and significance of this turn to violence differed for men and for women. For men, the ability and willingness to take violent action symbolized a break with the effete literati of the imperial past by their envisaging of a muscular Confucianism; for women, it provided a platform on which their claims to equal citizenship with men could be performed. The gendered nature of the virtue of violence within this rapidly changing political context produced unexpected results for both male and female political aspirants.

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