With this Lingo, I Thee Wed: Language and Marriage in Autobiography of A Chinese Woman

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations

Abstract

In Autobiography of A Chinese Woman (1947), Yang Buwei (1889-1981) asserted that her husband, Zhao Yuanren, "found his work and his country ... because he found me," that is to say, because Yang, a "thoroughly Chinese" woman, rekindled his interest in Chinese dialects and thus "repatriated" this "English-speaking and American-feeling" man. Yet scrutiny of Yang's representation of their marriage belies her claim to an uncomplicated link between their shared mother tongue and their national identity. To be sure, her narrative gestures and topos widely differed from those of the more "Americanized" Zhao. Rather than looking to a Western model as legitimization of their unconventional marriage, Yang deployed the figure of her female Chinese colleague, a "traditional lady," as a foil against which she painted herself as a liberated and self-reliant modern Chinese woman favored by Zhao. However, she also published different versions of her autobiography in Chinese and English. Thus, despite her linguistic and narrative maneuvers, Yang could accomplish only a partial reconciliation of conflicting gender and national identities through the written word. By telling the story of a happy marriage of Chinese and American values she temporarily acquired a fluidity that enabled her to redefine and cross national and gender boundaries.

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With this Lingo, I Thee Wed: Language and Marriage in Autobiography of A Chinese Woman

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations

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