No place for young women: class, gender, and moral hierarchies in contemporary Chinese film

Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

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1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper discusses how class and gender may be read against the narration of contemporary films in urban China, specifically in Beijing. The paper acknowledges that the effects of marketisation on social life in China are extremely complex, but argues that, nonetheless, a feminist reading is appropriate and necessary at this time. The premise of the paper is therefore that China is experiencing both macro-symptoms of new class structures and divisions, and micro-examples of moral ambivalence, formations of taste, and ascriptions of gender value to certain behaviours and age groups. In government-sponsored surveys in 2005, 61 million citizens self-identified as richer than before [bi qian fu], or as middle market-class [zhongchan jieji], or as middleclass (as a rough translation of that market analysis) people. A great many more fall outside the income bracket of affluence or even of aspiration to affluence, but are nonetheless caught up in the manifestations of social value and individual worth that such trends engender. Unsurprisingly, given the connections to consumption and urban growth, contemporary media in China are fascinated with the idea of the middle class and there are endless popular debates on the definitions, behaviours and meanings of such a force in contemporary society. In film, there is also a growing awareness that narratives of everyday experience will and must reflect on the consequences of a market economy for human relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-479
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Chinese film
  • Gender
  • Urban class

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