Jing M. Wang. When "I" Was Born: Women Autobiography in Modern China. Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2008. 272 pp. ISBN 978-0-299-22510-0, $65.00.
When "I" Was Born is a substantive inter-disciplinary study of Chinese women's autobiographies published in the late 1920s and mid-1940s. Combing through extensive sources from classical Chinese historiography to literary works and women's studies to contextualize her reading of these autobiographies, Jing Wang argues that these works should be seen as a genre of life writing, as defined by the author's intent and signature. She reconstructs the historical progression of women's life narratives, from male-authored official biographical traditions in pre-modern China to self-writing in the interwar years, when a large number of women wrote their life stories in response to the cultural and literary stimulus propelled by the May 4'h movement in 1919.
Wang's objective is not a survey of women's autobiographies; it is, as promised, an expertly documented, selective presentation showing why and how women constructed and connected their past with the present-the turbulent late 1920s to the mid-1940s. These women accepted the call by leading intellectuals such as the philosopher and educator Hu Shi (1891-1962) to write their life stories. The editor and novelist Lin Yutang (1895-1976) provided spiritual and financial encouragement to these women, who eagerly embraced the autobiographical form and content of translations of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712-1778) Confessions and the dancer Isadora Duncan's (1878-1927) My Life. Of the large volume of life narratives that these women published, Wang briefly discusses five anthologies of short autobiographies, but devotes separate chapters to Lu Yin, Su Xuelin, Bai Wei, and Xie Bingying, who produced book-length autobiographies.
Wang walks us through the process...