Martyred Patriarchs, Institutionalized Virtues, and the Gendered Republic of Twentieth-Century China

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This article draws attention to the cultural and social specificities of women’s agency in Republican China and suggests a way to rethink the polarizing impacts of revolution- and war-related deaths on women’s lives. Analyzing a number of petitions submitted by widows of martyrs, this article explores the transformation in family-state and gender relations during the Republican era. I argue that the Nationalist martyr compensation law perpetuated the imperial-era standards for the feminine virtues of chastity and sacrifice, circumscribing women’s social and political roles in twentieth-century China. Under the new equality-promoting legal regime and in the absence of familial patriarchs, women had new opportunities to venture outside their domestic quarters and to engage with the state. Yet, the Republican state often made exceptions to the law based on petitioners’ display of feminine virtues. By entering into this negotiation of virtue with the state, Chinese women defined themselves primarily through their performance of moral qualities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)290-319
Number of pages30
JournalModern China
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021


  • family
  • gender
  • gratuity
  • martyr
  • virtue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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