"Expressions of the Life that is within Us" Epistolary Practice of American Women in Republican China Open Access

Zhou, Haipeng (2011)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/p8418n41b?locale=en


"Expressions of the Life that is within Us"
Epistolary Practice of American Women in Republican China
By Haipeng Zhou

Reciprocal exchanges, interactions that influence a person's life and development,
are the focus of my dissertation on a group of progressive American women. Among
them are Ida Pruitt, Helen Snow, and Maud Russell, who stayed in China in the 1920s
and 1930s, engaging in various progressive activities as social worker, YWCA secretary
and independent journalist respectively. Letter writing and reading was an indispensable
part of their life in China. It served as a vital link between their diverse Chinese
experience and American homeland, it set up a free stage for these letter writers to create
and perform various selves, it served as a key factor to define the letter writers' sense of
community, and it provided a unique lens to see a transnational history with emphasis on
gender and race.

The purpose of this project is to unravel the significance of the discursive
epistolary practice of these women. It examines through epistolary representations the
internal and external standards in evaluating women's new and traditional roles in this
historical period. More specifically, my dissertation will focus on four key themes:
progressive American women's community in China, their self-representation of
changing personas and selves in reaction to various external values, the influence of their
letter writing on the perception of China in the US, and the impact of their epistolary
practice on international feminist practices and cross-cultural understanding.

To explore these themes, I investigate the foreign community in China and its
epistolary culture in general, as well as conduct specific case studies. I argue that the
epistolary legacies left by these middle-class American women open new windows to see
the past from an enlightening perspective. They demonstrate that individuals' experience
can break through ideological barriers and influence imbalance among big territorial
powers. Through analysis of their letters, this project asserts these progressive women's
own voices in history, and sets new angles in assessing their work and impacts.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1

The Voices Heard and Unheard: Pearl Buck and Others Who Wrote about China 27

Chapter 2

More than "White Women's Burden": Ida Pruitt's Narratives of Help in Medical Social Work 78

Chapter 3

In Pursuite of Joan of Arc: Helen Foster Snow's China Years 157

Chapter 4

Values in Creative Experience: Maud Russell's Work in the YWCA of Inland China 243

Conclusion 302

Bibliography 316

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