Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 29, May 2012

Allure and Anxiety:
Entertainers, Glamour Girls and New Women in Japan and Korea

Hyaeweol Choi

  1. Seitō (Blue Stockings), a pioneering feminist magazine, was founded in Japan in 1911. It was a hugely influential forum whose impact in fashioning what it meant to be a New Woman in East Asia went beyond the borders of Japan. In recognition of the magazine's centennial celebration, with the sponsorship of the AAS Northeast Asia Council, the contributors to this special issue organised a panel for the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, which took place in Honolulu, Hawai'i in March of 2011. The current issue is largely based on selected papers and discussion that took place as part of that panel.
  2. Using Seitō as an expedient point of entry to the complex phenomenon of the New Woman, the articles revisit earlier debates and controversies, paying particular attention to the blurred boundary between the New Woman—the presumed pioneer of the modern—and female entertainers (geisha, kisaeng)—the locus of old vice that had been established in discursive, spatial and historical domains. Drawing on historical and literary sources, the papers discuss the new politics of sexuality and the tension that existed between gender politics and capitalist and colonial modernity in Japan and Korea in the first half of the twentieth century.
  3. Jan Bardsley's study focuses on the complex sexual politics that became manifest after the controversial visit of some prominent New Women (Seitō members) to the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters in Tokyo, using the reactions to the event to elucidate the tensions that existed between different groups of women in defining what constituted the New Woman. Ruth Barraclough's close reading of the female entertainers' own magazine, Chang Han (Enduring Bitterness), illuminates the reinvention of female entertainers, whose bonded labour closely intersected with capitalist development and radical politics in colonial Korea. Hyaeweol Choi's article considers the case of the elite class of Korean women who studied overseas. It examines the feminist implications of the geographical and cultural transgression these women made at the intersection of the transnational lures of the modern and the bleak local conditions in colonial Korea.
  4. In this issue, we also include comments from the panel's two discussants: Karen Leong, a specialist in Asian American history, and Rebecca Copeland, a scholar of Japanese literature. Their commentary conjoins the papers and brings in a more integrated and expanded dialogue. As Copeland points out, at the core of our exploration is the question of 'power, knowledge, and control.'[1] Throughout this issue we attempt to address a set of recurring questions: who held the power to represent New Women or female entertainers?; from whose perspective were these women visible? (and from which perspectives did they remain invisible?); what specific class interests were involved in locating women in or displacing them from the volatile processes of capitalist and colonial modernity?; in what ways were the presumed norms for gender relations in the family and society challenged or reinforced?; what drove the prevailing discourse of 'fallen' or despicable women amid heightened expectations about New Women in their experience of modernity?; and most importantly, was there any space for women to subvert the patriarchal expectations in their pursuit of selfhood within the context of the local particularities in East Asia? As Leong aptly puts it, the articles assert that 'new technologies and globalizing economic and political institutions created new spaces for women's participation' in redefining and subverting the presumed gendered boundaries of life and work.[2] In one way or another, the articles of this issue attempt to address the above-mentioned questions, while embarking on investigations and analyses that keep in mind the shared and intersected history and context in which women in East Asia found themselves during a period of imperial and colonial capitalist development.


    [1] Rebecca Copeland , 'Between allure and anxiety: an imaginary encounter: commentary,' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 29 (May 2012), para 14, online:

    [2] Karen Leong, 'Allure and anxiety: gamblers, glamour girls, and new women in East Asia: commentary,' Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 29 (May 2012), para 14, online:


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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