The Big Heroine Genre: Motherhood and the Maternal Body in Postsocialist Chinese Television

Article summary by Chelsea Wenzhu Xu

This article explores the “big heroine” drama genre, a new type of television show in China that tells powerful and dramatic stories of urban women. By examining this genre through multiple lenses—cultural studies, Marxist theory, feminist film and media studies, and medical humanities—the article analyzes how these shows critique and inform women’s real-life experiences, especially regarding motherhood, in a society that increasingly and aggressively promotes childbirth.

Using the show “Left Right” (2022) as a case study, the article reveals how the genre addresses the anxieties, physical and mental pains, and humiliating cruelty that women face during pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a second child. This show highlights the legitimacy of these concerns but also encourages a broader discussion about the structural injustices women encounter. By situating the big heroine genre within China’s postsocialist context of alienation and precarity, the article demonstrates how this genre reflects and responds to broader social and economic pressures, including the country’s emerging population crisis and labor shortages. The genre’s portrayal of alternative kinship and care networks offers progressive visions for women navigating the moral, medical, and cultural dilemmas of motherhood, while also mirroring the complexities of the Chinese government’s shifting policies on maternity and motherhood.

 

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.

 

Wenzhu Xu, Chelsea - The Big Heroine Genre-Motherhood and the Maternal Body in Postsocialist Chinese TelevisionChelsea Wenzhu Xu is a doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies at George Mason University. She received her Bachelor of Arts from China and her Masters from the University of Rochester. She is interested in visual culture, feminist theory, motherhood and women’s representation, and neoliberalism in China.

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