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Modern Women in China

Modern Women in China

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Published by I.B.Tauris
Katrina Gulliver's groundbreaking interdisciplinary study examines the way female writers of novels, non-fiction and diaries saw their gender at a time of modernization and crisis.
Katrina Gulliver's groundbreaking interdisciplinary study examines the way female writers of novels, non-fiction and diaries saw their gender at a time of modernization and crisis.

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Published by: I.B.Tauris on Feb 21, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Gender, Feminism and Globalmodernity between the wars
Katrina Gulliver 
m w C  Jp
Lilian May Miller was born in Japan in 1895, the daughter of anAmerican diplomat. She grew up in Japan until her family moved toWashington while she was in her teens. She attended Vassar, and aftergraduating returned to live in Asia, dividing her time between Tokyoand her father’s new posting in Korea. As a young woman, she foundsuccess as an artist, creating woodcut prints in Japanese style. Afterthe outbreak of World War II, Miller lived in Hawaii until her deathfrom cancer in 1943.Miller was an artist who gained some fame in her lifetime, as news-paper coverage of her exhibitions demonstrates. However, a numberof factors, including her untimely death, and her decision to destroy alarge number of her works after the attack on Pearl Harbour (whichled her to feel betrayed by Japan), mean that she is not a well-knownfigure now. Miller worked predominantly as a woodblock print art-ist, but also published poetry. She did not publish tracts promotingwomen’s rights, but her own life represents a fascinating intersectionbetween east and west, and tradition and modernity. How she chose tonegotiate these issues makes her a useful and unique figure for study.Miller graduated with honours from Vassar after attending highschool in Washington DC, where her father was then posted, as Chief of the Far Eastern Division of the State Department.
One of herclassmates at Vassar was Edna St Vincent Millay, and her time thereoverlapped with Sophia Chen Zen. After college, Miller returned to Japan in 1918, where her parents were again stationed. She resumedher art training with Shimada Bokusen, who gave her daily two-hour
lessons at home.
This unusual arrangement, in which the teachercame to her house to ‘attend’ to her in contrast with the norm of thestudent having to attend the atelier with other students, can be readas high-handed, or at least a commodification of the acquisition of anart style.Her studio – and the manuscript for her book of poetry and prints,
Grass Blades from a Cinnamon Garden
– was destroyed in 1923 by thegreat Kanto earthquake. At the time, Miller was in Seoul visiting herparents.
She fell ill and convalesced at her parents’ home for the nextthree years, recovering to publish
Grass Blades
in 1927.
Cultural Borrowing
Enrolled in the
or private teaching atelier of Kano Tomonobu atthe age of 9, Lilian Miller showed early talent.
Given that she waspushed into such training at an early age – the atelier took adult stu-dents – it could be questioned how much art was a career ‘choice’ forMiller. Also, it is interesting that whereas other female artists withwhom she could most closely be compared are sometimes presentedas rebels’ – particularly those who travelled unaccompanied to Asia –Miller was in fact doing what her father wanted. The Orientalist atti-tudes implied in Miller’s public posture merit interrogation, as DavidBate notes:Historically the fundamental relation of the Occident to theEast was one of occupation. In imitating the East, the Europeancolonises and disrupts the authenticity of indigenous clothing;but by incorporating the Orient into his or her self-image, theEuropean also acknowledges that the East has entered into theWest, disturbing those polarised references on which the fixedimage of the Occident/Orient depends: civilised/uncivilised,clean/dirty etc.
However, the extent to which Miller colonised Japanese culture andthe ways she was colonised
it seem to create the central tension of her identity.

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