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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Free Love, Marriage, and Eugenics: Global and Local Debates on Sex, Birth Control, Venereal Disease and Population in 1920s-1930s China
by David, Mirela Violeta, Ph.D., New York University, 2014, 399; 3635118
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation traces how eugenics came to underpin discourses pertaining to free love, sex and reproduction in 1920s-1930s China. It shows the eugenic and evolutionist limits to radical or liberal intellectuals' understanding of the role of the individual in the pursuit of sex, free love and birth control. The study examines the scientific view of modernity embodied in eugenics, as well as the challenges to this vision based on humanism and sex aestheticism. Bertrand Russell's visit to China in 1920 with his lover Dora Black led to heated discussions surrounding free love and free divorce, where privacy, the eugenic idea of a "robust individual" and science were key. Meanwhile, translations and the reception of Ellen Key and Havelock Ellis's works on eugenics and love underpinned the reconciliation in Chinese liberal intellectuals' thought between individualism/evolutionary humanism and eugenics, particularly in their debates on sexual and emotional ethics in the 1920s. Margaret Sanger's visit to China in 1922 opened up a debate on the suitability of eugenic birth control to solve China's problems, such as overpopulation and venereal disease. By probing into her interactions with Chinese intellectuals in 1922, this study reveals how her eugenic ideas were received, as well as the political tensions regarding her birth control advocacy. The dissertation demonstrates that the sexual reproductive considerations that had been viewed in the 1920s as a problem of the relationship between the individual and nation/race/society, by the 1930s came to completely subordinate the role of the individual to national and racial regeneration concerns. Sanger's continued correspondence with Chinese medical professionals came to shape the birth control movement in the 1930s in more strictly eugenic terms. This research contends that eugenics was not only influential in discourse, but came to be implemented in practice in the fields of sex hygiene, birth control and VD regulation. The agency of pioneer female gynecologists in the 1930s is emphasized by examining how they brought eugenics in practice in their birth control clinics, how they localized global female experience and theories on birth control and hygiene, either through translation or through their attempts to reach working class women with contraceptive sex education. Lastly I argue that eugenics and social hygiene also functioned as a male oriented ideology in VD policies of various colonial powers: British, American, Japanese, and French as part of an economy of empire. By contrast Chinese Nationalist Hygiene Campaigns and female gynecologists' internalizing of eugenics focused on female health.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Karl, Rebecca E.
Commitee: Liu, Lydia H., Mitchell, Michele, Solt, George, Young, Marilyn
School: New York University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 76/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: History, Science history, Gender studies
Keywords: Birth control, China, Eugenics, Free love, Individualism and ellen key, Sanger, Margaret, Sexuality, Venereal disease
Publication Number: 3635118
ISBN: 978-1-321-16086-4
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