Dressing the Older Woman in Post-Mao China: Perspectives from Official Feminist Mass Media and Ordinary Chinese Women


  • Jeanne L. Shea University of Vermont




China or Chinese, women, aging, body, dress, feminism


This article examines Chinese discourses on dressing the aging female body as a window into the tensions involved in the historical transformation of habitus in early post-Mao China.  Drawing on Chinese media articles and ethnographic interviews conducted with Chinese women in their 40s-60s, the analysis compares depictions of new official ideals for older women’s dress that appeared in Chinese government-sponsored feminist media with ordinary older Chinese women’s personal sensibilities about dress.  Assessing the applicability of dominant western feminist theories of gender, dress, and age, this article provides a historicized culture-specific application of practice theory, examining older women’s struggles with competing moral logics associated with past and present, and with official media versus personal experience.  Overall, it documents experiences of ambivalence and compromise accompanying lifecycle adjustment in embodiment in the context of rapid social change.

Author Biography

Jeanne L. Shea, University of Vermont

Department of Anthropology

Associate Professor


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