A New Woman and Her Warlord: Li Dequan, Feng Yuxiang, and the Politics of Intimacy in Twentieth-Century China

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This article proposes a new way of viewing Republican-era warlords. Through an examination of the life of Li Dequan, the second wife of warlord Feng Yuxiang, it displaces Feng from his typical military and political context, scrutinizing instead the ways that Feng and Li interwove the private intimacies of love, marriage, and family life into their public and political lives. In the Republic, Feng and Li, like many prominent figures of the time, shared elements of their private lives with journalists and, through them, a broader reading public, posing for photographs with their children on their way to school and inviting reporters to family events. Feng and Li utilized this newfound intimacy between public and political leaders to cultivate public sympathy and support. By the early PRC, Li-following Feng's sudden 1948 death-was named the first Minister of Health of the People's Republic of China and her roles as wife and romantic object fell away. Instead, she focused on mothering the nation. By the late twentieth century, emphasis on the Li and Feng romance reappeared in writings about the couple, and while these narratives drew on the Republican-era stories, it was made to seem that Li's feminism rather than Feng's modernity had facilitated their true love. Though the warlords have often been seen as destructive, exploring Feng's and Li's lives demonstrates that factional militarists and their families contributed to a new political culture grounded in a gendered national narrative that intertwined family and nation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-457
Number of pages27
JournalFrontiers of History in China
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


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