Urban Malaise: Women and the Discourse of Desire in Pan Xiangli’s Shanghai

Author: Giulia Rampolla, University of Naples L’Orientale and University of International Studies in Rome (UNINT), Italy
Email: rampolla.giulia@gmail.com
Published: December 24, 2019

Citation: Rampolla, G. (2019). Urban Malaise: Women and the Discourse of Desire in Pan Xiangli’s Shanghai. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijl.8.1.06


This paper deals with the portrayal of contemporary Chinese middle-class urban women in fictional works by the writer Pan Xiangli. Most of the stories are set in present-day Shanghai and describe the female universe against the backdrop of the metropolis. By focusing on the psychology of her characters, on the feelings that arise from their personal experiences while they work hard in their pursuit of brilliant careers, and by illustrating their particular perspective on romance and marriage, Pan Xiangli provides the reader with a unique insight into the collective imagination of Chinese women in an urban environment and reflects upon the issue of gender consciousness in time of globalisation. Her fiction suggests that a latent sense of discontent and malaise is connected to modernity; even though materialism and consumerism drive the actions of her characters, they are also closely related to feelings of disappointment and failure. Through the analysis of some short stories by Pan Xiangli, which not only mirror the new values and ambitions of China’s emerging metropolitan middle-class after the turn of the century, but also illustrate the challenges women are confronted with in the context of the city, this paper will show that female characters go through a process of reinvention and renegotiation of their individual sphere, whilst dealing with unprecedented competition in the job market, loneliness, and misunderstandings caused by their own emancipation. They are therefore compelled to find new ways of establishing personal and social relationships. Pan Xiangli’s works are examined in the context of 21st century Chinese literature written by women and new urban fiction.


new urban literature, Chinese metropolis, white-collar fiction, 21st century Chinese women writers, middle-class women, Shanghai literature