Reading Sex and Temperament in Taiwan: Margaret Mead and Postwar Taiwanese Feminism

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Chang, Doris T.

Chang, D. T. (2009). Reading “Sex and Temperament” in Taiwan: Margaret Mead and Postwar Taiwanese Feminism. NWSA Journal, 21(1), 51–75.


This essay examines the ways in which Margaret Mead's research findings in New Guinea were transmitted to a Chinese-speaking audience through Yang Mei-hui's annotated Chinese summary of part 4 of Mead's Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935). In so doing, Yang served as a cultural intermediary who transmitted Mead's concept of cultural relativism on gender-role formation to her Chinese-speaking audience. Yang's annotated summary (1973) serves as a case study of the ways in which a cultural intermediary's injections of her personal commentaries within a specific cross-cultural context can facilitate her audience's understanding of the arguments made in the original English text. In this essay, I undertake a textual comparison of Yang's Chinese annotated summary with Mead's original English text for the purpose of evaluating Yang's effectiveness in conveying Mead's main arguments. In the 1970s and thereafter, Taiwanese feminists applied Mead's concept of cultural relativism of socially constructed gender to subvert the rigid gender roles in Taiwanese society. In so doing, they contributed to women's self-determination during the era of Taiwan's democratization.

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