2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

A Probe into Views on Women’s Physical Education in Modern China

Chien-ming Yu

Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

Women’s physical education in modern China had been an offshoot of modern education. As sports competitions were held and as physical education gradually became a trend, women’s physical education became quite developed in the 1920s and 1930s. Target of promotions expanded from female students to ordinary women in society. Concern for women’s physical education was not limited to education authorities alone; it also attracted wide concern from society in general. All these have led to divergent views on women’s physical education from different circles.

In terms of the goals of women’s physical education, the continued weakness in the national strength of the Chinese nation in modern times had led to nationalistic ideas by proponents of a strong China, which in turn helped nurtured the advocacy of ideals towards “strengthening the nation and race” and “saving the nation through physical education” as mainstream trends in physical education. The same holds true with women’s physical education. While this was going on, the rise of ideas on women’s rights paved the way for the publication of literature proposing the improvement of women’s physical consistencies through physical education, which was seen as a way of ascertaining that both sexes have equal rights. Still other proponents supported the use of the so-called “healthy beauty” to suppress women’s “unhealthy beauty.” The ultimate goal of these propositions still was centered on the idea of “strengthening the nation and race.” In terms of the methods for promoting physical education, some proposed non-exclusionary physical education activities for both sexes based on the ideas of emphasizing military affairs, national salvation and equality of rights for both sexes. Some others advocated the regulation of physical activities based on differences in the physical and emotional make-ups of the two sexes, and which voiced views against strenuous sports considered deleterious to child-bearing. The latter won the support of some of the women’s rights proponents. In summary, although proponents held divergent views on the goals of women’s physical education and its methods, all of them looked forward to the improvement of women’s physical consistencies by means of physical education. Women’s rights proponents were even more emphatic on physical education from the women’s perspective. Yet, suppressed by nationalistic and procreative issues, they failed to win for the woman’s body a more autonomous elbowroom.


Key Words: Modern-day women’s physical education, strengthening the nation and race, equal rights for both sexes, healthy beauty, nationalism