Article Text

Download PDFPDF
The big heroine genre: motherhood and the maternal body in postsocialist Chinese television
  1. Chelsea Wenzhu Xu
  1. Cultural Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, USA
  1. Correspondence to Ms Chelsea Wenzhu Xu, Cultural Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, USA; wxu22{at}


This article explores the feminist social critique in the ‘big heroine’ drama, a newly emerged genre of television that focuses on empowering yet dramatic stories of urban women in contemporary China. The article theorises the genre as a site of ongoing contestations to inform and critique women’s maternal reality in neoliberal, pronatalist China. The big heroine genre is situated in the postsocialist structure of feeling defined by alienation and precarity, responding to China’s need to stabilise the emerging population crisis and labour shortage. Using a popular instance within the genre, Left Right (2022), as a case study, the article argues that the show validates the legitimacy of women’s anxieties and challenges in maternity and then invites viewers to engage in a multifaceted analysis of the intricate web of structural injustices women experience in pregnancy, childbirth, the postpartum and having a second child. By doing so, it not only resonates with viewers’ yearning for recognition and empathy but also stimulates a broader discourse on new and persisting maternal challenges in pronatalist China. I conclude that the genre’s contradictory and contingent nature mirrors the complexities of the Chinese party-state’s attempt to navigate the ideological instability surrounding maternity and motherhood. The genre is progressive in its alternative imagination of kinship and care networks for women navigating the moral, medical, and cultural dilemmas of the maternal body and motherhood in the moment of the state’s transitioning into a more aggressive form of pronatalism.

  • comparative literature studies
  • reproductive medicine
  • pregnancy

Data availability statement

No data are available.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.