At the outset of the Nanjing decade (1928–1937), a small group of Chinese legal elites worked to codify the terms that would bring the institutions of marriage and family into the modern world. Their deliberations produced the Republican Civil Code of 1929–1930, the first Chinese law code endowed with the principle of individual rights and gender equality. In the decades that followed, hundreds of thousands of women and men adopted the new marriage laws and brought myriad domestic grievances before the courts.
Intolerable Cruelty thoughtfully explores key issues in modern Chinese history, including state-society relations, social transformation, and gender relations in the context of the Republican Chinese experiment with liberal modernity. Investigating both the codification process and the subsequent implementation of the Code, Margaret Kuo deftly challenges arguments that discount Republican law as an elite pursuit that failed to exert much influence beyond modernized urban households. She reconsiders the dominant narratives of the 1930s and 1940s as “dark years” for Chinese women. Instead, she convincingly recasts the history of these years from the perspective of women who actively and successfully engaged the law to improve their lives.