Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Marika Seigel

Committee Member 1

Robert Johnson

Committee Member 2

Sarah Bell

Committee Member 3

Kim Hensley Owens


It is well known that China has implemented a Family Planning policy. Chinese women have limited options in reproduction, and their agency is constrained by the government, the medical institutions, and the traditional Chinese patriarchal and biased culture. By utilizing rhetorical analysis as a primary methodology with a focus on rhetorical agency, this dissertation analyzes two cases where digital technologies such as social media and apps facilitate users’ rhetorical agency to counter instances of reproductive injustice. First, I focus on China’s most popular pregnancy and mothering app, Babytree, to examine how the app rhetorically positions its users to enable empowerment and how users engage with the app by writing their embodied pregnant and mothering experience into online narratives and “selling” them to generate income, and the possibilities that they seek meaningful changes in the context of the app. Second, I investigate how a new Chinese mother with postpartum depression used the craft of crocheting to identify with other depressed mothers and they worked together to use their crocheted artifacts to do a large-scale installation to raise the public’s awareness and combat the dominant biased culture that stigmatizes postpartum depression.

These Chinese women adopt different rhetorical strategies to integrate their embodied experiences into medical knowledge to attract users’ attention and to recast their embodied experiences as material rhetoric to raise the public’s awareness. They take advantage of technological affordances on the app and social media to combat dominant discourses and promote reproductive justice. I argue that these Chinese women economize and materialize their embodied experience of pregnancy and motherhood, which may alter gender oppression in patriarchal and biased cultural discourses and shows a powerful feminist rhetorical agency. Meanwhile, this research also aids in theorizing how reproductive injustice occurs in relation to institutional and cultural oppression in different cultures and groups, and how digital spaces are an ideal place for women to assert rhetorical agency in enacting intercultural communication of reproductive justice.