WHEN WE WENT TO CHINA to do research in the fall of 1979, we did not intend to write a book about contemporary women. One of us was studying the women cotton mill workers of pre-Liberation Shanghai; the other was investigating the growth of the working class in Tianjin. Most of our time was spent poring over archival documents and interviewing retired workers. Yet it was impossible to ignore the rapidly changing social environment of contemporary China, particularly as it affected women. Each of us shared a university dormitory room with a young Chinese woman. In talking with them and their female classmates we became aware that issues formerly considered "private"--adornment, courtship, marriage, divorce--were becoming topics of intense public discussion. We began to clip articles on these topics in the press, and watched as a full-fledged debate about gender roles unfolded in Chinese society. As we finished our dissertations, began teaching, and returned to China for periodic visits, the piles of clippings, women's magazines, and books by and for women grew.
In the past seven years many people prodded us to incorporate this material into an account of the lives of contemporary Chinese women. Foremost among those who helped shape this book are the women whose friendship allowed us our first close look at Chinese society: Li Biyu, Wang Yufeng, Zhao Xiaojian, Pan Hangjun, Zhou Guangyu, and Cora Deng. From Xue Suzhen we learned about the sociological investigations of women now being conducted by Chinese scholars. Su Hongjun was an inexhaustible source of clippings and critical commentary. We are profoundly grateful to all these women for sharing their observations, experiences, and opinions with us, though they may well not agree with our interpretations.
We are indebted to the colleagues and friends who read this book in whole or in part. Marilyn Young played midwife to the book and sometime therapist to its authors, giving every version of the manuscript as much consideration and care as if it had been her own. Christina Gilmartin pushed us to refine our analysis and helped us expurgate traces of