Book Reviews

By Liao, Tim Futing | Transformations, March 31, 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Reviews


Liao, Tim Futing, Transformations


Book Reviews

Gilmartin, Christina K., Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel and Tyrene White, eds. Engendering China: Women, Culture and the State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. Paperback. 456 pages. $22.95.

Iwao, Sumiko. The Japanese Woman: Traditional Image and Changing Reality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. Paperback. 304 pages. $14.95.

Both Chinese and Japanese women have been subjected to much research by women's studies scholars from the West. Concepts and theories of gender made in America or Europe are applied to analyses of women from other parts of the world by comparing non-Western women against the standard of Western women. An inevitable consequence is the stereotypical images of Chinese and Japanese women as unaware of their oppression and relegated to a lower status than their Western counterparts. Engendering China and The Japanese Woman represent two recent scholarly efforts to smash the Western lens through which gender in China and Japan has been studied.

To achieve this goal, Gilmartin et al. bring together research by scholars from different cultural and intellectual positions from both sides of the Pacific. Cracking open Engendering China, I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the anthology contains original contributions first presented at a namesake conference held at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and MIT in February 1992. In The Japanese Woman, Iwao uses a structured approach, found more often in monographs than in edited volumes, to show that Japanese women are not submissive females, as they are typically portrayed. Both books should be able to broaden our horizons and enrich our multicultural curriculum, though perhaps in different ways. In the following, I will focus on how the books will contribute to our multicultural curriculum (as opposed to examining the validity of the research or the expertise of the analyses as would be more typical of review essays in other journals).

The sixteen essays in Engendering China are grouped into four sections. The first, "Beyond Family, Household, and Kinship," tells us that the women's roles encountered in the historical record are mainly those of daughters, wives, and mothers - with the exception of a small number of intellectuals, revolutionaries, empresses, and courtesans. The examination spans from the eighteenth century to the present reform period. The second section, "Sex and the Social Order," considers how sex has symbolized both desirable and detestable social attributes. Topics include a reworking of Van Gulik's categories and meanings of sexuality during the late Han and Ming-Qing periods; a rereading of stories of women's virtue in the late Ming dynasty; a discussion of prostitution in early twentieth century Shanghai; and a consideration of the emasculation by the state of its male citizens in contemporary China. The third section, "Where Liberation Lies," looks at the interplay between gender and the socialist state and offers challenges to previous interpretations. The essays in this section examine the issues of women's mobilization in the Chinese Nationalist Revolution in 1924-1927; women's liberation in a historical context; the origin of China's family planning policy; and the delicate balance between protection and equality in the post-Mao era. (Interestingly, while China put forth regulations in 1986 and 1988 to protect women's health, the Equal Opportunity Law that went into effect in 1986 in Japan relaxed the overly restrictive protection, as discussed by Iwao.) The fourth section of the book, "Becoming Woman in the Post-Mao Era," explores the meaning of being a woman different from the Maoist and the reformist definitions. While two essays in this section study some form of women's consciousness in Chinese fiction, the others give a genealogy of the discursive construction of woman or the due attention to the road China's reform is pursuing as opposed to the road women ought to be traveling. …

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