Research on Women in Contemporary China
One of the most significant social phenomena in contemporary China, often overlooked by China specialists, is the continuous development of research on women since the mid-1980s. The end of the Maoist era terminated the monopoly of class as the category for social and historical analysis. Women emerged as a focal point in public debates as well as in scholarly scrutiny in the reform era. Different social and political groups expressed their objection to Maoism or their vision of modernity through discussing women; their conversations, in turn, formed powerful discourses on gender in post-Mao China. Research on women (funü yanjiu), carried out primarily by urban educated women, has become a nationwide women's movement that is creating new gender discourses in China. This essay examines the social and political contexts of the rise of research on women in contemporary China, attempts to delineate the contours of this movement, and discusses its meanings to the women involved, as well as the relationship between the Chinese women's movement and Western feminism.
As a participant, observer, and sometimes both in the development of research on women in China in the past several years, I present my observations and information based on my interviews with women scholars and activists in China and my participation in some projects carried out in China, in addition to my survey of related literature and documents. However, I do not claim that this paper represents an "inside view." As a Chinese historian of women in the United States who has studied Western feminist