City of Working Women: Life, Space, and Social Control in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing

City of Working Women: Life, Space, and Social Control in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing

City of Working Women: Life, Space, and Social Control in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing

City of Working Women: Life, Space, and Social Control in Early Twentieth-Century Beijing

Excerpt

This book investigates the life experiences of ordinary women, specifically in connection with Beijing’s urban public spaces, during the late Qing and early Republican periods. The narrative starts with the last decade of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), when urban reforms began to transform the cityscape, provide more material goods, and inspire a feminist movement. The story ends in 1928, when the Nationalist Party (Guomindang) subjugated the local women’s movement to a nationalist feminism and increased its intervention in lower-class women’s lives. During this time, women’s use of urban public spaces grew as dramatic cultural shifts changed social attitudes toward the presence of women in public. Significant political and cultural events such as the late Qing reforms, the Revolution of 1911, the New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 1920s, and the reunification of China by the Nationalist Party in 1928 removed many social barriers that had confined women to their homes and led to more relaxed social mores. The presence of commoner women, who ventured into the streets for economic, social, and entertainment purposes, became more accepted but also more controversial.

Women’s activities became more prevalent and innovative in the last decade of the Qing dynasty, even while conventional rituals changed little. Middle-class women ventured outside to take their daughters to school and attend political rallies and charity drives while lower-class women sought to earn a living and find entertainment in the streets. This phenomenon might have resulted from the breaking down of domestic constraints and women’s desire to find meaning in their lives, or it could have been prompted by economic necessity, familial obligations, or a need for temporary escape from quotidian obligations; regardless, it does not necessarily suggest liberation. Context, format, and motivation usually dictated a woman’s behavior outside her home. In this transitional period, when social norms deteriorated and urban reforms were implemented at unprecedented levels, women’s public roles and . . .

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