Women in China's Long Twentieth Century

Women in China's Long Twentieth Century

Women in China's Long Twentieth Century

Women in China's Long Twentieth Century

Synopsis

This indispensable guide for students of both Chinese and women's history synthesizes recent research on women in twentieth-century China. Written by a leading historian of China, it surveys more than 650 scholarly works, discussing Chinese women in the context of marriage, family, sexuality, labor, and national modernity. In the process, Hershatter offers keen analytic insights and judgments about the works themselves and the evolution of related academic fields. The result is both a practical bibliographic tool and a thoughtful reflection on how we approach the past.

Excerpt

The study of women in twentieth-century China has expanded so quickly since the mid-1980s that a state-of-the-field survey becomes outdated in the time it takes to assemble and write one. This burgeoning area of inquiry draws its inspiration and approaches from many sources outside “the China field,” a realm no longer hermetically sealed within exclusive logics of sinology or area studies. Research about Chinese women has been enriched by the growth of women’s studies abroad and in China; by debates about gender as a category of analysis and its uneasy relationship to sex and sexuality; by conversations inside established scholarly disciplines about gender’s entanglement with politics, migration, nation building, and modernity; by discussions across the disciplines about agency, resistance, subjectivity, and voice; and by several waves of refigured Marxism in the wake of feminist activity, socialism’s demise, and the development of postcolonial scholarship. During the same period, China’s reform and opening have changed the conditions for scholarly work by both foreign and Chinese scholars. Gender has appeared at the center of new debates in the Chinese press, within the state, and among emergent groups such as women’s studies scholars, social workers, legal experts, and labor analysts. Available sources and opportunities for research and fieldwork in China have expanded for both Chinese scholars and foreigners, giving rise to scholarly conversations that sometimes intersect and sometimes trace utterly separate trajectories.

To complicate this endeavor further, writing about women routinely crosses disciplinary boundaries. For China, the disciplines that investigate “women” shift with the period of time under investigation as well as with changing disciplinary norms. Historians, for instance, used to stop at the edge of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, at which point the pursuit of knowledge was handed over to social scientists. Now historians often . . .

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