China & Inner Asia: Table of Contents
Organizer and Chair: Hui Li, George Washington University
Discussant: Phyllis Palmer, George Washington University
Chinas rapid social transformation is dramatically changing the lives and representations of women. Focusing on womens sexuality, the papers of our three panelists address key social, literary, and linguistic discourses arising from contemporary Chinese womens active and passive responses to the flux of social change.
Kathleen Erwin, in "Mobilizing Womens Virtue: Discourses and Practices of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Stability in Late Twentieth-Century Shanghai," examines how social status and mobility intersect with notions of gender, place, and womens virtue to variously shape and constrain the sexual and marital practices of upwardly mobile and migrant women in cosmopolitan Shanghai. Erwins paper is based on eleven months of fieldwork in Shanghai.
Yanmei Wei surveys the changing representation of motherhood in twentieth-century Chinese womens literature, and argues that contemporary literary treatment of mother-daughter relationships is complicated and enriched by the presence of mothers desire and subjectivity.
Carol Fan, in "Construction of Gender Differences in Chinese," offers a textual and historical analysis of how Chinese language constructs and reflects gender identity and illuminates the relationship between emerging cultural modes and economic processes and their impact on women.
Kathleen Erwin, University of California, Berkeley
In the 1990s, "openness" (kaifang) and "stability" (wending) have become defining tropes of urban Chinese modernity. But the ideals of openness and stability pose an inherent contradiction for Chinese women. Because openness also implies greater freedom in sexuality, marriage, and divorce, "open" independent women present a potential threat to family stability and the moral fiber of Chinese society. In contrast, the "traditional" domestic role of "virtuous wives and good mothers" offers women an honorable position as the bulwark of family stability during the rapid, often unsettling, economic and social transformation.
This paper examines how discourses of openness, virtue and family stability variously shape and constrain womens sexual practices in urban China, especially in the context of greater social and geographic mobility both within and across national borders. Specifically, it explores how upwardly mobile Shanghainese women negotiate between these competing discourses of modern womanhood to fulfill their sexual and material desires, including modern womanhood to fulfill their sexual and material desires, including desires to emigrate overseas. Although their perceived virtue makes them desirable wives, their pursuit of personal gain casts doubt on the selfless virtue of good wives. In comparison, the mobility and independence of migrant women domestic workers in Shanghai bring them under scrutiny for causing family instability and moral decay. Analyzing the discourses and practices of these two classes of women in Shanghai reveals how status and mobility intersect with notion of gender, place and virtue to both permit greater freedom and impose new constraints on womens sexuality in late twentieth century urban China.
Yanmei Wei, SUNY, Stony Brook
This paper examines Chinese literary discourses on motherhood and femininity in the May Fourth period (19191930s) and the post-Mao era (1979present). Through readings of selected works by Bing Xin, Zhang Jie, Chen Ran, and others, it intends to demonstrate how the representation of motherhood is: (1) gendered, (2) historically constructed, and (3) culturally framed. Such an analysis will provide a vantage point for observing the historical shift in the meaning and function of femininity in Chinese society and establish it as a viable analytic category in the study of Chinese woman as well as a leading issue on the agenda of womens liberation in China.
This paper addresses the continuity in Chinese views of gender and demonstrates that the historical construction of femininity and motherhood does not necessarily follow a linear, progressive pattern. Male writers tend to use the mother as a metaphor for the inflicted nation while female writers tend to deify the unconditional and self-sacrificing love of the mother. Their celebration of the mother often coexists with a rejection of motherhood. In the fiction produced in the contemporary era, the mother sometimes emerges as an independent and powerful figure with a desire and life of her own. The changing social and economic situations in China have offered possibilities of autonomy and subjectivity for mothers, yet it should be pointed out that the lingering cultural and political restraints have also made a considerable number of women shy away from motherhood and, ultimately, the family. The status of the mother remains an important issue for Chinese feminism, whose success would not be complete without the liberation of the mother.
Carol C. Fan, University of Hawaii
This paper will analyze history from the standpoint of Chinese language and textuality and, in doing so attempt to define the relationship between history and language. The textual and historical analysis will show how gender identity is both constructed and reflected through language in Chinese culture and society. I attempt to single out those linguistic usages that have demeaned women from antiquity to the present. My analysis extends to a consideration of the functions of a public-and-private sphere ideology and of values assigned to private social relations and the family in the structuring of gender difference. An analysis of the particulars of linguistic forms indicates the patriarchal forms of meaning and denomination embedded in the very physical structure of the Chinese language. These linguistic forms are both reflective and constitutive of the historical realities of the relationships of women to the state, to the family, and to the trajectories of relation and reform that are described in the following sections.
China is undergoing the complex process of modernization. Recent economic reforms, aimed to integrate China into global market systems, is likely to come into conflict with the maintenance of a socialist political system. It would be rewarding to analyze the relationship between emerging cultural modes and economic processes and their impact on women. Chinese women are subjected to the conflicting strains of being cast in the image of the traditional familial role, dealing with the residual imperatives of limited socialist gender egalitarianism, and being absorbed in the processes of Westernization and commodification.