Issue Six: Feminist and Women’s Histories of China

March 3, 2018


To celebrate Women's History Month, our sixth issue examines feminist and women's histories in China. We broadly explore questions of gender relations, women’s status and the sexual organization of society in Chinese histories. We are particularly interested in origins and development of women’s movements and feminism in China, but also in how all of these are (and are not) remembered and represented.


We asked our contributors to reflect on histories of gender and sex, women's liberation movements and their defining figures, the role of feminist historians, gendered histories of labour and the arts, and other less told gender-related histories of China.


In part one, Sarah Mellors reflects on the historical roots of contemporary gender formations in China. Paying particular attention to constructions of gender and sexuality in Chinese medicine, she consider some of the implications these discourses have had on the status of women.


Part two, written by Clara Wing-chung Ho, looks at historical works authored by women in late imperial China. She challenges the view that it was only in the twentieth century that Chinese female historians began exploring feminist ideas, and highlights a number of examples of how women participated in the writing of a variety of genres traditionally classified under Chinese historiography.


In part three, Louise Edwards explores the role of violence in China's women’s suffrage movement in the early twentieth century. She considers why stories of female militancy in suffrage histories are so often minimized, and what the current nation-state of the PRC has to do with it.


Part four comes from Rebecca E. Karl, and examines the life and thought of He-Yin Zhen, a feminist and anarchist in early twentieth century China. Karl describes how He-Yin reconceptualized Chinese history as a systematic structure of gendered power and subordination, how her radicalism has fallen by the wayside, and why it might be time to revive it to think through our contemporary inequalities.


Part five, written by  Wenqi Yang and Fei Yan takes a look at gendered images of “sent-down” youths during the Cultural Revolution. Focusing on the Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement, they argue that what disappeared from public discourse during this time was not gender per se but any discussion or acknowledgment of gender inequality.


In part six, Jacob Eyferth looks at the gendered politics of labour in rural China during the Mao era. He argues that the gains made by urban women were not shared by women who lived in the countryside. Instead rural Chinese women, Eyferth describes, often found themselves caught between two labour regimes, working full shifts in collective agriculture and full shifts at home.


In part seven, Lidan Hu provides a brief history of women's film-making in China. Tracing some of the key figures in women's film-making from the Mao period and into the reform era, Hu shows how women directors and women characters in their films spoke in their own voices and reflected on their positions in the official narrative of Chinese history.


Part eight, written by Maria Jaschok, takes a look at a history oft excluded from the mainstream histories of Chinese women and histories of Islam - that of female Ahong (Imam) and women’s mosques in China. Jaschok presents a brief history of female-led institutions unique to Islam in China, and describes the important role female Ahong have played in social, economic and even political spheres.


In part nine, WAGIC talks to Eliza Gluckman, and Phoebe Wong about their research on women in art in Hong Kong, past and present. They discuss how they set about tracing a longer history of women’s art practice, and what looking at change and continuity across the life experiences of women artists of different generations in Hong Kong can tell us about the art scene today.


In the final part of this issue, Howard Chiang considers some of the major changes that took place in early 20th century China around understandings of sex. Chiang explores how the impact of the hegemony of Western biomedicine began to recast notions of sex and gender in a new normative light.










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