Publications from the Women's Studies Librarian and Her Staff


While Western feminists and Women's Studies scholars often focus on China's one child population policy as the most critical issue for women in China today, it is clear from this literature that the policy is not the primary concern or impetus for Chinese Women's Studies scholars themselves, or at least not for these women writing about the(ir) new discipline. Rather, the majority focus on the complicated relationship between the emergence of contemporary Women's Studies in China and the economic reform of the post-Mao era (1978-present). Exploring the tensions, assumptions, and theories involved in these ideas reveals the themes of importance in this literature. Language, women and the state, economic reform and the history of Women's Studies in China are particularly significant. Yet, these themes are not discrete, but are interpenetrating and inseparable in this rich, provocative, and inspiring literature. Following a discussion of these four themes is a concise list of important dates in the recent history of Women's Studies in China and a substantive annotation for each text reviewed.


Probably the most obvious place to begin is by reflecting on the language issues involved in this literature. This literature includes essays, articles and books chapters by: Chinese academic scholars and All China Women's Federation cadres (ACWF-the official state women's organization) currently living in the People's Republic of China (not including Hong Kong and Taiwan) and written in Mandarin translated to English; members of the Chinese diaspora affiliated with Western universities written in English and in Mandarin translated to English; and Western feminist scholars, presumably white and middle class, written in English in both Europe and the United States. The sociological location of these women (and there are no men) plays a critical role in understanding their interest in Women's Studies in China. For example, it is possible that the reason why the women writing about Women's Studies in China generally do not discuss the one child population policy is because the academic women are generally urban and of a higher class than the peasants who are impacted by the policy the most and because the ACWF is an arm of the state and as such usually supports state policy. Further, those women who do discuss the one child policy are generally women living outside of the PRC where perhaps they have more freedom of speech and where Chinese girls are being adopted by primarily white, middle class women. The point here is to consider what gets written by whom and why.

Another language issue is translation. Following are several questions for reflection while reading this literature: What key ideas are not in writing? What is NOT being translated to English, but exists in Mandarin and other languages? Does the English version capture the meaning of the author's original intent? Is it possible to understand the author's ideas even with a "good" translation given the historical and sociological relationship between the words used in various contexts and the concepts they signify? Women's Studies, gender, liberation, etc. are all words whose designation, translation, and meaning are of significant theoretical importance and debate. Those writers who focus directly on issues of discourse provide illuminating reflections on how to go about understanding what is meant by these terms in this literature.

Women and the State

A second important theme in this literature is the relationship between Chinese women and the Maoist state. When Mao and the CCP gained power in 1949, the lives of women in China changed dramatically. Mao formulated the official position on women in the PRC by using Engel's theory (from Fourier) on the relationship between women's equality and class struggle which stated, in brief, that "the degree of women's emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation" (Wang: 1998, 27). Equality between women and men became official state policy as a representation of the success of communism. He enacted legislation which outlawed oppressive marital practices deemed "feudal" (Confucian and "backward") and legalized divorce. Further, women were encouraged to participate in wage labor with creches for child care and other sources of support organized to alleviate their domestic responsibilities.

Many women in this literature reflect on the history of their lives under Mao and describe how during that period they believed that they were equal members of society. They saw women in government positions in unprecedented numbers, they worked in factories and fields, they chose their husbands more often than ever before and participated in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1978) as Red Guards, receiving reeducation in the countryside, and even acting violently in local outbursts.

Understanding the history of Women's Studies in China depends on examining the relationship between women and the Maoist state. Following Mao's death and the implementation of economic reform, women began to question the equality they believed they possessed for decades. Many of these women locate the roots of contemporary Women's Studies in the processes of women struggling to comprehend their relationship to and involvement with the Maoist state. Were men and women really equal as they had believed or had Mao set a top down standard of behavior based on men to which women were encouraged to aspire? How dependent on the state were women for the equality they felt? Where were women's ideas of equality in the state policy? What did women want for themselves? Is the socialization of domestic labor an adequate solution for inequality between women and men? What does equality have to do with liberation? The importance of the relationship between women and the state cannot be underestimated in this literature.

Economic Reform

Following Mao's death in 1978, his successor initiated massive economic reform in the PRC. Declaring China to be at an earlier stage of socialism than had previously been thought, Deng Xiaoping introduced the logic of the market as the new guide for economic policy. His official party line of the "Four Modernizations" (agriculture, industry, national defense and science and technology) introduced in 1978 marked the beginning of new problems and new possibilities for Chinese women. Life tenure for workers or the "iron rice bowl" policy ended in many industries, meaning, that for the first time in decades, workers could lose their jobs. Private ownership took over many industries and factories closed which were not profitable. Communal farming ended in rural areas with the nuclear family being designated as the primary economic unit. In these rural areas small industry developed on the side. Yet, women became ghettoized in low paying agricultural work. Further, this emphasis on the nuclear family resurrected past Confucian ideals of the good woman and reintroduced oppressive marriage practices to these rural areas.

Urban women experienced a different set of problems. First, with a logic of productivity and profit now guiding the workplace, women workers were often the first people to bear the brunt of economic reform. Many employers argued that women, as childbearers, were an economic liability. They required more leave time and as such, were seen as less efficient. Women disproportionately were laid off and new women graduates had a much harder time locating employment than their male counterparts. Prostitution, the selling of brides and other manifestations of the "traffic in women" became more prevalent. Many individuals, both men and women, advocated that women return to the home to clear the way for men's employment, in other words, remove themselves to control surplus labor problems. Other women whose families prospered from the economic development, returned to the home "voluntarily," exhausted by the double burden of paid employment and an unequal division of labor in the home.

In light of these serious dilemmas facing Chinese women, what possibilities does economic reform create (in addition to the opportunities for entrepreneurship, which are not given significant attention in this literature)? Mentioned frequently is that China's "open door policy" for "modernization" paved the way for the admittance of Western feminism and Women's Studies into China. Its appearance is not without conflict, and with good reason, given the history of Western imperialism in China. Additionally, there is a long history of understanding Western feminism as bourgeois individualism and criticizing movements for women's rights as subversive of communist revolution. Unpacking Western feminism in China is a gnarly task. In many places, Western feminism appears overly monolithic, meaning, the tensions within Western feminism are not acknowledged or are downplayed. Further, academic Women's Studies scholars seem much more open to Western feminism than members of the ACWF, creating an uneven platform for dialogue. The tension inherent in this situation provides possibilities for re-examining feminism cross-culturally.

Infrequent, but present in this literature, Women's Studies is seen as part of a larger push for democracy in contemporary China. This too is a complicated matter which involves the examination of the relationship between women's self-reflection and emergent collective consciousness, the history of building oneself for the greater good, and the rise of the ideology of individualism concurrent with capitalist development.

The History of Women's Studies and Feminist Movement in China

Several writers in this literature connect contemporary Women's Studies to the writings on women from the 1890's onward (especially during the May 4th movement). However, most focus specifically on the writing and institution building done by Chinese women in China since the early 1980's. The search for origins aside, what is it about the contemporary movement for Women's Studies as a discipline, (in)complete with subject matter and institutions, which interests the writers' in this literature?

First, there is debate about what counts as Women's Studies. Women's Studies in China exists in two interpenetrating strands: the All China Women's Federation (ACWF) and academia. While there is a great deal of communication and some overlap between these two groups, their orientation to Women's Studies differs according to their sociological location, specifically their relationship to the state. In general, these authors examine the study of women emanating from the ACWF as the result of action taken to grapple with the fallout for women resulting from economic reform. Members of the ACWF generally examine women's problems through the lens of the CCP's Marxist perspective on women and subsume women's issues to problems of class. Academics are more willing to consider perspectives that revise or challenge Chinese Marxism and attempt to "fill gaps" in the "scientific" enterprise with empirical data and theory. In this literature, the history of Women's Studies in academia is dominated by a literature professor named Li Xiaojiang, often credited as the founder of Women's Studies in contemporary China. She is a controversial figure both because of her theoretical orientation and her outspoken manner. This literature contains writing both by and on her. Both the ACWF and academics are currently building curriculum and strengthening institutions for teaching, research, and writing public policy.

There is a longer history of policy oriented, technical research and a relatively shorter history of theoretically oriented scholarship. Many academic Women's Studies scholars point to the need for better theories and methods for understanding women. Essentialism, socialization, and psychoanalysis seem to be the theoretical perspectives for understanding women which dominate at this time. There is considerable debate on the usefulness of the concept "gender" in China ("shehui-xingbie" or literally "social sex"). Further, this literature suggests that women are most often seen as the objects of research and that the deconstruction of epistemology and the advancement of "standpoint theories" are emerging, but do not proliferate.

The relationship between Women's Studies and women's movement also is important. They are understood variously as separate and emerging historically parallel to one another or as one determining the other. Again, answering this question depends on what counts as Women's Studies and what counts as women's movements, sociologically speaking. Some writers also refer to the "Women's Studies Movement." In this literature there is no doubt that some relationship exists. However, the nature of that relationship is yet to be determined.

One point of convergence between "studies" and "movement" is the focus on women's self and collective consciousness, with many arguing that this consciousness, absent under Mao, is a necessary precursor to women's liberation. One task of understanding this theme in the literature involves unpacking: the difference between a feminine and a feminist conception of self, China's history of subsuming the individual to the collective, the tension between women's dependence on the state and the desire for self-determination, the conflict between the rejection of Confucianism and the rejection of imperialism, and the persistence of a logic of biological determinism for naturalizing gender inequality.

Important Dates in the History of the Women's Studies Movement in China

1966-1978 Cultural Revolution
1976 Mao Zedong's death
1979 One Child Campaign begins
1981 All China Women's Federation (ACWF) establishes the Chinese Association for Research on Marriage and the Family
1982 Phrase "Women's Studies" first introduced into China via Studies of Social Sciences Abroad (per Wan Shanping)
1983 ACWF announces "Four Selfs" slogan: "Self-respect, self-love, self-possession, and self-improvement
Aug. 31 - Sept. 6, 1984 ACWF sponsored First National Conference on Theoretical Studies of Women's Issues (no Tibet or Inner Mongolia participants)
1984 Programs begin to train ACWF caders in Women's Studies
1984 Rong Tiesheng, a professor in the History Department of Henan University, offers an elective course titled "History of the Modern Chinese Women's Movement"
1985 Law for Marriage Registration
1985 Society of Women's Studies founded (established under the Henan Future Society) and sponsored the first Women's Studies symposium in Zhengzhou (August)
1985 Li Xiaojiang begins teaching a course on household management (Women in Home Economics) at the Henan Provincial Institute for Women Cadres; teaches "Women's Literature;" and lectures on "Chinese Women's Self-Understanding"
1986 Women of China publishes Li Xiaojiang's proposal for the establishment of a Women's Studies Curriculum
Oct. 7-11, 1986 ACWF Second National Conference on Theoretical Research on Women
1987 Founding of first Women's Studies Center: Zhengzhou University (May) which sponsored a "Founding Conference" for Women's Studies
1988 "A Way Out for Women" year long discussion in the official women magazine Zhongguo Funü, which was mostly about the encouragement to return to the home
1988 A college for women cadres was formally set up in Beijing
1988 ACWF held a workshop on "Social Security for Women," led push for social reimbursement programs for child-bearing which were introduced in multiple provinces and municipalities
1989 ACWF modifies "Four Selfs" Slogan: "Self-respect, self-support, self-confidence and self-strengthening"
1990 ACWF established the Institute of Women's Studies
1990 ACWF Investigations on the Social Status of Women in China (also called Chinese Women's Social Status Survey--over 2000 interviewers participated)
1990 Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women
1990 Research on women's development in contemporary China undertaken by the Institute of Demography, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)
1990 Studies on Ethnic Women in China, Institute of Ethnology, CASS
March, 1990 Workshop on Women's Participation and Development, sponsored by Women's Studies Center at Zhengzhou University
1990 Workshop for Information Exchange on Theoretical Studies of Beijing Women organized by Women's Federation of Beijing
Oct., 1990

Women's Studies Center formally recognized at Peking University

1991 Conference held jointly by ACWF and Global Interactions, Inc.
Feb., 1992 Conference "Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State" took place at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and MIT with Women's Studies faculty from the U.S. and China.
1993 Tianjin feminist seminar where "gender" was introduced into Chinese ("shehui xingbie" or "social sex")
1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing and NGO forum held in Huairou
1996 Chinese Women's Research and Information Center in Beijing established

Annotated Bibliography

1. Building Women's Studies Curriculum in China. 1999. Women's Studies in Asia: Knowledge Exchange, Theory and Practice (1997-2000), Country Level Workshop. A Country Report Submitted to the Korean Women's Institute & The Asian Center for Women's Studies, Ewha Womans University, and The United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, pp. 175-221.

The translation of this document is very poor, making it difficult, if not impossible, to understand their ideas.


2. Chen, Yiyun. 1994. "Out of the Traditional Halls of Academe: Exploring New Avenues for Research on Women," in Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State. Christina K. Gilmartin, Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White, eds. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 69-79.

In this essay Chen, formerly a sociologist who now considers herself an "anthropologist or social worker," criticizes the appropriation of foreign sociological research methodologies for use in China. She is especially critical of survey researchers, who, enamored with contemporary computer technology and statistical software packages, produce many studies with poor validity. She argues that survey research is inappropriate in China in her specific subject matter, marriage and family, for two reasons. First, individuals are highly unlikely to respond honestly to a questionnaire both because they generally do not believe in the anonymity or confidentiality of the study and because issues of marriage and family are considered private and taboo for discussion. Second, she argues that individuals will present themselves in manner that corresponds to normative ideas about appropriate behavior, rather than explaining their true feelings. She argues that this methodology is more appropriate in the West because "the level of social conformity is relatively high; most people are highly educated and open-minded, and express themselves freely. Privacy in these societies is protected by law and morality, as well as professional regulations concerning confidentiality."(71). This is a good example of the lack of awareness of the diversity and conflict within Western societies. Viewing the inadequacy of survey methods in China, she collects data for analysis through volunteers. She speaks publicly on the radio and television and writes columns in newspapers and magazines. Thousands of men and women (the majority) write to her anonymously about their marital and family problems. While she cannot control for representativeness, she argues that this self report data is more valid in the Chinese context. She also meets with groups in various organizations and with families seeking advice.

She ends this essay by shifting gears to her perspectives on equality between men and women in China. She argues that current calls for a grassroots women’s movement are "absurd" and that gender inequality should be examined through a Marxist perspective. According to her, the reason why women are experiencing inequality is not because the equality they thought they experienced previously was really only Mao’s masculine interpretation, as many argue, but because of the introduction of economic reform encouraging foreign capitalist infiltration into the PRC. In other words, she argues that Chinese women should look at the present conditions of their lives structured by capitalist development, rather than looking backward at whether or not Mao was right. She further states that Western models of class divided into upper, middle, and lower and Mao’s divisions of class in society are inadequate for theoretically understanding the vast cultural and economic differences which exist in China today between, for example, urban transnational capitalists and people who live in mountainous border villages, which she argues live in "two separate worlds."

She argues that Western sociology is not useful for Women’s Studies, that Women’s Studies is inextricably linked to women’s desire for liberation, and that women should use their own strengths to develop a Women’s Studies which goes against the standard dry scholasticism. This is one of few essays in this collection that mentions the massive diversity within China. Most of the writing by Chinese women on Women's Studies in China is happening in the urban centers on the east coast and in the north by a relatively small and homogeneous group of women.


3. Crook, Isabel, Liu Dongxiao, and Lisa Stearns, participants. "A Conversation With Wu Qing." in Rising Public Voice: Women in Politics Worldwide. Alida Brill, ed. New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York. Pp. 41-57.

Wu was the child of intellectuals who received their graduate educations in the U.S. Her father was one of the founders of sociology in China. Her mother taught her that she is a "human being first and a woman second…"(41) [Apparently her mother is someone important, but it doesn’t say who or why.] Zhou Enlai (PM 1949-1976) himself told her mother that it was good that Wu Qing was learning English (at school in Tokyo, where she was also influenced by Christianity) because it would help China connect with the outside world. So, instead of becoming a surgeon, she became a professor, teaching American Studies and English at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU). The article describes her experiences being elected to the Haidian District People’s Congress and the Municipal People’s Congress for Beijing as a non-party member. She discusses her active involvement in discerning her constituents’ needs and then acting on those needs, such as getting land back (for building apartments) that had been given to the party during the Cultural Revolution. She developed a reputation as someone who was assertive (and even too aggressive, by some) and not afraid to challenge the status quo. Even though women are becoming more and more rare in the People’s Congress, she continues to be elected.

The participants in the discussion ask her about her opinions on the status of women in China and she has a lot to say. She tells women students that they need to change themselves before they can change "the situation"(46). She discusses her own conflicts with herself about her conduct in Congress and working on issues. She does have conflicts even though she never believed any Confucian principles about women. And, regardless of what she thinks or how she acts, she’s treated differently in Congress. She believes that post-Mao, beliefs about gender equality have declined and discusses how hard it is to get women elected to Congress and that a lot of women have no interest in it. Men have stated outright that they believe there should be gender inequality in society because women are inferior to men by nature. When women speak on women’s issues they are also sometimes accused of being "anti-family, anti-social". She has a good relationship with her husband, who, it seems, shares household labor. She thinks that attractive women are more "effective" in Congress because of the gender bias. She finally lists three "obstacles to women seeking political power"(three b/c the question was posed that way): 1) Confucianism (obedience to father, husband, son); 2) poor education; 3) the socialization of women to believe that they are inferior.(56-7)

She is involved in a tremendous amount of work. She was one of the initiators of the first Women’s Hotline in China; started (with others) the Singles’ Weekend Club (for support groups, especially for single women); is an adviser for Rural Women Knowing All, "the first magazine to focus on rural women in China"(54); translating Our Bodies, Ourselves into Chinese; and acts as China’s adviser for the Global Fund for Women. She sees lots of commonality between women over the globe and has no problem with the idea of global sisterhood.

The themes of the political importance of self-respect and self-esteem for women appear in this essay as in the others. She uses a lot of Western phrases such as "it takes two to tango;" "think locally, act globally;" and "of the people, by the people, for the people."


4. Ding, Xiaoqi. 1991. "Feminism in China," in Asian Studies Review. V. 15 N. 1, p. 111-113.

This essay is a short reflection on feminism and women in China. Ding describes how "feminism" carries a negative connotation, not because of its links with the West, as many others describe, but because women who identify as feminists are labeled "mannish women" or "freaks of nature"(111). She describes the traditional view of women, still popular in many books (that sound like romance novels) which sees women as demure, quiet, and existing "solely that men may love them."

She discusses several places where she sees change for women in China. First, it is much easier to discuss sex. She describes how in the past "acknowledging that you had experienced orgasm was almost equivalent to admitting you were a prostitute"(111), but that now the situation is better, indicating that there is more space for women to discuss their feelings. A second issue she mentions is the rise of modeling as a career for women. She describes stories which appear in popular presses about how women are choosing modeling (and other similar careers), despite criticisms from family, friends, and boyfriends, because of the opportunities it provides for "self-expression." Even women with a lot of education are pursuing these careers. She attributes this to the fact that almost all the women's role models come from representatives of the CCP. They are, in fact, women who have done a lot for their country, but young people see them as only a mouth piece to the party, with no individuality ("tools of contemporary feudal forces" p. 112). To these women, this does not seem very "modern," that is, that you can not think for yourself. As a result, Ding finds it very important to distinguish between "women's liberation" and "the modernization of women." She does not discuss the specifics of what she means, but the implication is that the CCP model is the former and the reform model is the latter.

She does see "Western culture" influencing Chinese women and discusses the bikini as an example. Many women wear them now, whereas in the past it was a violation of the "traditional Chinese aesthetic which demands that beauty should be modestly veiled and hidden"(113). Divorce, according to Ding, is also on the rise. The bottom line of this article is that Western feminism (which she admits not understanding in depth) still seems repulsive to most Chinese, but that ideas of the independent woman that they see coming from the West are being incorporated into everyday life.

5. Du, Fangquin. 1997. "My Way into Women’s Studies," Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, V.3, No.1, p. 133.

In this essay Du provides a chronology of and reflection on the history of her involvement in Women’s Studies. In 1985 Li Xiaojiang asked Du to speak on Confucian concepts of women because of her specialty in "ancient Chinese." Soon following, she began writing in this area which culminated in her first book in Women’s Studies, The Evolution of Concepts of Women(1988). She attended conferences, seminars, and training programs in China and abroad (the U.S.). She is active in institution building in China, establishing the fourth Women’s Studies program at Tianjin Normal University. She also attended an international conference on women's issues China held jointly in 1992 by Harvard and Wellesley.

Du discusses her academic realization that understanding history requires examining the way history extends into present society. ("…it would be difficult to get a full understanding of women in history, if it is not approached from the perspective of women’s present existence.") As a result she trained herself and others to do fieldwork and entered "the field" to do research on and with peasant women. (She is the daughter of peasants herself.) Finally she emphasizes her personal realization of the impact her work in Women’s Studies is having on her self-esteem. She feels empowered by this work and its contribution to the "awakening of women’s self-consciousness and collective consciousness." She believes that Women’s Studies can and will inspire women to have, both personally and as scholars, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect.

Difficulty in getting her first job (which was not in her area of specialty) and problems in promotion despite scholarly respect for her work indicate gender problems in academia in China.


6. Ferguson, Ann. 1997. "Two Women’s Studies Conferences in China: Report by an American Feminist Philosopher," Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, V.3, N.1, p. 161.

This essay is a survey of the papers presented at two conferences in Beijing, one on feminist philosophy and one on prostitution/HIV/AIDS. This essay is good to read for information about what Western feminist ideas are being discussed in China (though not to what degree). (Carol Gilligan kept coming up at the first conference, for example.) Many important topics were raised at this conference, including: essentialism, feminist ethics of care, the extent to which Chinese Women's Studies scholars should derive their theories from Western feminism, the lack of a discussion on the "private7quot; sphere under Mao, women's problems with employment, the "double burden," collective rights vs. individual rights, whether or not it is politically better to work on developing an interdisciplinary Women's Studies program or take feminism into traditional disciplines in a serious way, whether or not to advocate androgyny or gender difference, historical comparisons of the emergence of feminism in the East and West, and Western debates on sexuality (prostitution, lesbianism, sado-masochism, etc.).

During discussion, she also saw a generational difference between "the younger women present and older representatives of the Women's Federation." The older women were much more likely to support "the official government (Marxist) position on women's issues…" She doesn't say what the affiliations of the younger women were.


7. Li Hui. 1989. "Report from the Henan Conference," NWSA Journal, V. 2, N. 3, Spring, pp. 461-464.

This is a brief summary of the topics discussed at the conference and plans for the volumes of the Women's Studies Series, edited by Li Xiaojiang. She also briefly discusses the main arguments of several new Women's Studies Texts. She states that the main influence from Western Women's Studies is feminist literary criticism.

8. Li, Xiaojiang. 1996. "Creating a Public Sphere: A Self-Portrait in the Women’s Studies Movement of China," Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, V. 2, p. 70.

In this essay, Li Xiaojiang reflects on her involvement with Women’s Studies in China. While often pinpointed as a founder of the women’s movement in China, Li describes her status as an accident and her involvement and impact a result of her desire only to fill a gap in the lack of "scientific studies" on/including women, rather than of political motivation. Her only "intentional" actions regarding women in China were in fostering academic Women’s Studies and building institutions to support that work. She argues that Women’s Studies has been as successful as it has in organizing because it has done so in the "cracks" of a changing country. In other words, Women’s Studies was (for the most part) ignored by the state as it emerged in remote areas such as Henan Province and asked for almost no resources. For example, the establishment of her "Women’s Association" gets the credit of being the first "real" NGO in China. She argues that this is misleading as this "organization" had no resources, no officers, etc., but was mainly a formal name for the women involved to get state approval to do their research.

Interestingly, a relationship between silence and voice structures this essay. She regularly describes herself as non-argumentative and quiet and finds coming in through the back door an effective organizing strategy. Yet, she does not seem to back down or compromise when feeling strongly about something. In fact, she attributes her early criticism by the ACWF as paramount to her voice being heard. The attempts to silence her only encouraged her voice. If she had not been criticized, she never would have had the opportunity to explain herself. Even worse, she describes being ignored by the academic community early on as her greatest impetus for advancing Women’s Studies. However, at the time she was writing this article, she seems to take a different stance. She introduces controversial ideas into society, but does not engage in dispute over those ideas. She lets other people battle it out and continues on with her research, believing that she has little control over how people will interpret her work. The most important thing for her regarding her scholarship is that it be read; what people do with it is up to them. She also builds institutions when she sees a gap. But, as soon as they are off the ground and running with capable people, she goes back to her personal research.

Methodologically, she advocates "seeking the truth from facts," both "historical facts and positivism". (p. 13 on online version.) She takes no classic texts as "the bible" (her words and her quotation marks) and generally regards them as references for her to use in her studies of contemporary society. In other words, she does not privilege a canon. She believes that (male-centered) academia "ignores" and "rejects" women more than any place else in society and wonders if it "is an inheritance from traditional Chinese intellectuals, or did it originate from science itself?"(13).

She sees Women’s Studies as running parallel with the Women’s Movement, perhaps like Garfinkel’s version of reflexivity—that Women’s Studies may be an instance of the same historical process that it seeks to know. "Additionally, as I have taken into account the element of ‘development’ in studies, it enabled the ‘studies’ to directly participate in the development as a composite of social progress"(p. 15 of online version).

This essay lists her arguments which were labeled "anti-Marxist." She considers herself to be a Marxist (although she is not a member of the CCP) and that Marxism, after feminism, offers the most revolutionary perspective on women’s liberation. Further, she describes going through the Cultural Revolution as an experience which "enables people of our generation to become politically mature and to develop"(p. 11 in online version).


9. Li, Xiaojiang. 1993. The Development of Women’s Studies in China: a Comparison of Perspectives on the Women’s Movement in China and the West. Copenhagen, Denmark: Center for East and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen.

This short essay actually reads like a bad translation making it difficult to understand what she means in many places. It is not a comparative essay, as there is little discussion of perspectives on women's movements in the West. The only point I believe worth noting from this essay is her insistence that the history of Women's Studies in China is always rooted in the work of the May 4th scholars. In other words, contemporary scholars of Women's Studies in China need to understand that the Chinese history of measuring social development via women impacts their current work.


10. Li, Xiaojiang. (S. Katherine Campbell, trans.) 1994. "Economic Reform and the Awakening of Chinese Women’s Collective Consciousness" in Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State. Christina K. Gilmartin, Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White, eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

In reading this essay one can see why Li Xiaojiang is a women’s liberation leader in China. She takes risks and makes bold statements. Many of the arguments she offers are not new and are filled with theoretical problems. Yet, her willingness to engage these topics with such spirit is admirable.

This is one of the few theoretical essays on the changes in women’s lives caused by economic reform in China. "The 'Report on Work' of the 13th Party Congress" (1988) attacked economic inefficiency, the "bureaucracy of the political world, the dogmatism of the theoretical world, the egalitarianism of the economy, and the apathy of the individual"(361). They "eliminated life tenure for cadres" and the "iron rice bowl" of industry. The contract system and self-management replaced communal work. The changes in women's lives about which she is concerned are the same issues of many of these other Chinese Women's Studies scholars: women returning to the home (which to her is different than the domestic labor peasant women do), being pushed out of wage labor because childbirth and child rearing makes women less efficient, fewer women elected to government positions, difficulties in job placement for women graduates and other women, etc.

Ultimately, she is interested in several very complex issues: the incompatibility of women’s development and social development (by "social" she means the level at which Chinese society is organized to meet the material needs of its members). "Women’s liberation will be considered superfluous" if the material needs of society are lacking. (372) Further, if the emphasis in society is on increasing the productivity of social development, men will be "naturally selected" to do the bulk of this work as women giving birth and raising children makes them an economic liability. (While she no longer dubs women an ontological category directly, the ghost of essentialism lives on in this essay!) A second complex issue for Li, is the paradoxical nature of the development of women's self-awareness and collective consciousness, that is, that the process that is forcing women to the margins of society, is the same process that gives them the potential to become aware of self and women as a whole. For example, women who are being forced back into the home are not the same women who were there before Mao, meaning, they had a taste of paid work and the advantages that come with that and will not be willing to give it up without consequences. Yet, Li believes that women's self awareness is somehow still low, as many women believe that Mao did indeed liberate women and that they are the social equal of men. Two necessary, but not sufficient conditions for women's liberation are that "women come out into society" (meaning, not remain in the household) and that they develop this self-awareness and collective consciousness.

A good reminder in this text is that "equality" is not the goal for women. "Equality" is a term which derives from bourgeois notions of rights, according to Li. Women cannot be equal to men when they are qualitatively different beings (equality vs. differences issues). Finally, liberation is the goal and not equality. Becoming equal to men reinforces the notion that men’s lives represent the standard to which women should aspire. Society needs to value those elements deemed feminine as well.

She uses the word "development" seemingly unconsciously to the negative baggage that term signifies (as do most of the women writing on this historical process). She describes how social development must occur before women’s development (as occurred in China), but displays no awareness to any debates about substantive or instrumental rationality. This also applies to her discussion of women developing a "collective conscious" as a necessary precursor to their liberation. In other words, a fundamental sociological problem is that the "stage" type of argument to liberation does not take into account that the world is in motion while these processes are happening. The model of first you develop collective consciousness and then you work toward liberation does not take into account that what constitutes self and/or collective consciousness is not a stable category and cannot be a base from which other actions emerge. Or, if it can, it needs to be in such a way that it can take unpredictable changes into account. Is that possible? Also, her equating "society" with "other than the home" is problematic.


11. Li, Xiaojiang. 1994. "My Path to Womanhood," in Changing Lives: Life Stories of Asian Pioneers in Women's Studies. Committee on Women's Studies in Asia, ed. New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York. pp. 108-122.

As the child of academics growing up under Mao's class-focused, official policy of equality between women and men, Li did not feel any discrimination growing up as a girl child in China and thinks that it was difficult to be aware of gender. However, she says that she felt the need to be free of restraint in general from the time she was young. She describes her "awakening" to her womanhood as occurring at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution during a parade, where, bizarrely, she began menstruating as her father was being humiliated by being marched in the street. ("My awakening to my femininity was synchronous with my sexuality" p.110) She hated the idea of being female. During the CR she was assigned to the fields and then to the factory where she embarked on a rigorous self-education program and challenge to build her "will," sleeping little and working long hours. In 1979 (after the CR), she entered graduate school specializing in Western European literature. She married and had a son and felt that since she was unwilling to give her husband or son up she had to suffer the consequences of a double/split life of work and family. She makes a bold statement about this saying: "All modern women are doomed to fall into such a trap."

As an academic she has dedicated herself to finding out why women are the "degraded half." She solicited support from the ACFW for this work and was ignored initially. However, after a change in the leadership she received support. She describes the academy's initial "reaction" as silence. Some scholars then argued that any work on women should be included in the human sciences and not separated as a discipline. After this rocky beginning the environment began to warm.

She mentions how during the May 4th movement (1917), many male thinkers dedicated their work to women's liberation, but that during the reform era (1978-present) there are none. Her work is "motivated by a conscientious craving to realize [her] own worth" (118). Her first work "Progress of Mankind and Liberation of Womanhood" (1983) was the first "treatise" on women in China to be published since 1949. She followed this up with "China's Womanhood's Road to Liberation and its Characteristics" (1984). [poor translation of title?] Her two main arguments which separate her work from the old school of the study of women are: (1)"…all the progress that has so far been made by the movement for women's liberation in China is an outcome of legislation too advanced for the political awareness of the populace of its age" and (2) "…the liberation of women in China has so far been only an outcome of a social revolution, rather than an outcome of a feminist movement."(119). She calls for women intellectuals to lead the women's movement. The "political climate" and financial problems are the two main obstacles she sees for the movement.


12. Li, Xiaojiang. 1999. (Zhang Yajie, trans., with editorial assistance by Mayfair Mei-hui Yang) "With What Discourse Do We Reflect on Chinese Women? Thoughts on Transnational Feminism in China," in Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China. Mayfair Mei-Hui Yang, ed. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 261-277.

In this essay, Li Xiaojiang explores the complexities of understanding the Chinese women's movement with the use of Western "discourse to address Chinese situations"(262) by examining the historical contexts which make specific discourses intelligible. She is, in part, responding to Tani Barlow's work on the "discursive world of Chinese women." Li understands Barlow's work as showing "how discourse answered the needs of a historical era and its political demands and suggests how we can trace the changes in history by following the changes in discourse" (263). Li argues that Barlow leaves unanswered several important questions, which she attempts to answer in this essay. Those questions include: "how does discourse change people's minds and change the course of history? From what sources does the power of a discourse derive? How does discourse affect women and how does it get accepted by them?" (263). She explores these questions by examining the discourses of three different historical periods: the "traditional" or "native" which, in part, included Confucian and Daoist principles; the invasion of Western philosophy concurrent with colonialism (both liberal/bourgeois and Marxist/socialist); and the movement toward "self consciousness" and "self awareness" emerging in the 1980's. For example, she argues that "feminism" is not rejected by Chinese women, but that the historical discourse of Western equality which includes feminism was rejected in favor of the appropriation of a discourse of Marxist liberation.(268)

In this essay it is not exactly clear what is meant by the terms "discourse" and "text." "Discourse" appears to be a "tool" of ideology with the purpose to "overturn any previous authority it encounters" (266). Discourse causes historical breaks which make it impossible for society's members to have access to prior historical realities. She argues that when "we lose our capacity to take hold of history, the possibility for our autonomous thinking is also foreclosed" (262). But when discourse is understood as deriving from ideology, the implication is that some individuals standing outside of the historical context have the power to shape the language that gives meaning to our reality. Perhaps that's what she means. But, isn't that propaganda, rather than discourse? How is it possible for discourse to be a "tool?" Regarding "text," in places it appears that she uses it to refer specifically to a written document, which probably obscures Barlow's theoretical analysis. However, in other places, "text" seems to refer to cultural objects which can be read (including, but not limited to written documents), which is the meaning I believe is intended by discourse analysts in the U.S.

Perhaps the differences in the use and meaning of these terms fit with the last section of her essay, which examines how the different historical contexts of the West and China shape very different meanings of similar words. This is the best section of this essay. For example, she explores the meaning of the word "liberation" which she argues that in the West is inherently (historically and etymologically) linked to liberty, meaning freedom. In China, liberation refers to the collective class revolution which requires the relinquishing of individual freedom. She explores other terms in this fashion including "consciousness," "equality," "Women's Studies," "the personal is political," "women's rights are human rights," and "sisterhood is power." She also argues that women's experiences of "real life" are the most effective political resources for breaking apart oppressive discourses. If that's the case, then how do we understand a Confucian discourse which was only disrupted, in her opinion, by the discourse of Western imperialism? This essay is sophisticated and inspiring, but also very complicated and deserving of multiple, close reads.

She argues that it is not necessary to introduce a Western concept of gender into Chinese language, because the language already assumes that woman (nü) and man (nan) are "social and not natural beings" (262). This is the first essay where she is critical of the use of the word "development." Her critique is not discussed in depth, but is implicit in the use of such phrases as the "so-called developed countries"(262).


13. Li Xiaojiang and Li Hui. 1989. "Women's Studies in China," NWSA Journal, V. 2, N. 3, Spring, pp. 458-460.

This is a very brief account of (to 1989) the history of the development of Women's Studies in China. They discuss nothing here that is not mentioned elsewhere with the exception of a few note worthy points. Academic interest in Women's Studies did not emerge in the "major urban centers such as Beijing or Shanghai, but in Henan Province in the central area of China"(459). "Rong Tiesheng, a Professor in the History Department of Henan University, offered an elective course 'History of the Modern Chinese Women's Movement' in 1984…"(459) Three women grad students specialized in the study of "Women's Movement" in 1987.

Several other notable dates include:

1985 Li Xiaojiang offers "Women's Literature," lectures on "Chinese Women's Self-Understanding," and opened a "Women in Home Economics" class.

1985 "Women's Society," the first nonofficial women's organization established under the Henan Future Society.

1985 The first Women's Studies conference was held in Zhengzhou in August.

1987 (May) The Center for Women's Studies at Zhengzhou University was established.

1987 (July) The "Center held a Founding Conference of Women's Studies."


14. Li, Xiaojiang and Xiaodan Zhang. 1994. "Creating a Space for Women: Women’s Studies in China in the 1980’s," in Signs, V. 20, N. 1 (Autumn, pp. 137-151.

This essay is an introduction to the history of Women’s Studies in China. The authors discuss little which is not described elsewhere. (Perhaps this is the essay everyone else is reading?) They discuss that Women’s Studies emerged after the economic reform process in both the ACWF and among women intellectuals; that Women’s Studies is not the result of a women’s movement, but of a few scholars trying to rethink the inadequacies of Marxist doctrine for explaining women’s problems in contemporary China (mainly employment and marriage and family problems); that women’s employment is a necessary, but not sufficient component of women’s liberation in China; that most of Women’s Studies is the disciplinary study of women (despite the fact that Women’s Studies methodology is a new topic of research and formulation); that history and literary criticism are the most advanced in the study of women with sociology, political science and law doing good work too; and that Western feminist scholarship is having an impact on Women’s Studies in China. They mention Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as two books which have been translated and introduced.

They espouse one slightly different perspective on the relationship between the ACWF and women intellectuals (professors, artists, doctors, etc.), that is, that after an early period of tension and conflict, reciprocity emerged whereby women intellectuals could take advantage of the resources and power of the press the ACWF garners, while the ACWF used the information gleaned from women intellectuals’ research for public policy-making. Tolerance and reciprocity are two very different things. They also describe how the ACWF transformed from viewing itself as a "helper" and "protector" of rural and other working class women to becoming more aware of all women’s problems in China.

Interesting, they state:

If you go to China today, you may not recognize any signs of a women’s movement. There are no demonstrations on the streets or in the schools; no women are loudly declaring their resistance to men and society; no such words as women’s movement even appear in the media. Women’s study groups and activities, however, are quietly permeating peoples’ lives. Without statements, slogans, and other radical actions, the women’s movement in contemporary China is emerging, and its influence is felt not less but more than any women’s movement yet in Chinese history.(150)

They translate the word "funüxue" (which Wang Zheng describes as being a word which fits better with the type of academic Women’s Studies happening in the U.S. than in China) as "feminology," as "uxe" is "roughly equivalent" to "-logy" in the U.S. They state that they use that word as it fits better the idea that Women’s Studies should be an independent discipline. Interdisciplinarity is not under discussion here.

Li and Zhang describe how Women’s Studies has taught them that only women can liberate themselves. They state this in the context of describing how Chinese women need to become self-aware and no longer internalize the idea of Chinese woman as passive object. Yet, it is striking how little they (or anyone else) discuss that men should change their behavior…in other words, that gendered power relations need to change, not just women’s self-consciousness.


15. Liang, Jun. 1994. "A Serious Mission," in Changing Lives: Life Stories of Asian Pioneers in Women's Studies. Committee on Women's Studies in Asia, ed. New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York.

Liang Jun grew up in an intellectual and bourgeois family. During the CR she felt obligated to learn about peasants and lower class people. Because she grew up during a period where equality of men and women was emphasized, she felt like she should aspire to be equal to men--with men's lives as the standard. After she finished school she went to Tibet (She chose Tibet because she knew it was a very difficult assignment.) and did arduous animal herding. She felt she proved herself to the men with whom she worked. Following her work assignment in Tibet she worked at the Henan Financial and Economic College (though it does not say in what position), got married and had two sons. She felt serious conflict between work and family. She also felt depressed and inferior. She was then transferred to Henan Women Cadres School where she took the "Women's Household Management Class" taught by Li Xiaojiang. This course was her serious "awakening" to women's issues, to which she dedicated herself. (She describes the process of becoming aware of "herself and her womanhood" as "arduous.") She is still devoted to both her work and her family and doesn't feel that the contradictions in that tension are resolvable in this historical period. Yet, ironically she has a new division of labor in the home with her husband and sons. When the urban economic reforms began she noticed many women retreating into housewife roles. In 1985 she began lecturing all over the country, really dedicating herself to the education of girls and women and is getting a good response. She argues that women students in universities are fairly ignorant of what women's lives are like in the country and she wants to educate them to make this connection.


16. Lin, Chun. 1997. "Finding a Language: Feminism and Women’s Movements in Contemporary China," in Transitions, Environments, Translations: Feminisms in International Politics. Joan W. Scott, Cora Kaplan, Debra Keates, eds. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 11-20.

Lin Chun contextualizes the politics of language use in recent women’s movements in contemporary China by providing a brief history of the relationship between women, liberation and state policies and ideology. Chun describes women’s relationship to the state as an inherently contradictory one. Prior to contemporary economic reform, women’s liberation and equality were a necessary feature of state policy and ideology. While bettering women’s quality of life in many ways, official policies in this period created a relationship of dependency between women and the state. During the post-1978 reform toward a "free market" economy, women both are losing "preferential treatment" strong state control provided while gaining the ability to make decisions about women’s empowerment for themselves.(13)

Chun argues that "women’s studies in China has been oriented for the most part toward empirical research and aimed at the production of immediate policy formulations or reformulations in the People’s Congress and the State Council"(16). Issues women’s studies has taken up include:

Discrimination in job recruiting; effects of village and township enterprises on the lives of rural women; conditions for women migrant workers and ethnic minority women; the dropout rate of schoolgirls; women’s education, health and labor conditions; domestic violence and other forms of abuse that particularly affect women; women’s human rights and legal reform; sexuality, marriage and the family (particularly questions of population and birth control); and the female image in the media and popular culture. (16)

Historically "feminism" has not been used to describe women’s movements in China until recently. The state saw women’s liberation as necessary for liberation from imperialism, and therefore did not support "feminism" which was interpreted to mean "opposing male power," a Western bourgeois concept. Chun briefly describes an historical change in the Chinese phrases used to describe movements for liberation, that is, from "women’s empowerment" or "women’s rights"(nu-quan-zhuyi) to the recently preferred "womenism" (nu-xing-zhuyi). The concept "womenism" should not be interpreted as feminism in the Chinese context, but specifically signifies the historical and social context of Chinese women’s liberation from traditional patriarchalism and from state dependency and prevents a misinterpretation in Chinese that would indicate that women’s emancipation would be the mere reversal of male dominance. Finally, Chun notes the historical absence of a Chinese linguistic counterpart to the concept of "gender." She is hopeful that the recent introduction of this concept ("shehui-xingbie" or literally "social sex") into the lexicon of Chinese women’s studies scholars will challenge traditional notions of "natural woman" in China.

Despite her informed qualifications, she still needs greater justification that reform toward a "free market" is a positive step for women’s emancipation. She is very optimistic that in this period of economic reform current women’s studies work (with its focus on public policy) combined with other social movements can create a "women-friendly" state and does not imply "neoliberalism." She acknowledges that in the past Chinese formulations of Western feminism are overly monolithic.


17. Liu, Bohong, Jin Yihong, and Lin Chun. 1998. "Women’s Studies in China," in A Companion to Feminist Philosophy. Alison Jaggar and Iris Young, eds. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 108-117.

The purpose of this essay is to raise questions. The authors describe Women’s Studies work in China as driven primarily by social policy and social justice considerations. As such, a great deal of theoretical work lies ahead. Like many of the other authors, these women locate Women’s Studies and the theoretical questions they raise in the historical transformations taking place during economic reform--the primary dilemma being the paradox of women free from state determination, but suffering from lack of state protection.

The authors discuss the oft-quoted statement by Women’s Studies pioneer, Li Xiaojiang that women are an ontological "category" and class is social and historical and therefore that women should be examined and understood separate from class issues. While this work was largely "transitional," meaning, a "thought exercise" which she later corrects, it did spark a series of "separations" for women (from the "proletarian revolution," from other academic disciplines, and from state control) in China. While Li Xiaojiang has recanted her position and now argues that women are also a social and historical "category," the thought work on "separation" which she put into motion continues.

"The separation project is from the outset also a project of seeking an independent female subject and subjectivity in both social being and thinking"(114). -- Following are a set of their questions (which they argue are not being discussed in China) about these new "standpoint" theories ("a female perspective") put forward by Du Fangqin and others:

The job intended here, as we see it, is no more than to supplement and adjust a distorted picture that we were taught to conceive. Should we, however, expect something fundamentally reordered or redrawn? Also, compared to male eyes, do women see things differently and acquire different knowledge? Do they even occupy an epistemologically privileged standpoint? But why and how should it be so, and who is this female knowing subject in the first place? Is she already and always there, homogeneous, coherently recognizable, and without ambiguity and contingency? After all, any ‘subject’ would have to possess some (situated) knowledge about itself, then how is that knowledge actually produced?(114)

This "separation" is not to be confused with Western discussions of difference and identity politics. The primary dilemma revolves around whether or not to conceptualize women "by themselves" or in relationship to "state, nation, society," etc.(115) They are aware of ethnic, class, location, and other differences, but in China this does not preclude a search for women’s consciousness, according to the authors.

They also examine several other theoretical trends, namely, arguments for the total eradication of gender consciousness in the conceptualization of social citizenship and those who examine gender differences from a position of complementarity (a revival of the Yin and Yang—primarily by Chinese scholars overseas). Ultimately they argue for a need to reexamine "traditional" Chinese philosophy, not necessarily to embrace feudal ideas, but to do a better job at theorizing women and how gender relates to debates over nationalism vs. modernism (rejection of imperialism vs. rejection of feudalism).

Though they say no deconstruction and then reconstruction of Marxist philosophy has occurred in China such as it has in the West, it appears these women have come full circle in their position on the separation/integration issue in that a view on women abstracted from their social context would be ill-advised.


18. Min, Dongchao. 1999. "The Development of Women's Studies: From the 1980's to the Present," in Women of China: Economic and Social Transformation. Jackie West et al., eds. NY: St. Martin's Press, Inc.

Min argues that Women's Studies in China is a result of economic reform taking place since the end of the 1970's. Women's studies would not be possible without this reform. Between 1950 and the end of the 1970's, equality between men and women was official state policy. However, the standard for "equal" behavior was for women to do the things that men had previously done. Yet, because equality was official policy, this standard was not questioned and opportunities for posing questions about women in China were rare.

She specifically targets three general social transformations emanating from the economic reform which led to the development of Women's Studies (implying a base/superstructure argument):

1. Economic reform increased inequalities between men and women such as women being laid off first and problems for women graduates to find jobs. "Women's political participation" declined "and the rate of female illiteracy increased markedly."(212)

2. The "movement towards liberation of thought after the restrictions of the Cultural Revolution awakened women's self-awareness." She does not describe exactly how ideas about women could just emerge, but rather simply states that these ideas began to emerge in women's writings it the late 1970's on topics such as the "gender gap," meaning, problems in men and women understanding each other and work/family conflicts for intellectual women.

3. The "open door policy" made it possible for ideas from Western feminism (and other Western schools of thought) to enter and indeed they did, according to Min.

Min uses the language of "self-awareness" to describe what women were experiencing during this economic reform and the development of Women's Studies.

The actual practice of Women's Studies emerged in two separate institutional settings: the ACWF and in academic/intellectual circles. According to Min, it first appeared in the ACWF in 1981 via the establishment of the Chinese Association for Research on Marriage and the Family in 1981.

ACWF: (official state org on women since 1949; started to bring women into the "proletarian revolution" i.e., deal with women's work issues and get them out of the home.

1984 Sponsored First National Conference on Theoretical Studies of Women's Issues

1990 Establishment of the Institute of Women's Studies

1990 Chinese Women's Social Status Survey. (over 2000 interviewers participated)

Min states that many Women's Studies associations emerged in the branches/levels of the ACWF such that by 1995 "as many as 497" existed under its sponsorship. They researched both rural and urban women's issues, with the main focus continuing to be on work and the effects of the economic reform on women (215). The ACWF is gradually shifting from being strictly an arm of the state to a relatively more autonomous organization concerned about women's issues.

Academia: influences were both "spontaneous" and from new contact with scholars from other countries; "hunger for theory" the primary source of the "spontaneous" development." Discusses Li Xiaojiang's work setting up the center at Zhengzhao and also the scholars from abroad who kept asking if there was a women's studies department at Hangzhou University until they set one up in 1989.(218) Many women have had difficulties getting their departments set up because of a lack of support at their universities.

Lists three activities of these women's studies programs:

1. teaching of women's studies courses (mostly undergrad, but also grad courses at Beijing and Zhengzhou Universities)

2. "theoretical research" (describes Li Xiaojiang's Women's Studies Series as important in late 1980's)

3. "practical activities" such as a "hotline" for women (doesn't describe services) and singles activities

Much women's studies work is applied or about the "public domain," especially in the ACWF. Min is not criticizing this given that feminism in China needs to be focused on the specifics of what's happening to women during the reform period. However, she still sees a need for more and better theory and methods. She's also concerned about from where funding will come given that institutions generally are not that supportive of Women's Studies.


Describes Li Xiaojiang's theory that gender and class need to be understood as separate categories. I agree with this. However, she claims that it's because gender is "ontological" and class is "social-historical"--problematic.

She argues that Women's Studies is an inevitable outcome of economic reform, but does not sufficiently support that idea. She seems to give the ACWF more credit than the few other articles read thus far.


19. Min, Dongchao. 1997. "From Asexuality to Gender Differences in Modern China," in Mary Wollstonecraft and 200 Years of Feminisms. Eileen Janes Yeo, ed. London and New York: Rivers Oram Press, pp.193-203.

In this essay Min Dongchao describes the historical shift from the ideology of gender sameness (what she calls "asexuality") under Mao, to the resurfacing Confucian "Nanzunnubei," that is, that "women are inferior to men"(193). She discusses many of the same themes which appear in this literature on Women's Studies in China. She documents the problems surrounding the belief in gender equality under Mao, the lack of women’s "self-awareness," the possibility that the changes implemented by the Communist Party occurred too quickly for any long term changes in beliefs in women’s inferiority, and that many women became discouraged when trying to do heavy labor in the country and began to believe that men were physically superior. Further, she describes the same challenges to women’s equal status prompted by the economic changes since 1978 that other scholars note: problems securing jobs, finding marriage partners, being discriminated against when pregnant under the logic of efficiency and competition, and, ultimately, seeing the ideological reemergence of the "Four Virtues" of good women (being quiet, beautiful, submissive and a good housekeeper).

What are the things she mentions that are different from the other writers? To get at some of these issues, she discusses the case study of Xiang Hua, a woman whose work/family conflict issues appeared in a magazine and were the subject of hot debate. This case study elaborates a bit more than other accounts of the double burden because it not only expresses the time conflict and work load which many women face, but also the ideological conflict of a woman having a job with prestige greater than her husband, and yet trying to be a "good wife."

She also discusses a slogan issued by the ACWF in 1983, indicating its early awareness of women's problems beyond work issues, including and especially women’s "self-awareness." The slogan was the "’Four Selfs’—self-respect, self-love, self-possession, and self-improvement" and was modified in 1989 to be "self-respect, self-support, self-confidence and self-strengthening"(200).

Finally, she discusses several interviews she had with women and their perspectives on their awareness of women’s issues. She states: "In the course of their search, there has been no stage of radical criticism of male-centred culture, as in the Western feminist movement. Rather, they [Chinese women] have focused on redefining their own orientation by analyzing their relationship with men and with society"(200).


20. Norton, Mary Beth. 1989. "Women’s History and Feminism in China Today: A Report from Peking University," Journal of Women’s History, V.1, N. 1 (Spring), pp. 108-114.

Norton was a visiting lecturer in the history of American women at Peking University. This was her second visit to China (the other was as a tourist in 1981) and was shocked at the change in the willingness of scholars to discuss gender and feminism, especially in mixed rank environments. (She notes that Chinese Universities are very hierarchical, so this was a pleasant surprise.) She is not a scholar of China, but simply provides her own interpretation of the events occurring there based on the conversations in a women’s discussion group in which she participated. Her take on women in China is right in line with many of the other articles, meaning, she looks at the development of women’s fashion and so forth now that the state is not as controlling, that many women are being pushed out of work via the logic of competition (women will be taking maternity leave and are thus more costly to train and then not be working) and outright sexism (women are not as smart, strong, etc. as men and as such should return to the home), that Chinese women suffer from chronic self-esteem problems and that they still face extreme pressure to get married, including via housing shortages and preference of housing for married couples.

Of interest, she mentions that literary disciplines are leading the way in Women’s Studies in China, primarily because Li Xiaojiang was a literature professor.


21. Norton, Mary Beth. 1990. "Women’s History and Feminism in China: An Update." Journal of Women’s History, V.2, N. 2 (Fall), pp. 166-167.

This essay is a follow-up to her comments on her teaching in China. She writes this after the Tianenmen Square crackdown, which resulted in the banning of the discussion groups in which she was a participant (both at Peking University and Beijing Foreign Studies University). Both groups eventually resumed. However, the group from Beijing Foreign Studies University did so under the guise of a birthday party group and held the sessions in their homes. The second group also had them in their homes. They did not feel this would last for long, as the state did not perceive Women’s Studies as threatening, in their opinion.


22. Qi, Zhang. 1997. "New Trends in Women’s Studies in China," Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, V.3, N.1, p. 185.

This essay is a very short update of some of the successes and needs for improvement for Women’s Studies in China. This essay is the only one in this collection that states that one thing Women’s Studies programs do is help the women at the universities where they are established. She does not elaborate on what this might be. Before 1993 there were only five-six Women’s Studies centers, but now there are more than thirty. Further, Zhengzhou University not only set up a Women’s Studies center, but also set up a Women’s College. She also describes the news media as being a medium for the dissemination of new information by and about women. The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) in Beijing was a catalyst for new scholarship and new programs and services. She identifies some of the women who presented papers at this conference: "Wang Shulang of Beijing University, Luo Ping of Wuhan University, Du Fangqin of Tianjin University, Zhu Chuzhu of Xian Communications University and so on." She lists Li Xiaojiang’s (ed.) Women’s Studies Series as a major publication and states that Women’s Studies is penetrating many difficult scholarly fields. Not only is Women’s Studies developing in these fields, but is inspiring the emergence of institutions such as the "Women’s Saloon at Wuhan University, the Women’s Orchestra at Xian Communications University, and Women’s Museum at Zhengzhou University, and Yunnan Women Leader’s Training School and women’s classes in the Central Party School and Yunan parttime school." Classes are also being offered for business/entrepreneurial women.

The problems she identifies are lack of involved men and funding and advises both creative searches for new funding (such as research on local economic issues a municipal branch might fund, as at Fudan University) and establishing Women’s Studies as a discipline on par with other disciplines in order to receive equal funding from the state.

She finishes this essay with a request for more collaboration (including at the international level) such as "studies on ‘Marriage and Family Life,’ which has been co-sponsored by Fudan University and the Chinese People’s University and the study on ‘Women’s Employment and School Enrollment Rates,’ sponsored by Hangzhou University." She looks to the (1996) establishment of the Chinese Women’s Research and Information Center in Beijing to speed up the pace of research. She seems more optimistic about the openings for women provided by the economic reform than other writers.


23. Rai, Shirin M. 1999. "Gender in China," in China in the 1990s, rev. ed. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: Macmillan Press, pp. 181-192.

Rai's essay provides an overview of how the current economic transformations in China are impacting gender relations in general and Chinese women specifically. This essay does not discuss the details of the economic policy, but does describe several key points. Probably the most significant change following the death of Mao is the new emphasis on allowing "the market" to drive economic policy. "The role of the state was to be slowly reduced to the formulation of macroeconomic policy and the use of 'economic levers such as price, finance, taxation and credit for intervention and regulation'"(186). According to Rai, China no longer strives for a communist utopia, but "declares itself" as being at the "primary stage of socialism"(186). Deng’s "Four Modernisations," agriculture, industry, defense, and science and technology, are all targeted for reform on the post-Mao agenda.

"The market represents choice, mobility, and an incipient civil society for some, and insecurity, lack of social support, unfair competition, and a threat to participation of women in the public sphere for others."(187). In urban environments women are being pushed out of factory work via the rhetoric and reality of competition. Employers do not want to pay maternity leave, nor grant time off; view women as having "divided loyalties" between work and family and are generally "not competitive," in their opinion. In rural areas, the "de-collectivisation of agriculture and the introduction of the 'family contract system'" has marginalized women as well. Now the "male-headed family" is the "recognised economic unit" and women are being concentrated in food production, which is low paid and labor intensive. Basically, the emphasis in China is transforming from social responsibility and social progress to individualism. While Maoist policy insured women's political and economic participation in China (albeit in problematic ways), the new reforms are gradually pushing women out and back to the home, a place research shows (according to Rai) they generally do not want to go full time. Creches are closing and no one is discussing the division of labor in the family in public politics. The positives for women lie in the development of women's academic networks and political and economic associations and the influx of ideas from Western feminism.


24. Roberts, Rosemary. 1999. "Women’s Studies in Literature and Feminist Literary Criticism in Contemporary China," in Dress, Sex, and Text in Chinese Culture. Antonia Finnane and Anne E. McLaren, eds. Clayton: Monash Asia Institute.

This essay discusses the themes, theoretical development, and conservative criticism of feminist literary criticism in China. The essay begins with the now formulaic introduction to Women’s Studies in China and then locates this particular field as emerging (almost necessarily) in the wake of a new wave of women’s fiction in the post-1978 period. Before 1987 there is little indication of a knowledge of Western feminist literary criticism. After 1987, it becomes more noticeable with writers discussing women’s liberation, valuing women’s self worth, and eventually appropriating semiotics, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction as political/methodological techniques for their work. Also, more Western works were being translated, such as the introduction to Toril Moi’s Sexual/Textual Politics and Mary Poovy’s Feminism and Deconstruction, with an eventual emphasis on the work of Julia Kristeva. Even Freud is making an appearance. (Eg. Zhao Mei’s "Father, Totem and Disillusionment"(1986))

In my opinion, many of these women writers receive criticism which sounds like criticism women receive in the United States, such as: emotional women writers are just "nagging" or "self-indulgent;" characters who transgress gender boundaries and become more masculine are going against their female nature; and that enlightened, self-confident feminist women still want traditional partners, that is, they despise feminine men. While some of these critics argue that these "masculinized" women are alienated from their nature, some argue that that is to be expected given the male standard Mao emphasized for thirty years. Regardless of the particular theoretical slant taken, the important historical point is that scholars in China, as in the U.S., are in the midst of debates about what it means to be a man or woman (and it is "either/or"). In China there are now those who analyze men and women in terms of "socialization" and look to androgyny as the liberatory ideal. Yet, overall, Roberts argues that "Most Chinese feminists firmly believe that traditional femininity equals female nature, a fact that indicates the extraordinary continuing strength of China’s traditional patriarchal culture"(233).

This essay ends with a discussion of whether or not, as one author asserts, Chinese feminist literature has not progressed and is, in fact, mired in a state of writing about women "looking for a man." Roberts concludes "Whatever their approach, most critics agree that the general trend has been one of rapid progress from spiritual and emotional dependence on men, through a period of disappointment and disillusionment in which they reject men, to the stage of realizing self-worth and spiritual independence—finding the female self"(234).

It is important to remember that this writing is emerging from and often against a larger tradition as literature directed from above (meaning Mao). Women writers take criticism very seriously and it has changed the course of some of their work. Zhang Xinxin is one example of a woman who stopped her fiction writing and began work as a journalist after much state led criticism against her work. (p. 231)

This essay lists the regional journals which published the first works in feminist literary criticism. Major journals would not publish at first. It appears that the only perspectives on gender going on in China are essentialism, socialization, and psychoanalysis. Something to think about is that the development of women’s studies as against the communist (now socialist) state, may be precluding the kind of work which would allow these women to locate gender contextually in society (taking the economy and the state into account, but not necessarily through a party line perspective) or do some sort of performative analysis.


25. Rofel, Lisa. 1999. "Museum as Women’s Space: Displays of Gender in Post-Mao China," in Spaces of Their Own: Women's Public Sphere in Transnational China. Mayfair Mei-Hui Yang, ed. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 116-131.

Rofel contextualizes her analysis of Li Xiaojiang’s Women’s Museum by describing the complex way that gender politics are taking place in post-Mao China. She describes the current state of public debates in China as centering on what she calls the "allegory of postsocialism," that is, that Maoist ideology repressed natural differences between men and women that can now reemerge. For this and other reasons she argues that gender politics are a necessary feature of all debates about the creation of a non-state public sphere in contemporary China. Rejecting the Maoist state involves rejecting "state feminism" while dominant cultural productions, especially film, backed by new capital, link a humanist national identity to masculinity, all in the context of an open China influenced by international ideologies of a masculine public/feminine private split. "Feminist cultural productions in China thus struggle with multiple contexts: state feminism, nonstate gender politics dominated by the equation of a masculine self with the humanist self, and a transnational network of cultural communication that tends to marginalize their critiques"(119).

Rofel argues that the term "museum" is a bit of a misnomer for describing Xiaojiang’s institution, located in Zhengzhou in sparsely populated Henan Province. Rather than fixing "otherness, imply[ing] the death of living colonial subjects, and re-creat[ing] racist stereotypes," as many museums do, the Women’s Museum, in Rofel’s view, is an ironical space that displays cultural productions that inspire women viewers to perform women as a social, rather than ahistorical, category. This site is located at the waning Henan Women’s Federation School for training women cadres. Thus, the contents of the museum could contribute to the "allegory of postsocialism" by providing representations of essential woman in a decaying socialist institution. However, the contents of this museum force the viewer to think otherwise. There are five rooms. The first contains women’s quilts, potentially the essential women’s artifact. However the quilts displayed are inscribed with political slogans which demonstrate a history of women’s awareness of and participation in the state. The other rooms contain: paper artwork that gives "voice" to women’s complaints and draws attention to women’s bodies (which are usually ignored, in contradistinction to the body politics of the U.S.), women’s script, reproduction and fertility, and an exhibition of the dress of the various ethnic groups within China, which highlights that non-Han women are not included in the other displays. Rofel argues that the viewing of these objects inspires gender performativity in the Butlerian sense of the word, that is, that the objects present women as a category, but one which must be enacted in historically specific ways and within particular processes of power that limit people’s actions. "…the museum’s performative aspect implicitly draws attention to the constructedness of gender and to the need for those who have experienced social life as women to transgress, through a display of gender, the norms of state feminism"(126).

Overall, Rofel argues that this visual display and Li Xiaojiang’s written work (both features of the larger "discursive field of Women’s Studies") offer a new challenge to China. By refusing state feminism, the Western modern woman (which she views as emphasizing rights and not liberation), and the masculine Western humanism of economic reform as inadequate to the task of theorizing women, Li Xiaojiang is actively creating a new space for Chinese women as a "collective social category" to be "theorized into existence"(130).

Many writing on gender in China mention ethnic differences within the category of "Chinese women." However, few address these issues substantively, including Rofel. It would be helpful if she would elaborate and make clearer her section on "mimesis" (pp. 124) and what women will take away from the museum. Will they necessarily interpret what they view as "women as a social category"? It seems that other interpretations could happen.


26. Shen, Zhi, ed. 1987. "Development of Women’s Studies—The Chinese Way: Sidelights of the National Symposium on Theoretical Studies on Women," in Chinese Sociology and Anthropology. V. 20, N. 1 (Fall).

This essay is a "compilation of presentations and discussions at the symposium" put together by Shen Zhi. Also, this essay clearly reads as a statement from the ACWF. It is short and something I would recommend reading. The ACWF called the conference because they felt a women’s movement growing and that "Without systematic theoretical study and scientific-theoretical guidance…the women’s movement, no matter how vigorous, could only be a spontaneous mass movement that could not avoid blindness and one-sidedness. Its existence could not be scientifically explained, nor its future predicted"(19)! She also uses the word "consensus" a lot in making statements about the opinions deriving from the symposium. The essay seems overly optimistic and presents ideas as monolithic—which is hard to swallow given that there were representatives from all provinces and municipalities with the exception of Tibet and Inner Mongolia.

She discusses three main topics from the conference. First, she discusses the changes economic reform will bring to women’s participation in social labor.(20) She emphasizes women’s successes in participation to the present(1987). She views what she calls "the system of responsibility of joint production by peasant families" as an expanded opportunity for women to participate in social labor. Other writers are calling this the end of the commune system and the return of the male-headed patriarchal family as the economic unit. The second issue she discusses is the need for women to expand their "professional qualifications." Increasing "labor intensity and working longer hours" no longer increases a worker’s productivity efficiently. Technology has transformed work environments to the extent to which workers need to learn qualitatively new skills to be competitive. Finally, she discusses the changes to the family economic reform is creating. Again, the picture seems very optimistic. She talks about how women will have more control over their time (when doing contract work or farming), whereas in others point out how women are being confined to the home.

This essay ends with a look to the future of Women’s Studies, which she advocates should have distinctive Chinese characteristics ("the study of women the Chinese way" p. 19). "They should possess features of China’s own women’s movement in the period of socialist construction, be guided by the Marxist outlook on women, and be based on the acknowledgment that women can ‘hold up half the sky’ and should have full equality"(25). She also lists several research areas as an agenda for future work, emphasizing the need for theoretical work and advising the examination of women’s studies from other countries.

It would be very easy to call this essay propaganda. But, what are the implications of doing so? Obviously there is a difference in perspective between the ACWF cadres and the academics, but what gives more legitimacy to the academics? Are their points of view more "truthful" or correct simply because they do not derive from the state? How can we say that the academic women's ideas are independent of the state? Further, who controls what counts as "the Chinese way"?


27. Spakowski, Nicola. 1994. "’Women’s Studies with Chinese Characteristics?’: On the Origins, Issues, and Theories of Contemporary Feminist Research in China" Jindai Zhongguo Funu Shi Yanjiu. 2, p. 297-322.

Like other writers, Spakowski, a researcher with the Institute of East Asian Studies/Sinology, Free University Berlin, locates the emergence of China's Women's Studies in the problems for women which emerged from the economic reform process. For illustration, she describes two case studies which garnered a great deal of publicity in 1988: one about a woman named Li Jing who had lost her factory job in cutbacks where 90% of those let go were women and one about Daqiong village which had profited enormously from new economic development such that many women were "voluntarily" leaving their jobs in order to eliminate the "double burden" at home. In other words, their husbands were making more than enough to support their families and the women "chose" to be in the home full time rather than do both jobs. Many theoreticians began to argue that since economic development in China was still not that advanced that it was logical and natural that women did not have full equality. She also describes how many women were not willing to accept that lack of equality and their willingness to do something about women's economic problems led to the development of Women's Studies.

She concurs with most of the other authors that Women's Studies developed along two lines: the ACWF and in academia. The ACWF is committed to analyzing women's problems from the perspective of "Marxism-Leninism" (with some members adhering more to this doctrine than others) and, in her opinion, is taking more credit than possibly deserved for getting Women's Studies under way. In accepting the Marxist interpretation of women's equality, the ACWF advocates that the research done in Women's Studies primarily should be used to figure out how women, as a "resource" to the economy, can develop their skills and be more effective in the public sphere. As such, the research and publications should focus on opinion polls, statistics, source material and study aids.(312) As far as academia goes, Spakowski locates this development within the wider democratization movement from which many groups emerged in the process of "modernizing socialism"(304). She then documents the organizations, programs, etc. developed by individuals such as Li Xiaojiang and the emergence of what she calls "salons" or study and discussion groups. To describe the type of work being done by academic Women's Studies advocates, she discusses two works by Li Xiaojiang in depth. Her discussion of Li is important because she offers a different interpretation of her work than other critics. It also is interesting given that she discusses Li's work as an example of the type of work happening in academia when her work does not seem to be representative.

It is clear that Li is one of the leaders in Women's Studies in China and that her work covers a wide range of material and changes theoretically over time. Spakowski argues that Li is a "Marxist feminist," though not of the hard line approach of the ACWF. In her opinion, Li argues that women's status is related to social development because of the potential for this development to alleviate the drudgery of everyday life, especially housework. She also puts forth a stage theory of women's development, arguing that the Marxist primitive to socialist stage theory of economic development is primarily about men and that women's status has changed little over time. Her stage theory is composed of matriarchy(when women's social position was high because of their role in procreation); the age of slavery("when men claimed rights based on the family as a social form"), and the age of liberation(contemporary society still in progress).(314) There is a lot of substance to her discussion of Li's work, including her thoughts on the need for self and group awareness among women, rather than the type of top down assimilation advanced by Mao.

Finally, Spakowski argues that most of the research done so far is pragmatic and non-theoretical, China's Women's Studies researchers are highly skeptical of Western feminism at the same time that Western feminist theory and methods seem superior, that both academics and the ACWF take women as the object of study rather than deconstructing epistemology from a feminist perspective (with one result of this being that Women's Studies is not interdisciplinary, but multidisciplinary), and that Chinese Women's Studies scholars have not yet provided an adequate justification for how the process of Women's Studies needs specific Chinese characteristics.


28. Tan, Shen. 1995. "Women’s Studies and I," in Reflections & Resonance: Stories of Chinese Women Involved in the International Preparatory Activities for the 1995 NGO Forum on Women. Wong Yuen Ling, ed. Beijing: Ford Foundation International Club.

This short essay is Tan Shen's reflections on her inspirations to work in and experiences with Women's Studies in China. She was what people in China called a "graduate of the first three years," graduating from high school at the beginning of the cultural revolution. As such, she became a member of the "Red Guard," received "re-education" from peasants in the countryside, and then went to college as a "worker-peasant-soldier student"(100). She was committed to revolution and "dismissed herself as insignificant," relative to the greater good of the PRC. She believes that people should not dismiss the Cultural Revolution, but should now "give it more serious reconsideration." In reflecting on her inspiration for work in Women's Studies she recalls conversations with sexist men, contemplates her own closet hatred of females, and states that she finally learned how childbirth creates an "inevitable division of labor between men and women," despite "support" from her husband during her continued paid labor, and, finally, being turned down for new jobs because she was a woman. However, according to Tan, none of these incentives compared to the tremendous inspiration she received from meeting Li Xiaojiang.

In November 1993, she attended the Asia-Pacific Regional NGO and grasped the complexity and size of the international women's movement. At the time of writing, she was currently involved in research on peasant women who have migrated to work in "industrialized" and "developed cities." These workers worry about both their jobs and their marriage prospects. Tan is committed to Women's Studies for the political goals of helping women maximize their opportunities during this period of rapid change. "After taking this [systemic changes in China] and one's own capabilities into consideration, one can make rational choices"(105). Here is another person who believes in the "rational choice" version of political action, which is not surprising given that she is a sociologist.


29. Tan, Shen. 1993. Women’s Studies in China: a General Survey (1979-1989). Copenhagen, Denmark: Center for East and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen.

This article outlines the development of "sociological women's studies" in China in the decade following the cultural revolution. Tan discusses four major "lines of inquiry on actual problems of women." First, she discusses "women's problems as part of marriage and the family" research, the first subject-specific sociology to emerge since sociology was reinstated. Marriage and the family was a popular subject for research and was important to both the ACWF and the CCP. The sub-topics researched in this area included: "autonomy in marriage, behavior toward girls, division of labor, dual role of career women and old unmarried girls"(4).

Second, Tan describes the research and writing on "the female self-image; changes in ideas; [and] culture"(6). Of special interest are the revival of the "virtuous wife and good mother" ideology, changes in dress, hair, and makeup, and problems rejecting educated women as wives. Further, women college students face the slightly different pressure of the ideology of "the virtuous wife and good mother of a transcending type," which refers to the expectation that young women will succeed in both career and family life, similar to the U.S.'s "superwoman." Many experience conflicts between autonomy, careers and having love, sex, and children.

The third line of inquiry explored urban career women and their employment experiences. After 1980, when the centralized system of labor "relaxed," job placement became difficult for women, with some individuals suggesting letting women go to make room for unemployed men. Tan states that "The problem was solved after deliberations at the National Conference on Labor and Employment and meetings of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CCP, with the ACWF pushing hard." Unfortunately she does not articulate how. After a brief discussion of some of the changes to the economy after 1984, Tan argues that with a main goal of "efficiency" and need for a "mechanism for competition" for the economy, women often bore the brunt of the problems with surplus labor. In 1986-1987 the ACWF and Women Workers' Committees tackled women's work problems: either being pushed out of a job or working, but in low paying labor. In 1988 Women in China launched a year long discussion "The Way Out for Women." Many interested in women's issues participated. In 1988 the ACWF sponsored a workshop called "Social Security for Women" that recommended social reimbursement programs for bearing children. Unfortunately, by the end of 1988 other work problems, such as enterprise closings eclipsed women's problems and put their issues on the back burner. Tan is confusing because describing these dilemmas she argues that the sense of crisis around work issues was greater than the actual problems:

"…..what was serious was simply the sense of crisis; in the state - and collectively - owned enterprises, few individuals were really sacked or lost their status as regular staff members or workers. The employment uneasiness of urban women occurred mainly in those enterprises that had been run following the 'iron rice bowl' line. Exclusion directed specifically at women was nonexistent in non-governmental enterprises."(14)

The fourth and final line of inquiry Tan discusses is the "rural women in the economic polarization of the countryside"(14). She argues that their status is more stable, if still unequal compared to urban women, and that they benefited most from economic reform. 1980 saw the introduction of "the system of contracted household responsibility tied to output (or, the production-related contract responsibility system)"(15). Subsistence was guaranteed while the reforms introduced more specialization (farming only, farming plus sidelines, non-farming industries) to the countryside. Unfortunately, polarization between mountain and coastal regions developed along with two different sets of rural women's problems: 1) women being ghettoized in farm work, and 2)corruption in the institution of marriage including: marriage by purchase or exchange, child marriage, bigamy, concubinage, the sale and purchase of women, and prostitution.

The second half of Tan's article discusses the "Retrospects and Prospects for Women's Studies"(16). Following a short discussion of the first conferences and women's studies centers established, Tan describes issues specific to sociological women's studies. Sociology was banned from 1952-1979. After its reinstatement, the questionnaire became the "hot" approach and she argues that "sociology almost became a pop discipline." Tan argues that the questionnaire does not fit Chinese culture where people do not reveal private thoughts. State sponsored questionnaires get a high response rate, but little validity. She reports that bias in questionnaires reflect the values of the questionnaire designers and proposes that field methods might work better. A desire for quickly obtained, practically applicable data leads some studies to be superficial or oversimplified.

Tan Shen is a sociologist working at the Institute of Sociology, The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Beijing and is a co-editor of Women's Studies in China with Li Xiaojiang. According to Tan, research on women was not possible without economic reform. It seems that sociology has close ties to the CCP, at least at the time this was published.



30. Tao, Jie. 1996. "Women’s Studies in China," Women’s Studies Quarterly. V. 1 & 2, pp. 351-363.

Tao Jie begins with what, by now, seems a fairly formulaic way to discuss the emergence of women’s studies in China: a discussion of Mao’s emphasis on women working as the solution to gender inequality and how this top down approach did not create an environment for women’s self-awareness and as such are now in a position where they cannot compete as well as men in the market economy and are actively being discriminated against by male employers. She also discusses how the new open door policy allowed Chinese women to see that Western feminism was not about "bra burning" or "man-hating." Chinese scholars traveling abroad brought many useful ideas back with them, which "forced them to engage in serious reflection"(352) and brought them to realize the state of inequality between men and women in China. Tao is the only author in this collection to argue that the open door policy also allowed the media in China to be more "open in exposing the malaise of society, including not only prejudice against women but also injustices done to women"(352).

Another major area of interest she discusses is the state led work on/in Women’s Studies. It seems as if some writers are more willing to give the ACWF some credit in the early development of Women’s Studies and Tao Jie is one of them. She describes their efforts to institutionalize Women’s Studies for the benefit of all women in China. One thing not mentioned elsewhere is a conference held jointly in 1991 by the ACWF and Global Interactions, Inc. of the United States on many women’s issues. "It was at this conference that Chinese officials such as Luo Qiong, a former vice chairman of the Women’s Federation, openly admitted that there are invisible barriers in China with regard to women’s job opportunities and career advancement and that discrimination against women still exists in Chinese society"(355). She then discusses the many women’s groups which emerged and developed into academic Women’s Studies programs such as Li Xiaojiang’s at Zhengzhou and one at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

The second half of this essay is a rough historical account of the development of Women’s Studies at her home university, Peking University. The language of this essay (and many others) is riddled with the logic of development (and "scientific analysis" for that matter) She identifies three "stages" in the development of the Women’s Studies Center at Peking University, which are as follows:

1) first classes are on Western women and literature in the English department; women gathered informally every other week to discuss a range of women’s issues, including women from outside the academy working in a range of jobs and for the state; learned about how women were really not equal to men, both b/c if discrimination and internalized sexism

2) started teaching more classes; 1990 formal establishment of the Women’s Studies Center at Peking Univ.; offered three national and international symposiums and conferences on women’s issues (1992-1995); 1992 recognized as a "fully empowered" organization [what does this mean, exactly?] received an office and phone and directors

3) connected their work to women outside the academy (uses the "real world" for non-academic life); began with major preparations for the FWCW in 1995 including massive research projects on rural women and education, life paths of women intellectuals of different generations, collaboration with working women on legislation, rural women’s lives, ethnic groups, reproductive health, etc. all to be published as a book; the setting up of the Women’s Studies Library and Resource Center at Peking University, and last, but not least, prepping and running the Women and Culture (NGO) Forum at the conference.

She comments on how the movement is being led by educated women and that these women need to get out into the "real world" and work with women in "backward areas." When she uses "backward" she’s signifying areas where women are oppressed severely. But, the baggage which clings to that term is problematic. How many rural women want educated women to come and rescue them? What are rural women saying about any of this?

Tao ends by reflecting on the successes and benefits of being a formal institution, specifically having the support of the "authorities," looking for funding, and building "women’s self-awareness." In the future they will work on building a graduate program in Women’s Studies to carry out the work in a more systematic fashion.


31. Wan, Shanping. 1988. "The Emergence of Women’s Studies in China," in Women’s Studies International Forum, V.11, N. 5, pp. 455-464.

In this article Wan discusses many of the same issues that appear in the literature on the development of Women’s Studies in China. She is interested in answering the "question why Women’s Studies should have emerged in China in recent years against the background of the political emancipation of women brought about by the Chinese Communist Revolution and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. It will also try to identify the problems which the evolution of Women’s Studies in China now encounters"(456). Wan is one of those scholars who tend to emphasize the contributions of the ACWF over the academic Women’s Studies folks. She also seems more supportive of the gains made under Mao than some other writers.

She discusses the history of women’s recent legal rights (voting, 1950 marriage law, participating in public office, etc.). She also provides some statistics on women’s employment. These stats are confusing because she makes comparisons over time without using the same statistical measure, making it difficult to know what has or has not changed.

Some issues Wan discusses which are similar to the other texts are: a concern with the contradiction between formal political equality and discriminatory acts against and prejudicial beliefs about women; women’s own feelings of inferiority; rationalizing the discrimination against child-bearing, working women with the logic of the "promotion of economic interest;" and the belief (among women) that women will be emancipated as long as they "live and work as men do."

Wan identifies four characteristics of the period between 1984-1986, when Women’s Studies was first forming: 1) "…popular concerns about women’s questions generated academic concerns about studies of women. (She immediately contradicts herself here when she describes how some of this interest came from abroad in a scholarly periodical. No one else has mentioned this specific periodical, so I think it deserves the space to quote at length:

In 1982, the Chinese were first acquainted with the term "Women’s Studies" when a scholarly periodical—Studies of Social Sciences Abroad—published a book review of Shirai Atsushi’s Women’s Studies and the History of Women’s Movements (Atsushi, 1982). In 1984, the same periodical published an article "The History of Suffrage Movement and Women’s Studies" by He Peizhong (1984).(459))

2) a "dramatic increase in the number of newspapers and periodicals concerned mainly with women’s issues;" 3) the interest in Women’s Studies has been interdisciplinary; 4) people worked to coordinate Women’s Studies at the national level (gives most credit here to the ACWF, but also mentions the conference at Zhengzhou University in 1987).

In the last section of this article Wan discusses several "contending approaches" to Women’s Studies. Two approaches to the "purpose of Women’s Studies" are: 1) to inspire self and collective consciousness among women so that they can emancipate themselves and 2) to understand how old ideas about women can still prevent them from being liberated in contemporary society (how "the invisible in the minds of people is being transferred into the visible in society"(462)). She also discusses how some people feel the importance of establishing a separate discipline of Women’s Studies while others feel that women should be studied within existing disciplines; that it is extremely important that scholars of Women’s Studies in China develop theory; and finally that several other problems must be overcome: lack of communication technology to connect disparate groups, lack of funds for research, lack of systematic historical research on women and women’s issues.(463)


32. Wang, Zheng. 1996. "A Historical Turning Point for the Women’s Movement in China," Signs, V. 22, N. 1(Autumn), pp. 192-199.

See entry 33.


33. Wang, Zheng. 1997. "Maoism, Feminism, and the UN Conference on Women: Women’s Studies Research in Contemporary China," Journal of Women’s History, V. 8, N. 4 (Winter), pp. 126-152.

All of the information in essays 32 and 33 is included in the more recent and more comprehensive chapter from Hershatter, et. al.'s Guide to Women's Studies in China (1998). Please see that text for more information, annotation 34.


34. Wang, Zheng. 1998. "Research on Women in Contemporary China," in Guide to Women’s Studies in China. Gail Hershatter, Emily Honig, Susan Mann, and Lisa Rofel, eds. Berkeley, CA: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California.

In this essay, Wang reviews the history of the development of Women’s Studies in China, the first movement in China’s history led by and for Chinese women. While male intellectuals of the May 4th movement included feminist principles in their writings, and equality between men and women was an explicit feature and goal of Maoist philosophy and state practices, neither of these movements for women’s equality were led by women, nor did they occur for the explicit purpose of women’s human rights. Equality between women and men was seen as a measure of class inequality in China in general, a principle derived from Engels (who gets it from Fourier) as "The degree of women’s emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation"(27).

Wang examines several historical processes and influences in the emergence of this field and movement. She argues that the new impetus for the examination of women stems from the one child population policy and its impact on peasant women and the infanticide of baby girls. The ACWF immediately began to study the impact of this policy in order to protect women and children. They held several important conferences and developed research agendas and publications. In general Wang characterizes the ACWF’s work for the study and protection of women (in the early 1980’s) as an attempt to hold the state to its commitment to equality between men and women during economic reform.

Next, Wang examines the challenge to the ACWF’s by women scholars, especially Li Xiaojiang, probably the key player in the academic movement. In a pamphlet (1989) Li argued that if the ACWF was not useful to women, it should be disbanded, as other institutions were because of economic reform. Wang argues that this forced the ACWF to justify itself and from then on worked with academic Women’s Studies scholars in collaboration. Wang is critical of Li’s early work as Li argued that a class based analysis was inappropriate for studying women as class is a social-historical concept and women is an ontological category. Basically, she formed an essentialized concept of women which had the positive effect of justifying the examination of women outside of the context of class struggle. However, it also had the serious negative impact of inspiring the reconsideration of feudal-like femininity in China, especially in terms of dress and appearance in general. Wang argues that "the making of the discourse of femininity in the 1980s embodies Chinese women’s efforts to challenge Maoism"(22). Li has since changed her position on an essential femininity.

Finally, Wang examines the impact of the preparations for the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing and the NGO forum held in Huairou. Many Women’s Studies centers formed as a result of the state’s solicitation of Women’s Studies Centers to participate in preparatory activities. Wang argues that the state viewed holding the conference as an effort to improve its reputation in the global media following the events at Tiananmen Square. However, the state became "paranoid" upon learning of the "women’s rights as human rights" focus for the NGO forum and worried that the forum would bring the negative attention they sought to avoid in the first place. Thus the NGO forum was moved out of Beijing and the government initiated an elaborate training program to ensure that Chinese delegates would espouse an appropriate nationalist sensibility when speaking. According to Wang, many of the women participating were disappointed and frustrated by these moves, but complied so as not to jeopardize their involvement. As a result, they did sensor their presentations, but felt that the exposure to global feminism they received was worth it. The Chinese state relaxed upon learning that their policies would not be a focus of criticism and the forum proceeded relatively uneventfully. Wang finally argues that this conference opened the floodgates to feminism in China (a concept now used without the association to bourgeois feminism, according to Wang) and introduced the concept of "gender" to Chinese Women’s Studies scholars.

Wang sums up by mentioning a few important points. Chinese Women’s Studies differs from Western Women’s Studies in that its origins lie in research, not grassroots social movements. Next, Chinese Women’s Studies scholars were successful in challenging the dominant Marxist theory of gender (because of the state’s control over its "deployment" and because men were the standard for women to aspire to in order to gain equality), but did so with a theory of femininity which was eventually "co-opted" by "commercial forces." Wang views the development of this women’s movement as one of the key changes in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. She also argues that Chinese women’s studies scholars now look to the West for recent feminist theory, for which the demand is high.

A note about language use: She describes the language used for Women’s Studies in China and argues that some of the terms are not equivalent because much of the research on women in China is not done in academic environments. She uses "funü yanjiu" (women’s research or research on women) for the research that has been done in China and "funüxue" (does not give a literal translation, but the "xue" indicates a connection with academia) for women’s studies abroad.


35. Weisbard, Phyllis Holman. 1999. "Chinese Women," Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women’s Studies Resources. V. 21, N., p. 31.

This is a book review of the Guide to Women’s Studies in China. Weisbard reviews the sections on Hong Kong and Taiwan, which is not included in my annotation.


36. Woo, Margaret Y. K. 1994. "Chinese Women Workers: The Delicate Balance Between Protection and Equality," in Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State. Christina K. Gilmartin, Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White, eds. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 279-295.

Margaret Woo examines the complex relationship between new legislation in China that both advocates equality for men and women workers (equal pay for equal work, etc.) and yet treats men and women as different and unequal through the creation of special policies or "protections" for women workers during biologically specific phases of life, including: menstruation, pregnancy, delivery, nursing, and menopause. Women are given special breaks and time off depending on their state and are even restricted from types of work with especially rigorous physical labor. Woo concedes that there are positive aspects of this policy in the focus on women’s health. Further, some well-off businesses have created spaces for women which make nursing easier and the overall workplace more comfortable. Yet, the effects of the policy generally are negative as they provide employers with a logic for clearing women from the workplace when viewed as an economic liability.

This essay is included in this collection because it explores in more detail than the literature on Women’s Studies proper the specifics of how women as paid workers are affected by economic reform. Woo’s overall argument is that the state in China continues to privilege class and economic issues to those of gender and as such uses women to control problems of surplus labor and population. In other words, women are encourage to work in paid labor when necessary and discouraged in favor of focusing on domestic responsibilities depending on the state’s needs and the state of the economy. In contemporary history, this is especially contradictory given that the One Child Campaign forbids women from having many children. Women are encouraged to be in the home, but are given little freedom to control what happens there. Another space where one can see how women are manipulated in the interests of the state and economic reform are in the special economic zones (SEZs). In these zones, women usually comprise the vast majority of the workforce and are also places where these workplace protections are almost never enforced. Given the state’s privileging of class over gender, Woo calls for a social movement rather than public policy to challenge gender inequality in the PRC, a strategy which fits with the country’s history of valuing the collective over the individual.


37. Young, Marilyn. 1989. "Chicken Little in China: Women After the Cultural Revolution," in Promissory Notes: Women in the Transition to Socialism. Sonia Kruks, Rayna Rapp, and Marilyn B. Young, eds. NY: Monthly Review Press, pp. 233-247.

This essay discusses many of the issues which emerge in the other articles. However, there are a couple of ideas worth mentioning. Most important, her main argument is that women in China are the vehicle through which the state controls its population, not just in terms of its quantitative population policy, but through deploying them and constraining them with the times and as needed. For example, individualism needs to be encouraged for the advancement of the economy. However, for society to remain stable and for the state to have control, nuclear families are needed, with women sustaining them and still being available to work as the economy requires.

Yet, given the process of change occurring in China now, many paradoxical messages are still reaching, impacting, and being shaped by women. I'll quote at length her list of these messages:

Women should learn the arts of adornment, but refrain from their undue exercise; women should be filial toward parents and in-laws, but modern, independent, antifeudal; women should certainly follow dictates of state population policy and are of course the primary child-rearer, but they must learn, from professional experts, how to avoid spoiling the single child; women should full participate in the drive to realize the four modernizations (in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense), but they might just want to take three, four, or even ten years maternity leave as well. Romantic love is an acceptable socialist notion, but women are responsible for controlling their own and male sexual behavior and sex itself should be indulged in only after marriage and strictly within its confines.(244)

She also mentions that while many women describe their experiences of the Cultural Revolution as horror stories, these women still reflect proudly on their personal violent acts, such as beating up a boy or man on the street. She describes this as embracing a kind of power women never had before, but knew well from their experiences of everyday life, that is, having power over another person.(240)


38. Zhang, Naihua with Wu Xu. 1995. "Discovering the Positive Within the Negative: The Women’s Movement in a Changing China," in The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective. Amrita Basu, ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 25-57.

While discussing many of the same themes as other authors (such as, the history of ideas about women's liberation in the May 4th movement, the history of Maoist perspectives on women and the major social changes which took place between 1949-1978, the problems with employment, prostitution, images of women etc. since the implementation of economic reform, women's self consciousness, contradictory messages about the ideal women, language issues, etc.) this essay emphasizes that women were not the passive recipients of state policy, but have been active participants in the creation of the modern state and the modern state of women, as workers, members of the Red Guard, and members of the ACWF. "There is a dialectical relationship between the state and women, and women are not always opposed to or completely separate from the state"(43). They also advise the reader to not use Western standards of what counts as a women's movement to evaluate Chinese women as "women develop their strategies and agenda as they go along"(43). (This understanding contrasts with other theorists who argue that women's self and collective consciousness is a necessary precursor to feminist movement.) They locate the beginning of the women's movement in the mid-1890's, not in the early 1980's as most other writers describe. Another issue they mention is that while Western feminists criticize the state in China, women in China are criticizing themselves. Further, women intellectuals and members of the ACWF are concerned about the "poor quality" of women in China, meaning, that women's dependence on the state has led them to an objective position which does not measure up to men.

Another interesting idea introduced in this essay (derived from Nanette Funk) describes two different models of feminist movement:

One is characterized by a change in the totality through the transformation of the particular--as has taken place in the second wave of the U.S. women's movement, where the movements of women, blacks, and gays transformed society. In contrast, in Eastern and Central Europe and the former USSR, it was the transformation of the totality that created the possibility for a transformation of the particular. (44)

The authors place China in the second category, with the ideology of the CCP creating a context for women making demands on the expectations of men's and women's equality. They argue that the generation of women who came of age during the reign of the CCP are the backbone of the movement for this very reason.

In general, they do not see a great deal of conflict with the state, but a trend toward more autonomy for the ACWF, more opportunities for women coinciding with economic reform and the impending FWCW, but are also aware that much work needs to be done, that economic reform could be more damaging than helpful, and that it is critical for women to become self aware and active in shaping their own destiny. They argue that Chinese people view survival as a women's issue and thus reform is seen as a positive change for women in peasant families whose income has increased. Finally, they argue that women's "condition" in China is better overall, but they are not in a better "position" relative to men.(44) While the initial strategy or process of the movement was to "separate," women are now more focused on "re-integrating into society"(45).


39. Zhu, Lilan. 1991. "The Role of Women in Chinese Scientific Leadership," in The Role of Women in the Development of Science and Technology in the Third World: Proceedings of the Conference Organized by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Third World Academy of Sciences,. A.M. Faruqui, M.H.A. Hassan and G. Sandri, eds. Singapore and Teaneck, NJ: World Scientific, pp. 435-438.

This essay is a short commentary on women in science and engineering. She discusses the progress women have made working outside of the home, especially in male dominated professions like her own. She also comments on what has helped women, including the state relieving "women of the tradition bound duty to have many children…," and on what women need to do to advance, such as becoming psychologically stronger. In general, her comments are tinged with essentialism both in commenting on how women and men may not be able to do the same jobs and that each should strive to do what they do best. Women may be superior than men in many currently male dominated fields of science and management because "of their sensitivity and strong intuitive ability and being more approachable and receptive to different opinions," and because they are "generally less arrogant, less dogmatic and more understanding than men…"(436-437).


40. Zhu, Qing. 1989. "Summary of the Second National Symposium on Women’s Studies," in Chinese Sociology and Anthropology. V. 21, N. 3 (Spring).

This essay is a short summary of the main issues discussed at the symposium. Zhu documents two overall areas of interest: "the role of women in the building of socialist spiritual civilization and their contributions to the construction of a socialist society of advanced culture and ideology from the perspectives of economics, sociology, education, and population"(20). Six specific areas of interest were targeted including: (1) Reform and the Emancipation of Women, (2) Women's Role in Building a Society of Advanced Culture and Ideology, (3) The Image of Women and Views on Women, (4) Women's Role in Reproduction, (5) How to Conduct the Study of Women in China, and (6) How Talent Can Be Nurtured Among Women.(pp. 20-26)

Subtopics debated under these general categories included: the relationship between social and economic participation and equality and the liberation of women's self-consciousness; how to understand women's unpaid reproductive labor-both physical and cultural; women's strengths and weaknesses; conflicts between "feudal" ideas and ideas about the "new woman" (devoted to both career and family); tax breaks and subsidies for women following the one-child policy and for employers with significant numbers of women employees; the conflict over viewing Women's Studies as in opposition to China's Marxist ideology; and women's education and training.




1. The Graduate Consortium in Women's Studies at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study called this bibliography into being. For thoughtful feedback I am especially grateful to Laura Roskos.

Patricia Arend is a Ph.D student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Northeastern University