The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Past (Asia Pacific Modern)

The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Past (Asia Pacific Modern)

Gail Hershatter

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 0520282493

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

What can we learn about the Chinese revolution by placing a doubly marginalized group—rural women—at the center of the inquiry? In this book, Gail Hershatter explores changes in the lives of seventy-two elderly women in rural Shaanxi province during the revolutionary decades of the 1950s and 1960s. Interweaving these women’s life histories with insightful analysis, Hershatter shows how Party-state policy became local and personal, and how it affected women’s agricultural work, domestic routines, activism, marriage, childbirth, and parenting—even their notions of virtue and respectability. The women narrate their pasts from the vantage point of the present and highlight their enduring virtues, important achievements, and most deeply harbored grievances. In showing what memories can tell us about gender as an axis of power, difference, and collectivity in 1950s rural China and the present, Hershatter powerfully examines the nature of socialism and how gender figured in its creation.

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the coast or abroad. In these hollowed-out villages, devoid of any monument or lieux de memoire except the occasional abandoned collective dining hall, women narrate the past in a time when no one around them wants to hear their stories and the world in which they once lived has left very little physical or discursive trace.22 They have fashioned a narrative of progress, featuring themselves as paragons of womanly virtue, telling their stories in an era when the histories, memories, and

underneath. “You keep a close eye on them, and if anything goes wrong, we will go over the wall and run away.” We went on this way until the final evening—three days and three nights altogether. Then the fleeing army passed by that door over there. Everyone else all ran to the fields to hide. But my family and my aunt’s family didn’t have husbands [wai qian ren]. That day we felt every kind of fear there is. Hershatter, The Gender of Memory 5/19/11 3:40 PM Page 61 No One Is Home 61 That

generation younger than Shan Xiuzhen and Cao Zhuxiang, newly married or of marriageable age in the early 1950s, these women entered social networks formed in literacy classes, songfests, opera troupes, and dance performances, as well as production groups. There they acquired language to explain their activities and decisions to themselves and their often skeptical kin and neighbors. Many were recruited to join the Communist Youth League or the Communist Party; some served as women’s chairs in

asked in a famous essay, “Did women have a Renaissance?”14 If she had been writing about China instead of Europe she Hershatter, The Gender of Memory 5/19/11 3:40 PM Page 7 Introduction 7 might have wondered, Did women have a Chinese revolution? If so, when, and in what ways? T H E P ROJ E C T These were the questions we set out to answer. In the decade between 1996 and 2006, Gao Xiaoxian and I collected life histories of seventy-two women.15 All but one of the women were over the age of

they took me there to have a look. Ai. He was not so great [bu zenyang]. You haven’t met my husband; he’s not very good-looking. I thought about it again. He had a tiled house with several rooms. He seemed to be intelligent. He had a son from a previous marriage. His wife had died. At the time I thought, You might meet a good family, but not encounter a good person. I also thought, His son will be like my son. I will regard him as my own. So I agreed. Then I said, “The problem with my last

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