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The China Quarterly, 231, September 2017, pp. 811–836
of a “New Silk Road.” Ultimately the Hui “moral economy” is hindered by “the negative externalities of Islamic extremism” (p. 271) and the Party-state’s insistence that
stability maintenance must always trump economic development in the volatile West.
Erie convincingly demonstrates the mercurial nature of the boundary between
acceptable local practices and secular laws and policies in Hui areas. These minjian
spaces are far more constricted than Habermas’s notion of a public sphere in
Western liberalism, yet they remain both highly dynamic and crucial for understanding state–society relations in China more broadly.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Party-state draws on the authority of Islamic law and its
Hui interpreters to exercise its governance in Muslim areas. By co-opting Hui clerics
and other religious teachers, Party officials seek legitimacy and acceptance for its rule,
thus opening spaces for unofficial religious practices and the mediation of disputes.
This results in what Erie terms an “anxious collaboration” (p. 78) between the
Party-state and its Hui citizens.
In recent years, however, tensions have sharpened in China’s West. The 2009
Ürümqi riots soured the public mood and stoked often irrational fears of Muslim
“terror.” China’s current president, Xi Jinping, is set on Sinicizing foreign faiths,
like Islam and Christianity, fearing their ability to undermine faith in the Party
and “rule of law.” Will this troubling trend constrict or even morph the minjian
over time? If so, Erie’s research suggests a corresponding impact on the
Party-state’s ability to maintain control and social stability in frontier regions.
In sum, Matthew Erie’s new book makes a number of important new contributions
to the academic literature on a diverse set of topics from gender politics to ethnic policy in China, and will be of interest to scholars of Islam, law and human ethics, to
name but a few. Sinologists will also appreciate this fine work of meticulous
Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1964
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017
xvi + 380 pp. $34.95; £27.95
ISBN 978-0-520-29229-1 doi:10.1017/S0305741017001291
In 1964, Mao Zedong called on the Chinese “masses” to “learn from Dazhai.”
Situated in the remote areas of Shanxi province, the village of Dazhai became one
of the most famous models of collectivized agriculture during the Mao era (1949–
1976). It owed part of its fame to a group of young women who called themselves
the Iron Girls Brigade. Doubly marginalized as rural women, the Iron Girls epitomized the ideal robust, hard-working female who by labouring as much or more
than men broke down gender barriers in support of a glorious socialist present and
Communist future. They were among the women whom China’s state feminists had
worked to liberate since the 1940s and before. By the 1980s, with Mao dead and
China firmly on the road of “reform and opening,” the Iron Girls had been turned
into a symbol of “hyper-masculinized, ultra-leftist Maoism.” No longer a feminist
role model, many urban intellectuals now used the Iron Girls as an example of everything Chinese women should not wish to be.
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Book Reviews
The history of how women such as the Iron Girls became first a positive and then a
negative role model is the focus of this book. In eight chapters, Wang Zheng examines
what she calls the socialist feminist cultural front. Her study focuses on two aspects in
particular: the work of the All-China Women’s Federation, at the grassroots and
nationally, and feminists’ work in the film industry. These two aspects were closely
connected because state feminists assumed a “shared role” in this front that extended
across politics, government, and cultural production.
Chapter one takes us to Shanghai in the early 1950s to examine how state feminists
established an urban network for the new Women’s Federation. How to position the
Federation’s work was subject to tense contestations, however. Relegated to the status
of a “mass organization,” “women-work” was meant to “assist” the CCP’s work in
general. Moving to Beijing in 1957, chapter two reconstructs the political manoeuvres
of women such as Luo Qiong, Cai Chang and Deng Yingchao to save the feminist
movement. With the help of Deng Xiaoping, they re-positioned the Federation and
gave it new marching orders (at least for a while): the “two diligences” (“diligently,
frugally build the country, and diligently, frugally manage the family”) (p. 55).
What seemed a departure from core feminist values was in fact an attempt to ensure
the Federation’s survival. Chapters three and four trace the history of the
Federation’s magazine Women of China. They discuss magazine covers, readers’ letters and discussion forums, but also the history of how the magazine was produced,
how it weathered political storms and how it became, under the leadership of Shen
Zijiu and Dong Bian, a profitable publication with over half a million copies per
issue. In 1964, Chen Boda fervently (and unfairly) attacked Women of China for disseminating bourgeois ideas about love and marital relations, and called on the magazine to place feminist interests second to the proletariat’s class struggle. This was a
veiled attack on Hu Qiaomu, colleague and friend of Dong Bian’s husband Tian
Jiaying. The magazine had become a battleground for personal feuds and it was
the end of the Federation’s open advocacy for changing gender relations.
Chapters five, six and seven shed light on leading feminists in the film industry: Chen
Bo’er and Xia Yan. Chen Bo’er, actress and activist, was instrumental in bringing the
socialist feminist movement to the silver screen. Creating new forms of mass line collective film production, she championed the need to engage closely with the everyday
realities of people featured in films, turned the rural woman into a film heroine, and
pioneered many of the strategies that Mao would later call for in his famous Yan’an
Talks. A “senior communist artist-official” (p. 181), Xia Yan, meanwhile, was one
of China’s leading male feminists whose films and scripts were legendary and hugely
popular. Jiang Qing’s rise to power during the 1960s marked his fall from grace.
Jiang Qing promoted her own feminist vision of masculinist women who were like
men. Yet Xia Yan’s fall was not the result of opposite political visions –the two
were not so far apart – but once more the result of personal animosities that long predated the Cultural Revolution. Jiang Qing’s take on the state feminist agenda, as chapter eight shows, brought women such as the Iron Girls Brigade even more into the
limelight but also tainted them by association once she was denounced after 1976.
The book is an enjoyable analytical tour de force. Wang Zheng argues that two
crucial dynamics help explain why the history of these state feminists has not
featured prominently in accounts of the Mao era. First, these women practiced a
“politics of concealment.” Couching their ideas and projects in the language of
Party orthodoxy, and thus de-linking them from their feminist origins, state feminists
were able to push some of their agendas forward and “became co-authors of the dominant state discourse” (p. 51). The price for this was anonymity. State feminists’
agency in realizing a feminist agenda in Party-state politics was largely lost in the
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The China Quarterly, 231, September 2017, pp. 811–836
mainstream historical record. Whatever was not lost became subject to the “politics
of erasure.” Especially after the end of the Mao era, many urban intellectuals and
state officials alike made sweeping generalizations that associated state feminists’
accomplishments with the unfavourable parts of the Maoist Party-state, actively erasing a more complex picture of the first three decades after 1949.
The book joins those who have called for more nuanced studies of Communist
Party-state politics. Over the past years, scholarship based on new sources – from
archival records to “quasi-archival” documents, internal Party publications, memoirs,
interviews, and other sources – has made amply clear why we cannot speak (or write)
of a monolithic Party-state with omnipresent control during the Mao era. Easy frameworks of “totalitarian” Maoist rule fail to grasp the diversity of experiences and activities that these documents record. By finding women in the state, this book also
contributes to reinvigorating debates about the role of national state authorities during the Mao era and gives us a more fine-grained picture of different groups and their
shifting agency within the larger entity known as “the state.” The different chapters
show how a group of elite women operated among the higher echelons of the Chinese
Communist Party and prove that there is much left to uncover about national-level
twists and turns, provided that we bring often overlooked agents such as these
state feminists back into the picture.
The dates provided in the book’s title are slightly misleading. This study extends
well beyond 1949 and 1964 to give us a history of CCP feminist activism reaching
from the May Fourth movement of 1919 all the way to the first decade of
“post-Mao” China. It is filled with rich empirical detail and fascinating arguments
that should make for thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in modern
Chinese history, contemporary China, the global history of feminism, and the comparative history of socialism.
Family Life in China
W I L L I A M R . J A N K O W I A K and R O B E R T L . M O O R E
Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2017
x + 219 pp. £15.99
ISBN 978-0-745-68555-7 doi:10.1017/S0305741017001187
The traditional Confucian family stressed patrilineality, virilocality, patriarchy, filial
piety and the importance of lineage. The family was multigenerational. Its members
were expected to suppress personal interests and desires for the sake of their family.
Intra-family relationships were largely role- and duty-based. How have these features
been transformed by China’s dramatic changes in the past century? In this book
William Jankowiak and Robert Moore address this question through a “historical
and ethnographic overview.”
The authors provide a comprehensive overview of Chinese family life – both historical and contemporary – by drawing on extant literature, including their own
research. They mainly write about urban families among the Han majority but
also provide brief overviews of several ethnic minorities. Themes covered in the
eight chapters include kinship, family structure, parenting, intergenerational relationships, gender relations, courting and marriage, and emerging adulthood today.
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