井底之蛙

6/19/2013

The Birth of Chinese Feminism

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:43 pm

Columbia University Press sent me a copy of a really good book, Lydia Liu, Rebecca Karl and Dorothy Ko. The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2013. The core of the book is a set of translations of essays by He-Yin Zhen, although we also get a lengthy introduction and translations of few other key texts.

The authors are interested in He-Yin Zhen because she was one of the the most interesting feminist theorists of the late Qing who has been ignored because her fundamental analytic category of nannu 男女 (literally man and woman or male/female) did not fit well with with either bourgeois or anarcho-feminist ideas about gender. The book includes translations of Liang Qichao’s On Women’s Education and Jin Tianhe’s The Woman’s Bell, but unlike these two (male-authored) texts, He-Yin Zhen did not subordinate woman’s issues to nationalism, modernization, or racial survival.

..instead, in He Yin Zhen’s theoretical idiom, history is formed by a continuously reproduced injustice in the manner of what the Annales school of French historians would come to call the longue duree, whose generalized contours of uneven wealth and property as well as it specificities of embodied affect could be made visible through the figure of “woman”.

For He-Yin, nannu 男女 was the fundamental analytical category, more important that Chinese vs. Western, modern vs. premodern, or Marxist ideas about class. In “On the question of Women’s Labor” she discusses labor and the subordination of women throughout Chinese and modern history, claiming that while modern factory labor has special characteristics, in the end it grows out of the unequal distribution of wealth, the same cause as the subordination of women in traditional society. In “Economic Revolution and Women’s Revolution” He-Yin is in favor of love marriage, but sees every type of existing marriage, both for men and for women, as a form of prostitution. In “On Feminist Antimilitarism” she claims that antimilitarism would be good for “weak nations (literally “races or kind”, zhong 種), the common people, and women.” It’s practically subaltern studies.

It’s a very good book, with some very good readings. It’s pretty obvious why a lot of these have not been translated before, since it is hard to see how you could take a class from some of these readings to other stuff that was going on in 1907.

2 responses to “The Birth of Chinese Feminism”

  1. […] Above is a post on Lydia Liu, Rebecca Karl and Dorothy Ko. The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2013. Another thing this book makes me think of is the inadequacy of our current publishing model. This is a very good book to have your students read if you are teaching a high-level course on Chinese feminism. A number of these readings would be good for any sort of Modern China class or a lot of classes on women’s history or feminist theory. Unfortunately, there is no way to assign just Liang Qichao’s On Women’s Education or just He-Yin Zhen’s On the Question of Woman’s Labor and not have your students spend too much money and have the press get some cash out of the whole thing. Roll-your-own textbooks and course readers have been part of the landscape for a while, but at present they are cumbersome, paper-bound, and expensive. Wouldn’t it be great if individual translations/articles/chapters were available as something like Kindle singles for 99 cents (or 50 cents, let’s not be greedy) and instructors could put together a list and students could download a bunch of readings with one click and $20? Given that most of the content is created by scholars and given to presses for free this would seem like a profitable arrangement for both producers and consumers of knowledge. Obviously this is not going to happen any time soon, but I suspect that just as the model of music being sold as ‘albums’ by a publisher is being replaced by the model of individual songs being sold by some sort of clearinghouse, the same thing will happen with scholarship. The tyranny of the binding has not always existed, and it will not last forever. Texts used to be much more amorphous, and I guess they will be again. Will Columbia University Press be the academic I-tunes? […]

  2. […] so obviously I was immediately interested, as well as mentions on China Rhyming and Frog in a Well – the former being a dependably good source of new reading for me and usually alone enough to […]

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