Modernity and China

The concept of modernity has played a central role in
the shaping of contemporary China.  At the start of
the Republican era China engaged the modern and began
the process of national formation. The subsequent
Communist Revolution and Mao period witnessed a broad
based modernist experiment in social engineering and
communism, which carried China through until the
middle of the 1970s. The following period saw a turn
in China’s project with modernity, as Post-Mao reforms
lead to a socialist guided approach to capitalism.
Within China itself there have been varying
perspectives as to what modernity means to China, and
how China should approach modernity. These varying
perspectives can be seen as different project of
modernity in China.

The projects considered here are the May Fourth
Movement, the Communist Revolution, and the Cultural
Discussion of the 1980s, all of which never translated
into enduring projects. Apart from the Communist
revolution, the projects were limited to intellectual
circles, never impacting on the greater society. One
consistent theme running through these three different
projects of modernity is the theme of
anti-traditionalism. Each project saw tradition as a
barrier to the future, holding China back from
advancing as a modern state. 

The May Fourth Movement sought to bring China into
modernity by supplanting Chinese tradition and culture
with the ideals of the Enlightenment. Their defining
and redefining of individualism is indicative of this.
While treatises on modernity where worked out in May
Fourth intellectual circles a formation of modernity
evolved in the urban coastal regions, which displayed
a blending of the local and the foreign, as well as
the old and the new. The Communist Revolution
implemented an anti-traditional campaign, which lasted
nearly three decades, but after the Post-Mao reforms
where instituted traditional element were to reappear.
The anti-traditionalist agenda of the May Fourth
Movement comes to haunt the Cultural Discussion of the
1980s, as scholars attempt to exorcise the ghost of
the past in a call to adopt the grand narrative of the

Enlightenment. Again, as during the May Fourth
Movement, the scholarly debates ensued as modernity
began to express itself, first in the southern coastal
cities and eventually beyond.

           What is presented below shall argue that
the discourses of modernity as seen in the May Fourth
Movement, the Communist Revolution, and the Cultural
Discussion of the 1980s go too far in embracing binary
oppositions of east and west, as well as traditional
and modern. These different projects fall into a
self-deprecated effort to alter identity by adopting
the grand narrative of western modernity. I hope to
answer the following question: is Chinese tradition
antipathetic to modernity?   
          
Modernity is historically rooted in the changes that
took place in Europe around the 1500s. The political
and economic forces, which had dominated the Middle
Ages, feudalism and the papacy, began to recede,
giving way to the new dominate formations of
nationalism and mercantilism. It is in this atmosphere
of change that Descarte declared, “cogito ergo sum”
thus beginning an epistemological trend in charge of
uncovering, or discovering of the subject. Habermas
identifies subjectivity as arising from “ …key
historical events… the Reformation, the Enlightenment,
and the French Revolution” (Habermas, 17).  The
presence of subjectivity was a prominent feature
throughout the European events that shaped modernity,
and is one that continues to be contested as well as
ruminated upon in Continental as well as Anglo-
American philosophical discourse.      

One of the earliest notions to be taken up by the New
Culture Movement and the subsequent May Fourth
Movement was that of subjectivity. How did this idea
of subjectivity arrive in China? Neologisms were often
used to translate concepts, or words that were not
readily available or accessible in the Chinese
language at that time. These inventions often came to
China by way of Japan. An example of a neologism is
zong jioa, the Chinese word for religion, which
transmigrated from Japan to China at the turn of the
century. The neologism for individualism is geren
zhuyi.  Lydia H. Siu, in discussing translingual
migration points out that ‘individualism’ once
”introduced into China at the turn of the century…soon
grew to be a chief signpost on the discursive terrain
of the self in modern China”(Barlow, 91). By way of
viewing subjectivity as a metonym in the rubric of
modernity we can understand how May Fourth scholars
engaged modernity.      

  Initially, there were attempts to find parallels of
subjectivity in Chinese thought, finding the idea
close to ancient Chinese concepts of human ontology.
Though, ultimately subjectivity came to be viewed as
an absolute totality, to be derived from western
metaphysics and literature, and applied in attack on
tradition as writers vied for the control to craft
China’s engagement with modernity. In whatever form
the discourse took it was always one, which was
isolated from the platitudes of day-to-day life.

Shortly after the turn of the century Du Yaquan saw
individualism as being a contemporary manifestation of
Confucianism. He conceived of individualism as having
the similar instructional qualities to those found in
Confucian ethics. His concept also sought to establish
socialistic principles by asserting the interests of
common people. His ideas were later to be made passé
by Min Zhi, who viewed individualism as being
bifurcated, leading to a private and a public self. He
put forth the argument that to work for the interests
of the private self would invariably benefit others,
or the public.  Furthermore, Min Zhi saw individualism
as being brought forth by the ineptitude of rulers.
Inclinations towards self-reliance, “becomes a
necessary means of survival in the modern world”(98,
Barlow).  According to Lydia H. Siu it is at this
juncture that the concept of the individual is brought
to an “absolute value”, representing an idea, which
was diametrically opposed to Chinese tradition.  Jia
Yi, writing in 1916 sets forth a view, which later
came to be crystallized in the May Fourth Movement. He
saw the individual as an entity, which strove for
self-actualization. It was the role of social
institutions to support such striving, but
traditionally they had prohibited the individual’s
growth.  Jia Yi as well as the May Fourth            
                                                     

Movement in general saw the appropriation of the
principles of individualism, based in western
Enlightenment theory, as being the only prerequisite
for China’s survival in the modern world. 

Philosophers diverged greatly in the west on theories
of individualism during the Enlightenment period.
There is a question as to what extent did these early
Chinese theorists consider the divergent elements of
western thought. I shall not venture in this avenue
here, but by considering the manifestation that
individualism took in Chinese literary work of the
time, we may receive some clue as to whether or not
they appropriated subjectivity in a way that fit their
own intended designs.           

As early as 1907 Lu Xun sought an argument that
equated the national demise, since the end of Qing
dynasty, with the repression of the individual. He
than applied this in works of literature. To do so he
had to borrow heavily from the literary craft found in
literature of the west.  Lu Xun produced a number of
texts, which were written in the first person. At the
time such literary constructions were innovations in
China. Fredric Jameson, a leading exponent of
post-structuralist theory, sees that subjectivity is
absent in texts or stories from pre-modern societies.
Allegories of the individual in such societies are
symbolic to reality of the greater community, acting
in a way, which is similar, or the same to myth. By
writing in the first person, Lu Xun, as well as other
writers of the May Fourth Movement could divorce the
character of the story from the fabric the Chinese
social structure, which dominated pre-modern China,
namely kinship and the patriarchal fold. Lu Xun, using
the first person, began a dialogue between the
individual and tradition. This can be exemplified by
Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman.  Lu Xun’s work gives a
clear picture as to how the concept of the individual
was taken up and incorporated by the May Fourth
Movement for political exigencies.  How removed where
these works form the reality of the common folk? 

                                                     
  
There were efforts to bridge the gap between the
intellectual work of this period and the reality of
the wider public. Lydia H. Liu points out that Lu Xun,
in the 1920s, discarded his conception of the
individual which was based on May Fourth readings of
Enlightenment theory to investigate a literature
oriented towards the average person, the pingmin. It
is difficult to see how such turns of discourse would
include the average person when the majority of the
population at that time resided in a rural peasant
reality and had little time beyond endeavors of
sustenance.  So, it is not surprising to see that the
concept of the individual was attacked in the waning
years of the May Fourth Movement.

In 1922 Deng Fei huang articulates a critique of
individualism, which cast the individual as bourgeois,
hence signaling the demise of the efforts to place
individualism into a Chinese modernity. Before him
Wang Xinggong drew up an argument, which paved the
ontological foundation for a new view of subjectivity
by denouncing the existence of the individual. In his
argument the individual was an entity determined by
the material world. This placed the importance of
society over that of the individual. Though, in
keeping with the anti-traditionalist tone of the May
Fourth Movement, Wang put much of the blame on ancient
Confucian ideas for fostering an emphasis that
elevated the individual.  Wang was to be followed by
Chen Duxiu’s assault on individualism as a “socially
irresponsible, nihilistic idea”(Barlow, 105) Chen also
maintained an anti- traditionalism as he saw the
ontological ideas of Taoism in Loa Zi and Zhuang Zi to
have been oriented toward the individual.

The ideas presented by Deng, Wang and Chen, preface
the political climate that gives rise to the Communist
Party. As will be seen below, the anti-traditionalism
survives the May Fourth Movement during the communist
period, and is a theme that returns to the fore in the
scholarly enlightenment discussions of the 1980’s.
But before jumping to the recent past we must look at
a formation of the modern that was quite outside of,
but contemporaneous to the scholarly discourse of the
May Fourth Movement.   

Nationalist urban industrial development, east meets
west fashion, and a newly found emphasis on the public
person in urban Shanghai and other cities, enveloped
the time, which saw the May Fourth Movement come and
go. This modern reality emerged vicariously in the
coastal urban remains of the colonial period.  Many of
the modern urban attributes, which had made up
modernity’s image in the west sprung up in Shanghai
and other cities. “…through media like newspapers,
professions like writing, banker, businessman, and
disciplines like urban planning and social criticism,
urban China did help produce a growing consciousness
of being modern and Chinese”(Wen-Hsin Yeh, 99). An
amalgam of east and west was displayed in the
architectural structures that covered the urban
terrain as well as the fashion of dress that clothed
the growing urban populace. A printed culture of
product packaging, advertising, and media accompanied
the increasing emphasis on personal hygiene, which was
to prepare the individual for a new public space. A
new popular culture, which came to be part of this new
public space, was the sight of commodified images of
women, as well as a consumer market for western goods.
The Nationalist government initiated a planned
development of industry and economy, which came to be
an admixture of public enterprises and private
industries. This urban modernity grew to include more
then a cloistered scholarly elite, who debated and
plotted a western idealist modernity for China, which
may have been based on a narrow reading of the grand
narrative of western modernity.

The Communist Revolution was a project of modernity
founded on the Soviet communist model. Focus was
applied to the engineering of society based on science
and industrial technology. It was also the means for
moving beyond China’s feudal past. Early on the
Revolution took a seriously hostile stance towards
tradition, seeing it as an obstacle to modernization.
As the policies of collectivization took hold a storm
of destruction changed the social landscape leaving
little of tradition remaining. It must be said that
there are arguments that state certain traditional
forms were able to find expression in the new
structures created by the Revolution. This I do not
doubt, for much evidence supports the statement. Below
I shall focus on the elements that could not find
expression in the new socialist climate. 
 

Since the majority of China’s population was rural
based the Communist Revolution moved from the cities
to the countryside. Collectivization and land reform
was implemented altering the traditional structures of
family and community.   The redistribution of land
eliminated the private holdings of lineage property.
Ancestor halls and structures of lineage worship were
converted to schools or other public places. The
dubbing of folk religion as ‘feudal superstition’ made
the practice of worship illegal, hence destroying a
tradition social formation. Temples were
systematically razed.

The reforms implemented in the era after Mao brought
an end to this state sponsored suppression of
tradition. Lineage groups where reestablished to a
significant extent, becoming a featured trait of rural
areas again. This happened as the overseas Chinese
helped finance their revival, and lineage property was
returned to lineage groups.  Folk religion worship was
also revived, especially in the southern coastal
region of Fujian. According to Kenneth Dean who has
done research in the Xinghua region of Fujian
“Beginning in 1979, an extraordinary renaissance of
reinvented traditional form of ritual activity has
transformed China, particularly rural China, still
home to three-quarters of its vast population.”(
Brooks/Frolic, 172).   With the Deng market reforms
there has been a reappearance of many traditional
elements, which had been suppressed during the
Communist Revolution. Traditions supposed incongruous
relation to modernity seems questionable in light of
the fact that the renewed presence of tradition since
the 1980s has not hindered the development of China’s
present modernization.  In spite of the revivals of
tradition during the Deng reforms hostility towards
China’s culture reappeared in the 1980s.

The Cultural Discussion represented a highly contested
discourse, which revisited some of the same issues
concerning tradition and national development that
predominated during the May Fourth Movement.  The
television series Heshang aired to a large viewing
population was to encapsulate the ideas of the
Cultural Discussion. Questions concerning the role of
tradition in

China’s failure to develop, and the role of opening up
to western influence for China’s survival prevailed.
What lead to the reemergence of the May Fourth
Movement’s agenda?  

The Post-Mao reforms were accomplished by the
political maneuvering of Deng Xioa Ping after Mao’s
death. At the Third Plenum of 1978 policies were
adopted to apply western techniques and economic
methodology to boost China’s ailing productive force.
In turn this would bring about the economic advances
in the coastal regions of the designated economic
zones. As standards of living increased, a middle
class would come to help spawn a popular culture,
which would become a very significant part of China’s
modern landscape by the mid 1990s. The Cultural
Discussion grew out of this socio-economic climate,
and came to straddle a period, when, in the late
1980s, the Deng reforms efficacy was questionable.   
    

The debates grew to engulf the greater of China’s
scholarly population as well as large numbers of
university students by the mid 1980s. In conferences
and at symposiums academics debated and discussed
modernization and culture. An early theme of these
discussions was China’s ancient tradition.  A number
of schools soon emerged, each putting forth different
analysis of China’s tradition, the divergent histories
of east and west, and modernity.  A great number of
books, translated from works in the western human
sciences, flooded China’s academic circles and student
population. Debates grew concerning Confucian
tradition, neo-Confucianism, scientific rationality,
as well as hermeneutics. The energy seemed to spiral
transforming the discussions into an incorporeal
debate, which transcended the social and economic
reality that had initiated them. The debates ebbed and
flowed throughout the 1980s as foreign capital
investment gave fuel to the transformations taking
place at the time,

The television series Heshang may be seen as
encapsulating the major themes, which ran through the
nuances of the Cultural Discussion. But if the
Discussion came to be transfixed by metaphysical
epistemology, and Heshang seemed loaded with
ambiguity, as some have pointed out, it may be quite
difficult to locate a theme.   According to Jing Wang
the Cultural Discussion took to “the incrimination of
culture”(Wang, 55) as a way to sublimate the
disapproval of the socialist authority and its efforts
at reform. Ann Anagnost presence the idea that perhaps
the television series was in fact a critique in crypt
of the socialist system and Party. Recalling
Levi-Strauss and his uncovering the of structural
coding of myth, she presents the possibility that the
series “announces the handiwork of the
bricoleur”(Befu, 66) creating from fragments a
concealed message, which goes unnoticed for a time.
Using tradition, as opposed to the political realm to
muster up support the Communist Party may have left
itself open to an attack such as the one possibly
presented by Heshang.

Leaving speculation aside, we see Heshang, pleated
with a critique of Chinese tradition, images of
western dominance, and an overall anxious sentiment
regarding China’s identity and future. It took to the
air in 1988 with the intent of “bringing intellectual
issues to the general public”(Su, Wang, 63). It called
for a reassessment of the historical status that, such
historical images as the Great Wall carry. The script
reads “…by the middle of the fifteenth century when
the Ming Dynasty reconstructed the Great Wall, it had
become an act altogether of failure and of
retreat”(Su, Wang, 127). The series deconstructed
pervasive symbols of Chinese identity, such as the
dragon, which was only to be reconstructed as a
tempest that represents the authoritative rulers, who
have dominated China’s long history, and have stifled
the development of the individual and in turn Chinese
society. It seems clear enough that the themes running
through the television series is quite consistent with
the themes of the Cultural Discussion, which call for
“blanket condemnation of tradition”(Wang, 55) and the
adoption of western principles to engineer a break
with what Jin Guantao saw as the ‘ultra-stable
structure’, which has resulted from Chinese society’s
ability to “dissolve the subversive forces”(Wang, 58).

The grand narrative of the Enlightenment did not
survive the government’s severe crackdown of the
Tainanmen Square demonstration in 1989, which followed
a year after the broadcast of Heshang. Was this
crackdown another example of the ultra-stable
structure dissolving subversive elements? Perhaps it
could be interpreted as such, but in another light it
may demonstrate how China is creating its own
modernity. Rapid economic growth in China has brought
immense change, most notably a rising middle class in
which demand for liberties, are placated by a newly
emergent consumer market.

If one looks at states, which are culturally Chinese,
such as Taiwan and Singapore, one can see that Chinese
tradition has molded much of the way that these States
have embraced capitalism as well as modernity. In such
States one sees that capital markets are carefully
controlled.  Authoritarian rule allows little room for
democracy. Values of collectivism and duty resemble
Confucian principles rather than Enlightenment
principles. China together with the neighboring
ethnically Chinese states is creating a
reconfiguration of modernity, which is an amalgam of
capitalist qualities and Chinese characteristics.

In this light we see that Chinese modernity is
extended beyond the boundaries of the PRC to include
overseas Chinese. This features importantly in that
Chinese tradition was kept alive in such communities
during the repressive decades before the Deng reforms.
The presence of Confucian principles in the
social-economic structure of Singapore is quite
salient. According to Aihwa Ong, herself part of the
overseas Chinese community, “Singapore has most
thoroughly institutionalized Confucian values and
practices both within and outside the State”(Moore,
80)                            

In considering the May Fourth Movement, the Communist
Revolution and the Cultural Discussion of the 1980s,
in what way can one view the failure of each to
promote their conceptions of how China should embrace
modernity? Perhaps failure rests in the inimical
posture that these movements took towards all that is
culturally indigenous to China. The binary views of
east and west, communism and capitalism, and of modern
and traditional must be call into question if one is
to understand the central role modernity has had, and
continues to have in shaping contemporary China.
 

Bibliography

Barlow, Tani E. (Ed).  (1997). Formations of Colonial
Modernity in East Asia. Duke University Press.

Befu, Harumi. (Ed).  (1993). Cultural Nationalism in
East Asia.  Berkeley, California: Institute of East
Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Brook, Timothy and B. Michael Frolic. (Ed).  (1997).
Civil Society in China. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe.

Davis, Deborah and Steven Harrell. (Ed).  (1993).
Chinese Families in the Post Mao Era.  London,
England
: University of California Press.

Habermas, Jurgen. (1987).  The Philosophical Discourse
on Modernity.   London, England: Polity   

Liu, Kang and Xiaobing Tang. (Ed).  (1993). Politics,
Ideology and Literary Discourse in Modern   China.
Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Moore, H.L.. (Ed.) (1996).  The Future of
Anthropological Knowledge.  London , England:
Routledge.  

Phillips, Richard T. (1996).  China Since 1911.
London, England: Macmillan Press Ltd.

Su, Xiaokang and Luziang Wang. (1991).  Deathsong of
the River, A Readers Guide to the Chinese TV Series.
Ithaca, New York: East Asian Program, Cornell
University.

Wang, Jing. (1996).  High Culture Fever, Politics,
Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China.  Berkeley,
California
:  University of California Press.

Wen, Hsin Yeh. (Ed)  (2000).  Becoming Chinese,
Passages to Modernity and Beyond. Berkeley,
California
: University of California Press.

Zhang, Xudong. (1997).  Chinese Modernism in the Era
of Reforms.  Durham, North Carolina: Duke University
Press.

         
Cited Works:
Aihwa Ong. (1996).  Anthropology, China and
Modernities: The Geopolitics of Cultural Knowledge. In
Moore, H. L. The Future of Anthropological Knowledge.
London, England. Routledge.   

Anagnost, Ann. (1996).  Cultural Nationalism and
Chinese Modernity.   In Befu Harumi. Cultural
Nationalism in East Asian. London, England:  Routledge
  

Dean, Kenneth. (1997).  Ritual Space, Civil Society
and Popular Religion?  In Brook, Timothy and
             B. Michael Frolic. Civil Society and
China.  Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Habermas, Jurgen. (1987).  Introduction: Modernity’s
Consciousness of Time.  In The Philosohical Discourse
of Modernity. Oxford, England: Polity

Siu, H. Lydia. (1997).  Translingual Practice: The
discourse of individualism between China and
             the West. In Barlow. Tani. E.  Formations
of Colonial Modernity in East Asia. Durham, North
Carolina
: Duke University Press

Strand. David. (2000).  “A High Place is not better
than a Low Place”: The City in the Making of Modern
China.  In Wen-Hsin Yeh.   Becoming Chinese, Passages
to Modernity and Beyond.  Berkeley California.
University of California Press.

Su. Xiaokang, and Luxiang Wang. (1991)  Deathsong of
the River, A Readers Guide to the TV Series Heshang
Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. East Asian
Studies Program.

Wang, Jing. (1996).  High Culture Fever. The Cultural
Disscussion in the Mid-1980s and the Politics of
Methodologies.  High Culture Fever. Berkeley
California. University of California Press.        

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Negotiating Gender in Modern China, Western Feminism and Tradition in China

Since the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China the conditions for women have improved in material, legal and social terms.    Legal and social advances for women began with a marriage law in 1950, which put an end to such traditional practices as arranged marriage, polygamy, the sale of daughters, childhood betrothal and concubinage, while an expanded experience beyond the domestic sphere, which traditionally women had been confined to1, became a reality for women, as they were encouraged to move into the labor force as equals to men. Educational opportunities and vocational training that had traditionally been shut to women became areas in which women were encouraged to join. The constitution has continually remained inclusive towards women’s rights and gender equality. In the 1980s a series of regulations called for health care facilities, childcare centers, and other women related initiatives to provide for mothers and pregnant women in the work place ( Woo, 1994 ), while crimes of rape, incitation of prostitution, and female abduction became offences that could lead to capital punishment. (Yang, 1999)  These advances have taken place over the decades since the 1950, and though they have not sprung in an even progression, overall, women have seen more security and opportunity in the rural communes, the urban collectives, and within society since market reforms than they had experienced in traditional China2. Mayfair Yang has stated that in legal terms “…China may be better than the United States, since the Equal Rights Amendment to include a gender provision in the U.S. Constitution never passed, despite heavy lobbying by American feminists.”( Yang, 37 ).  In China’s case lobbying may seem not necessary, since the Chinese Communist Party has legally provided for equality in regards to gender during much of its existence (Croll, 1978), but one must not assume that the state’s inclusion of feminist concerns, even to the point of constitutional ‘guarantees’, will automatically translate into a liberation of women.   

Despite the explicit laws and consistent rhetoric, the People’s Republic of China has had a complex and often contradictory association with the concept of women’s liberation. Where laws have been instituted in regards to gender equality they were more than often not easily incorporated into the lives of people and community. We shall see that such concerns of western feminists in the PRC have been encumbered by problems of a contextual nature. First, by considering the early Marriage Law of 1950, when the PRC first embarked on their quest of equal rights for women in the newly formed communist republic, feminist concerns came to be subsumed under the class struggle while the traditionally male dominated power structures were never addressed. The traditional patriarchal structure was instrumental to the government in collectivization leaving little room for its displacement. This spelled of a tenuous commitment to women’s issues by the male dominated Chinese Communist Party. Second, with the Cultural Revolution gender “became an unmarked and neutralized category…” (Yang, 41 ) as women moved into more male positions, and femininity was de-emphasized, such salient neutrality of gender masked a reality in which women were burdened by housework as they entered outside work. Thirdly, in recent decades Mayfair Yang states “a more overt patriarchal culture has reasserted itself with the return to a privatized economy and transnational capital in the post-Mao era” ( Yang, 39 ). The contradictory effects of the reform era are seen in the new gains as well as new oppressions, such as new work place discriminations, and the reemergence of traditional patterns of the past ( White, Howell, Shang, 1996 ).  We hope to make clear that the feminist agenda of the PRC has been fraught with perhaps the same problem as has come to be associated with China’s attempts at modernity3, namely a contextual barrier that encompasses China’s own uniqueness in historical and cultural terms. As Parish and White stated in there pioneering book on urban China (1984) “ The cultural context in which this effort [gender equality] is being carried out…is one most observers would argue is quite challenging to any quest for sexual equality.”   

What has been absent in China is a slow unfolding of feminist consciousness, in which women themselves become aware of gendered inequities, leading to an incomplete and tenuous result. As we discuss the presence of western feminism in China the larger question of modernity shall be eventually brought forth only as it impinges on the topic at hand in hopes that it will highlight the contextual problematic which we hope to uncover, namely that the power structure of patriarchy as well as patterns of the past, both deriving from a contextual milieu made up of historical and cultural underpinnings, seem to have obstructed successes in regards to a the communist endeavor at gender equality.  

China’s initial engagement with feminism was not an historical and cultural development in which women consciously became aware of gendered inequities, rather it was the imposition of a western concept onto a largely uneducated peasant society. According to Li Xiao Jiang, “a new ideology of Western learning consciously introduced by Chinese intellectuals.….came from the Enlightenment, the product of capitalist industrial civilization and the French Revolution.” ( Li/Yang, 266 ). This took place at the turn of the century when intellectuals took issue with feudal tradition in the face of a comparatively advanced west. Male intellectuals took up women’s issues under the pretense of nationalism. The Education act 1907 sought to bring education to women as it was thought, “…the good education of the citizens of the empire depended upon the good education of its women.” (Croll 53 ), here ‘citizens’ is synonymous with men. During the first half of the twentieth century women’s issues were subsumed under a male political and intellectual quests for national strengthening and nation building, where as in the west alterations of the political and cultural landscape over time gave rise to a societal fertility in which feminism consciousness was able to take root. 

 In the west the emergence of feminist consciousness was dependent on the development of individualism and freedom as the feudal power structures receded, and the political landscape was greatly altered. George Simmel, who traces the emergence of individuality as it grew out of a receding feudal power structure,  “The conscious emphasis on individuality as a matter of principle certainly does seem to have been the original accomplishment of the Renaissance” ( Simmel, 217 ).  The very rise the individual during the Renaissance was tainted with strivings for ‘distinction’ and ‘self aggrandizement’, but by the eighteenth century individualism had matured into the ideal of freedom.  In the eighteenth century “ the feudal powers, the church, the prince and the nobility who where the carriers of the repressive publicness disintegrated …” ( Habermas, 11 ).  Simmel makes a similar observation that “The oppressiveness of such institutions [ paternalism, higher estates, the church] which had lost their intrinsic justification gave rise to the ideal of pure freedom for the individual.” ( Simmel, 219)  In regards to China one must question whether a western feminism, or a feminism at all, can properly place itself within a society where power structures have not been altered to the degree as they have been in the west.  

Traditionally, in China the family has ontologically definedä ones existence, meaning there has been little or no space  present for an individuality4. Lucian Pye states that “From early childhood Chinese are taught that individualism is evil…and that security can be found only by sticking to the assigned roles in the collective.” ( Pye, 199-200 ) Defined as an economic unit the family, representing the collective, has traditionally been made up of people who are related through sanguine ties, bbbmarriage and adoption. The involvement in shared common property, as well as shared consumption also delimited the membership of a family. This collective was held together by the patriline, the linage system in which males are the threads connecting generations through time, and where a male offspring was absent such a line was in jeopardy of dying off. An interdependency of reciprocity between the living and the deceased cemented the structure in a cosmology of ancestor spirits dependent on the living for offerings, while spirits favorably affected circumstances for the living. Ideally, the family under one roof consisted of multiple generations with the oldest living male as the head, subsequent son with wives, and beyond that grandsons and perhaps their wives and children. The ideal extended family was more the exception than the rule, where as the joint family and the conjugal family were more prevalent, for economic constraints limited the family. It is in this family structure held together lineally through time by the patriline that has been the primary contributing factor to the subjugation of women throughout China’s history. ää  By ontological reality being the nature of existence in which the individual was found in traditional China, which extended beyond the cultural and social.   

Women’s subjugation by the patrilinial power structure gave them no rights of their own, save for the right to marry, and provide childbirth. In such a structure they were looked upon as being mere property destined for relocation from their natal family to that of another as wives, concubines, or children for betrothal or laborers. Women’s contributions to their original family were seen as being near to nothing in “the way of enhancing their [familiy] state status, increasing their wealth, or providing for their care in old age.” (Wolf, 1). Hugh Baker portrays the crudeness of such a structure by stating that “The family was a residential and economic unit composed of males….forced to import women as brides, and it disposed of females born to it by marrying them off to other families”( Baker, 24 ). Marriage was patrilocal and as Stacey points out, such a right to marriage “may appear in retrospect as her right to be enslaved.” (Stacey, 52 )  Tamara Jacka states that traditional marriage practices meant that women were temporal members of their natal family prior to marriage and after marriage they would become outsiders (Jacka, 1997 ) Fertility had traditionally always been seen as a women’s primary purpose, which directly tied her to the patriline of which she was not a part, as she was expected to give birth to a son who could carry on the lineage. In pre-revolutionary China women were simply accessories to the patriarchal order, which subordinated them to the service of the order.    

In 1950 the PRC began a process which “collapsed the boundaries between public and domestic spheres…diminished the patriarchal family power to a certain extent through replacing the family units with collectives units as the basic unit of production and accounting” ( Yang, 38 ), but according to Judith Stacy these processes of reform and collectivization democratized patriarchy in the peasant and middle class population in the effort of eliminating the patriarchal elite. Perhaps more importantly the reform process  “secured” this new democratized patriarchy’s presence in Chinese society for decades to come5, leaving the power structure intact at the familial and local levels. As a basis for establishing cooperatives the Chinese Communist government used the family, and Stacey is certain to state that this was the “patriarchal family unit”. Referring to the peasant households which made the decision to join the collectivization process, she states “Peasant patriarchs who made this decision did not forfeit much family authority in the process.” Drawing on the study of Norma Diamond, Stacy indicates that efforts at promoting cooperative movements the Chinese Communists “Relied on the ‘natural’ relationships and communities” ( Stacey, 211 ) by utilizing the ties of lineage “to socialize the rural sector”. It was to be within the matrix of the existing villages and neighborhoods that cooperative production units would be formed. Again drawing on Diamond, Stacey asserts that “collectivization strengthened networks of cooperating male kinsmen” who would ascend to the positions of leadership hence complementing the “newly won collective economic power” ( Stacey, 211 ). One of the more concrete examples of this is the work points scheme in which ownership rights to dwellings, small plots for gardening, minor livestock holdings remained in the hands of the individual families, allowing for “a crucial portion of subsistence production” ( Stacy, 206). Interdependency amongst the family members was encouraged through the collective totaling of work points and incomes, all of which went to the patriarchal household head.  

An example of the tenacious hold of the patriarchal power structure, as well as the weak resolve of the party’s commitment to gender equality is seen in partial questionable success of the Marriage Law of 1950, which was to ushered in a new era for women as the state legally endorsed privileges of divorce, as well as the abolition of the traditional practices of arranged and bartered marriages, concubinage, and the sale of daughters for betrothal. The state succeeded in eliminating the two latter practices, but such efforts at equalizing gender through the Marriage Law did not achieve the intended results in the way of   privileges for divorce. The lineage structure maintained a hold on marriage practices to an extent. Women, who opted for divorce, come up against family, community as well as cadre. Margery Wolf states Newspapers from the 50s and 60s document “young women beaten or tortured by their husbands’ families for loose behavior…” when attempting to exercise their right for divorce. Stacy points out that men viewed such divorces as threats which resulted in the loss of their property and wives, in that women could gain property rights and leave their husbands. Three years after the law had been in place the situation had not improved and the government “ ..wind down its active implementation of the law and …stressing instead the importance of harmonious families as the foundation of the socialist order..” (Bailey, 158 ). Women came to be portrayed as bourgeois and individualistic if seeking to end a marriage in divorce. This clearly points to a patriarchal resistance to changes, which were to undermine their power. Such power was to be assimilated into the revolution as the government sought to implement collectivization shortly after completing land reform.  The shifting of policy and manipulation of the gender issue exemplified above has became a defining signature to ‘state sponsored feminism’ in the PRC6. 

In the past two decades since the post-Mao reforms were implemented the state has continued it’s empty commitment to gender equality, and this is exhibited in the contradictions for women which have evolved since market reforms. Ongoing legislation has attempted to insure the protection of women, in regards to fertility, in the work place, and with the market reforms new job opportunities for women beckon them from the countryside to the more desirable urban centers. The new job opportunities for women are primarily due to the rise of the market economy, while at the same time the government plays no part in protecting women from being the first to be sacrificed in the workplace as inefficient state owned enterprises are reduced in size or eliminated.  Concerning the protection of women in the workplace, according to Margaret Woo, these protections point to a new defining of women on biological terms and has easily lead to discriminations based on biology. Such a new reality contrasts sharply with the era prior to market reforms, which saw gender differentiation de-emphasized. To understand such shifts one needs only to look at the previous era beginning with the Cultural Revolution to understand the surge in the recognition of a naturalized conceptualization of woman, for it was in the Mao era that China’s population was subject to a grand imposition of a genderless and desexualized social sphere.     

During the Cultural Revolution femininity was discouraged in favor of what was to be a ‘neutral’ territory of gender, but was actually to be based on maleness, which saw women conform to the male standards of work and appearance by adopting male clothes and joining the traditional arena of male labor.  Women cut their hair short and wore baggy clothes so as to mask their feminine bodies. Entering the ranks of male workers women at the extreme were seen as Iron Girls who engaged in the more rugged physical labor areas, such as oil fields, but overall women joined in factory work and most notably took on farming. The irony in this supposed equality was that as women joined the ranks of male labor in an effort for equality, one did not see men alleviating or sharing in the burdens of household work, which led to a double burden for the women who ventured into labor beyond the household. Homemaking was quite onerous for women in China at the time as the lack of modern household appliances, the long queues for purchases, and the maintenance of coal stoves made household labor quite extensive (Whyte and Parish,1984 ).  Mayfair Yang sees that Cultural Revolution’s ‘gender erasure’ cloaked a reality which saw women absent from the “higher levels of decision making positions” ( Yang, 43 ). Power structures of male domination remained intact. Women accounted for only 11 percent of the Central Committee and 4 percent of the politburo by 1977. (Whyte and Parish, 1984 ) During the Cultural Revolution the rhetoric of gender equality remained the same and was even heightened through ‘gender erasure’, but this resulted in a mere ornamental facade that hid the reality of inequity and male political dominance. Most importantly, such a de-emphasis on sexual difference caused gender to disappear as a visible arena of discourse. ( Yang, 1999 )   

Though not truly remedying inequality, in retrospect the gender erasure did have a profound impact on the society at large and this is only certain now in the era of reform. Lisa Rofel describes what she calls the ‘post socialist allegory’ as a naturalization of gender, which represents a creating and redefining of the feminine after its suppression. According to Rofel naturalization is encountered in much of Chinese society today, from employment practices and government policy to social entitlements, television programming and other media such as magazines and popular fiction. Commercialization and market forces have brought the image of a sexualized women into pervasive view. Mayfair Yang states that where as in the Mao period male power displaced the female, the post-Mao era male power is seen as defining  “the female by encouraging her to evaluate herself in her reflection in the male” ( Yang, 49 ).  Such  naturalizations and sexualizations are embraced by women as they seek to regain a lost subjectivity and Rofel sees that the state is far from complicity in that such naturlization serves to legitimate it’s decisions. The reappearance of sexual difference may be necessary for fertile discourse regarding gender equality, as Yang states that such a reality is ‘disturbing and liberating’. As the state sees feminist concerns as being an accomplished fact, new space is opening for women independent of the state to voice their concerns.  

In the policy that appeared in the 1980s the government has sought to protect women in the workplace in regards to female biology. In 1986 the government put into law healthcare regulations, and in 1988 they created the Labor Protection Regulation. The intent of these regulations “were to protect women’s health-meaning their reproductive capabilities-and to ‘enhance the quality of the nation’” ( Woo, 281 ). These regulations according to Margaret Woo echo the traditional Chinese medical view that women are weak because of their reproductive function, hence they are in need of special protections. These regulations concern limiting women’s activity during menstruation7, pregnancy and postpartum. Woo sees these regulations as leading to discriminations, as she states  “When faced with providing protective benefits, some factory managers simply chose not to hire women workers. Such gendered based employment practices are only reinforced by the new market reforms, as profit becomes the new mantra in the era of reforms. ( White, Howell, Shang ) 

 

ConclusionMayfair Yang notes that in China between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries external constructs where not able to penetrate deeply and so did not alter traditional culture fundamental core.” ( Yang, 16 ) for there existed more continuity between traditional culture, which was ‘more intact’(than the west’s), and China’s past.  One can propose that such a condition did not allow feminism to ‘penetrate’ during the second half of the twentieth century. Broadening our scope one must speak of modernity as encompassing feminism. In this light Yang does not see the entrenchment of tradition as being carried into the twentieth century. Arguing against Nick Dirks, who sees modernity as being an ‘imposed or extrinsic process rather than an intrinsic process” hence leading to an unfinished or incomplete modernity vis a vis feminism, Yang states that the ‘reformers and revolutionaries’ of China ‘internalized aspects of colonialism …” and saw themselves as “liberators of China from its oppressive tradition…” (Yang/Moore, 105). This must include the idea that these are also ‘liberators’ of women from the very same oppressive tradition, as exemplified by the early twentieth century male intellectual attempts to tie women’s liberation with national strengthening. In her article Tradition, traveling anthropology and the discourse of modernity in China, Yang state that the Maoist revolution destroyed tradition, but according to Stacey’s account of patriarchy we see that tradition was not destroyed. By bringing this argument to bare upon the question at hand, that of western feminism in China , we have seen that such a “rooting out” of tradition or “stripping of culture” was not completely accomplished. Yang is mistaken in her belief that tradition has been ‘overcome’, for it is the contextual fabric which has made feminism in China a difficult and tenuous concept. What we see instead is a collaboration between the effort at socialist modernization and elements of tradition (Stacey, 1984 ), namely patriarchy.  In the post-Mao era something new is taking place as state, and citizens correct the wrongs of the past in a naturalization of gender differentiation. Such a post-socialist allegory, according to Rofel, is an attempt at reaching “modernity …by producing the kinds of people who can embrace the attributes that appear to constitute modern selves.” (Rofel, 220) In the west during the 1800s a sexually dimorphic conception of gender was inordinately emphasized allowing for critical appraisal of the ‘naturalized binary gender’ and eventually moving in the direction of a less defined gender ordering (Yang, 1999). Is it only through the stress on the dimorphism of naturalized gender in the post-Mao era that the underlying causes of women’s oppression can come to the fore? Mayfair Yang puts the question quite correctly when she asks “what gender is the state” and quoting Kenneth Dean and Brian Massumi she says “The state apparatus … is gendered: it is masculine. State desire is by nature patriarchal.” ( Yang, 65 )  Is not patriarchy tradition?   

1 Traditionally in China women’s space had regional variations, and these variations depended on economic necessity, class, as well as ethnicity. For instance, Hakka women where included to a greater extent in fieldwork, and in the south women engaged in such cultivation as tea and sericulture. In more wealthy peasant families women’s space did not much extend beyond the domestic sphere.   (Jacka, 1997)   

 2 In this paper ‘traditional China’ indicates pre republican era, and more so pre-revolutionary era, for the republican era did not thoroughly alter the cultural landscape as did communism after 1950.  Basically, traditional China is indicative of the feudal and imperial ordering of Chinese society before western political concepts (republicanism, socialism, capitalism, and nationalism) were to significantly to take hold beginning in the late Ch’ing period and progressively so through the first half of the twentieth century. Throughout this paper the use of pre-revolutionary China and traditional China shall be synonymously applied.        

 3 In his article A Failed Chinese Modernity Edward Friedman discusses the failed anti-imperialist nationalist modernity of the Mao era. The Great Culture Discussions and the program Heshang highlight the questionable effectiveness of the Post-Mao modernity in the 1980s. Aihwa Ong in here article  Anthropology, China, and Modernities speaks about a possible new modernity emerging on China’s own historic and cultural terms to include ‘state sponsored Confucian renewal’, and which takes nothing from ‘western political philosophy, ie: democracy.       

3 In his article A Failed Chinese Modernity Edward Friedman discusses the failed anti-imperialist nationalist modernity of the Mao era. The Great Culture Discussions and the program Heshang highlight the questionable effectiveness of the Post-Mao modernity in the 1980s. Aihwa Ong in here article  Anthropology, China, and Modernities speaks about a possible new modernity emerging on China’s own historic and cultural terms to include ‘state sponsored Confucian renewal’, and which takes nothing from ‘western political philosophy, ie: democracy.       

4 The concept of individualism was appropriated by Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the century through what Lydia H. Siu has coined as translingual migration. Via Japan modern concepts such as ‘subjectivity’ and ‘individuality’, as well as ‘religion’ were translated from the Japanese. In this way we see that ideas and concepts, which China had previously been devoid of, were brought into China for the particular purpose of national formation and self-strengthening by intellectuals. 

5 In the epilog to Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China Stacey discusses the effects of the Four Modernizations and the one child policy on the patriarchal order. The rural urban differences as well as regional differences, and the relaxed posture that the government has taken towards lineages makes patriarchy and kinship based associations to have an uneven distribution in China today. None the less lineages and patriarchal dominance can be seen in the county side, particularly in the south, where as  urban life has not been conducive to lineages, or there reformation. 

6 In the 1950s, women were encouraged to remain in the home, due to a labor surplus. In the late 1950s the state sought to increase the ranks of women in non-domestic labor, and the largest increase came during the Cultural Revolution. In the initial post-Mao era women were discouraged to join the work force. Such policies ebbed and flowed with the market and other issues not related to women’sequality.( Jacka, Woo )      

7  In traditional China women were strictly regulated during menstruation as they were seen as being associated with pollutions and could potentially ruin crops. ( Wolf, Stacey )  BIBLIOGRAPHYBailey, Paul J.  (2001)   China in the Twentieth Century   Blackwell, Massachusetts Baker, Hugh   (1979)  Chinese Family and Kinship, Columbia University Press Croll, Elizabeth  (1978)  Feminism and Socialism in China  Routledge and Kegan, London Entwistle, Barbra and Gail Henderson (Ed.)  (2000)  Re-Drawing Boundaries,  University of California PressFriedman, Edward  (1993)  A Failed Chinese Modernity in Tu Wei-ming  (ed.)   (1993)   China in Transformation,  Harvard University Press Gilmartin, Christina K. Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White (ed.)   (1994)  Engendering China: Women, Culture and the State, Harvard University Press Habermas, Jurgen  (1989)  The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere,  Polity Press, Cambridge         Habermas, Jurgen  (1987)  The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity  MIT Press,     Massachusetts Jacka, Tamara   (1997)   Women’s Work in Rural China, University of Cambridge Press    Li Xiaojiang   (1999)  With What Discourse Do We Reflect on Chinese Women  in Yang, Mayfare  (1999) Spaces of Their Own   University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Liu, Lydia, (1995)  Transligual Practices  Stanford University Press Stanford   Moore, Henrietta   (ed.)  (1996)   The Future of Anthropological Knowledge, Routlege    Ong, Aihwa (1996)    Anthropology, China and modernities, The Geographics of Cultural Knowledge in Moore, Henrietta   (ed.)  (1996)   The Future of Anthropological Knowledge, Routlege    Parish, William and Martin Whyte  (1984)  Urban Life in Contemporary China, University of Chicago             Press  Pye, Lucian W.  (1992)  The Spirit of Chinese Politics (new ed.), Harvard University Press Riencourt, Amaury de  (1983)  Women and Power in History   Pitman Press   Rofel, Lisa  (1999)   Other Modernities,  University of California Press.     Simmel, George    (1971) On Individuality and Social Form The University of Chicago Press     Tu Wei-ming  (ed.)   (1993)   China in Transformation,  Harvard University Press  Stacy, Judith  (1983)  Patriarchy and the Socialist Revolution in China  University of California Press    Berkeley  White, Gordon, Judy Howell and Xiaoyuan Shang   (1996)  In Search of Civil Society: Market Reforms and Social Change in Contemporary China, Clarendon Press, Oxford  Wolf, Margery   (1985)    Revolution Postponed , Stanford University Press Stanford  Woo, Margaret   (1994)  Chinese Women Workers: The Delicate Balance between Protection and Equality in Gilmartin, Christina K. Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White (ed.)   (1994)  Engendering China: Women, Culture and the State, Harvard University Press    Wong, Linda and Norman Flynn   (2001)  The Market in Chinese Social Policy  Palgrave New York                Yang, Mayfare  (1999)  From Gender Erasure to Gender Difference: State Feminism, Consumer                 Sexuality, and Women’s Public Space  In Yang, Mayfare  (1999)  Spaces of Their Own              University of Minnesota, Minneapolis              


marks from paper:1 Traditionally in China women’s space had regional variations, and these variations depended on economic necessity, class, as well as ethnicity. For instance, Hakka women where included to a greater extent in fieldwork, and in the south women engaged in such cultivation as tea and sericulture. In more wealthy peasant families women’s space did not much extend beyond the domestic sphere.   (Jacka, 1997)   

2 In this paper ‘traditional China’ indicates pre republican era, and more so pre-revolutionary era, for the republican era did not thoroughly alter the cultural landscape as did communism after 1950.  Basically, traditional China is indicative of the feudal and imperial ordering of Chinese society before western political concepts (republicanism, socialism, capitalism, and nationalism) were to significantly to take hold beginning in the late Ch’ing period and progressively so through the first half of the twentieth century. Throughout this paper the use of pre-revolutionary China and traditional China shall be synonymously applied.        

    

3 In his article A Failed Chinese Modernity Edward Friedman discusses the failed anti-imperialist nationalist modernity of the Mao era. The Great Culture Discussions and the program Heshang highlight the questionable effectiveness of the Post-Mao modernity in the 1980s. Aihwa Ong in here article  Anthropology, China, and Modernities speaks about a possible new modernity emerging on China’s own historic and cultural terms to include ‘state sponsored Confucian renewal’, and which takes nothing from ‘western political philosophy, ie: democracy.       

ä By ontological reality being the nature of existence in which the individual was found in traditional China, which extended beyond the cultural and social.

4 The concept of individualism was appropriated by Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the century through what Lydia H. Siu has coined as translingual migration. Via Japan modern concepts such as ‘subjectivity’ and ‘individuality’, as well as ‘religion’ were translated from the Japanese. In this way we see that ideas and concepts, which China had previously been devoid of, were brought into China for the particular purpose of national formation and self-strengthening by intellectuals. 

5 In the epilog to Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China Stacey discusses the effects of the Four Modernizations and the one child policy on the patriarchal order. The rural urban differences as well as regional differences, and the relaxed posture that the government has taken towards lineages makes patriarchy and kinship based associations to have an uneven distribution in China today. None the less lineages and patriarchal dominance can be seen in the county side, particularly in the south, where as  urban life has not been conducive to lineages, or there reformation.   

6 In the 1950s, women were encouraged to remain in the home, due to a labor surplus. In the late 1950s the state sought to increase the ranks of women in non-domestic labor, and the largest increase came during the Cultural Revolution. In the initial post-Mao era women were discouraged to join the work force. Such policies ebbed and flowed with the market and other issues not related to women’sequality.( Jacka, Woo )      

7  In traditional China women were strictly regulated during menstruation as they were seen as being associated with pollutions and could potentially ruin crops. ( Wolf, Stacey