LAWRENCE – Before even creating a constitution, the first thing the victorious revolutionaries of the People’s Republic of China did was pass the new marriage law in 1950, give women equal rights and create a fundamentally feminist legal framework in relation to the patriarchal system of Confucianism that they had swept aside.
He was part of a 20e century of “socialist feminism,” which was itself one of many successive approaches to women’s empowerment that form the subject of the title of a new book co-created by a University of Kansas scholar.
“Feminisms with Chinese characteristics” (Syracuse University Press) was co-edited and co-authored by Hui “Faye” Xiao, professor of Chinese literature at the University of Kansas, and Ping Zhu, associate professor of Chinese literature at the University of Oklahoma.
They and their 10 co-authors in the United States, Europe, mainland China and Hong Kong retrace the trajectory of feminism from its first turmoil in modern China through the upheavals of Maoism, then over the past 40 years. and more post-socialism, or, as Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping has come to know, “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” It is this formulation that gives the book its point of view.
In fact, there have been so many twists and turns in the idea of Chinese feminism that Xiao said that the subject of her book chapter, The Exploited Migrant Domestic Worker who is also the famous author of the memoir “I Am Fan Yusu”, probably does. don’t want to be known as a feminist.
“She probably wouldn’t call herself a feminist,” Xiao said, “so it’s more about what she writes and the kind of subversive potential that her writing and the writings of other workers have. In China today, you have a revival of a conservative gender ideology that is endorsed and sponsored by the state. This is why sometimes feminism can be a very sensitive word.
Because the so-called “feminist NGOs” aligned with non-governmental organizations in recent years (1995 to present) have international ties, theories and funding, Xiao said, “they have become the target of the state surveillance ”.
How did Chinese society go from revering women revolutionary leaders like the mother of Yusu, a communist village leader in rural China during revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods, to today, where the figure of the woman is framed is a caricature of backwardness? As Xiao and her fellow authors explain (at least in broad outline), China shifted from nationalist feminism in the pre-Mao era to top-down socialist or state feminism in the early years of the United States. PRC, passing through the era of NGO feminism and finally landing on today’s “market feminism”.
“According to market feminism, these female executives were over-liberated and were living masculine lives,” Xiao said. “If they don’t have families, they’re not real women. … So it’s a lot about how to rediscover the feminine nature in women.
As for the term “market feminism,” said Xiao, “according to this theory, the feminine nature is expressed a lot by finding a unique and feminine lifestyle, and it is also the ability or ability to select appropriate products. to achieve these feminine goals. qualities. The emphasis is therefore on self-expression, personal development and individual fulfillment.
With this latest iteration of feminism and its “emphasis on rediscovering or restoring the true feminine nature of women,” said Xiao, “you can see the binary structure returning – male versus female and male versus female.” .
Xiao said that the scholars, writers, and activists who wrote the chapters throughout the book have sought to challenge all kinds of simplistic binary divisions that are embedded in all hierarchical and oppressive systems.
Xiao finds hope in the solidarity generated by the intersectional struggles of working women / writers like Fan Yusu and her colleagues from the Beijing Picun Literature Group in the Outer Suburbs, whom she met during a visit in 2019, through research grants from the KU Center for East Asian Studies and the American Philosophical Society.
“When they write their stories – when they find their voice to criticize structural inequalities at every stage of their life – I find it very empowering and very inspiring,” said Xiao. “I would call it popular feminism because it’s not about elites, famous people or celebrities. These are a lot of ordinary people and even socially marginalized groups. Their actions, their practices, their own words and stories weave into a network of feminist practices and also ideas to show us more possibilities.
“I’m trying to say that from what they’ve done… we might see new potential, new beacon of hope,” the KU researcher said. “You are now in this era of division and also of oppression. So it translates into this new hope, new potential for grassroots feminism on the part of ordinary people. “
Picture: Anti-sexual harassment action in a Chinese metro station. Credit: Chen Xiangqi