Engendering Modern Chinese History: New Approaches to Women and Gender in Late Qing and Republican China

AHA Session 227
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Lin Li, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Session Abstract

In “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” Joan Scott proposes that as an analytical tool, gender is “a primary way of signifying relationships of power.” Building upon Scott, Gail Hershatter and Wang Zheng criticize the tendency to define “gender” only in relation to Western experience and argue in “Chinese History: A Useful Category of Gender Analysis” that historical studies on China can complicate our understanding of “gender.” In light of Scott, Hershatter, and Wang, this panel consists of four historical studies that approach modern China through the lens of gender while analyzing gender within the context of modern China. Although existing scholarship has paid considerable attention to political and economic aspects of modern Chinese history, approaching modern China from the perspective of gender is a nascent field yet to be explored. This panel deepens our understanding of modern China by revealing the myriad ways gender intersected with body, race, medicine, technology, imperialism, and nationalism in late Qing and Republican China (1840-1945). Furthermore, this panel engages with ongoing discussions in various fields, including gender and women’s studies, science and technology studies, visual and material culture studies, and post-colonial studies. Therefore, while this panel’s geographical focus is on China, its implications are relevant to countries around the world.

Covering a diverse range of topic, this panel traces the histories of Chinese women doctors, medical discourse on the female breast, discussions of Japan’s sexual violence against Chinese women, and the visual representation of non-Han ethnic minorities. Based on hospital reports, technical writings, and photographs, Shing-ting Lin’s presentation reconstructs the daily work of Chinese women doctors in late imperial and Republican China. While existing scholarship interprets Chinese women doctors as symbols of Western imperialism or Chinese modernization, Lin offers a new analytical framework of writing a history of Chinese women doctors’ practice by highlighting the quotidian realities of their lives and work. Lin Jiao’s presentation explores medical and hygienic discourses on the female breast in Republican China. Drawing on medical journals from that period, Jiao analyzes the reasons why the practice of breast-binding was considered a health threat and received unprecedented medical concern in Republican China. Jiao further examines how medical discourses of the female breast were used to justify political and aesthetic discipline of women’s bodies. Reviewing newspaper articles and novels from the 1930s and 1940s, Lin Li’s presentation analyzes the problematic discussion of Japan’s wartime sexual violence against Chinese women. Arguing that portrayals of sexually assaulted Chinese women were Han-centric, patriarchal, and nationalist, Lin explores alternative means of understanding and telling the narrative of sexual violence against women in modern Chinese history – one that is simultaneously feminist, anti-imperial, and wary of nationalism. Lastly, Jing Zhu’s presentation investigates the visual representation of the bodies of non-Han ethnic minorities in the 1930s and 1940s. Based on photographs of ethnic minorities in the southwest borderlands produced by Chinese anthropologists, Zhu examines how ethnicity and human variation was imagined, created, and popularized through gendered discourses, illuminating the relationship between bio-politics and Chinese ethnographic photography.

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