Finding Women in the State

by Wang Zheng, author of Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1964

This is our final guest post published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Thank you for reading!

Hundreds and thousands of Chinese women from diverse backgrounds had joined the Communist Revolution between the early 1920s and late 1940s. Like many of their male comrades, many Communist women had died in battlefields or on execution grounds in their fight against the warlords, Japanese fascists, and Nationalist government. When the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in 1949, there were five hundred and thirty thousands women members in the CCP who now became the state power holder. Except for a few books in English presenting portraits of Chinese Communist women who endured tremendous hardship in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary journey, these women who had been an important part of the epic of the Communist Revolution curiously vanished in scholarship examining the CCP’s leadership in building a socialist country.

Parallel to the absence of Communist women in scholarship in and outside China have been the dominant narratives of how the party-state did or did not liberate Chinese women. Accomplishments or failures in advancing women’s equal rights and social economic progress have been unfailingly attributed to a monolithic abstract entity – the party-state, a patriarch paradoxically adopting many pro-women policies in the socialist period. If feminist scholars in the English speaking world since the 1980s have shown logical coherence in criticizing the Chinese patriarchal state’s failure to fulfill its revolutionary promise of women’s liberation, scholars in post-socialist China have articulated many contradictory statements without historical research, from “Chinese women have been the most liberated in the world,” to “a crime of Maoist women’s liberation was to have masculinized Chinese women.”

Based on archival research and interviews of Communist women who were officials of the socialist state at various administrative levels, my book reveals the concealed and erased history of socialist state feminists’ endeavors to materialize their visions of socialist revolution. Continuing an anti-feudalist New Culture agenda, state feminists operated in diverse fields including the film industry to transform patriarchal cultural norms and promote gender equality laws, discourse, and practices. Their conscious combat against sexism in and outside the CCP constituted a contentious “gender line” of struggle within the power structure of the Party. Excavating a hidden feminist history in the Chinese socialist revolution, my book presents the first scholarly effort to investigate the high politics of the CCP and examines the demise of a socialist revolution from a gender perspective. I also raise critical questions of methodology in scholarship dealing with specific historical moments but without a historical approach.

Wang Zheng is Professor of Women’s Studies and History and Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories and the coeditor of From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, Translating Feminisms in China,  and Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era.

Myriad Atlases: Now Available as E-Books

UC Press is pleased to announce that the following titles in the Myriad Atlas Series The Atlas of Climate Change, The Atlas of Religion, The Atlas of Food, The State of China Atlas, The Atlas of Global Inequalities, and The Atlas of California are now available for the first time, in addition to their print format versions, as e-book editions.


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Sample interior spreads (please click to expand):




About Myriad Atlases:

Myriad’s award-winning atlases, some of which are published in the United States by University of California Press, are unique visual surveys of economic, political and social trends. By ingeniously transforming statistical data into valuable, user-friendly resources, they make a range of global issues – from climate change to world religions – accessible to general readers, students and professionals alike.

Zouping and Chinese Urbanization

by Andrew B. Kipnis

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

From Village to City Cover

“Zhang Shiping (the founder of a large employer in Zouping, China) is our saviour. Along with Deng Xiaoping, he is one of the two “pings” who have brought our family happiness and prosperity.”

“Zouping is a miserable place, all anyone here cares about is money.”

How has Chinese urbanization affected the lives of its formerly rural citizens? In From Village to City, I examine the lives of people who live in a place that has grown from a small town to a mid-sized city over the past twenty five years. As the two quotes suggest, experiences of this social transformation vary greatly. Though the people who now live there now almost uniformly came from villages, their lives and feelings differ depending on whether they used to live in a village that was incorporated into the city as it expanded spatially, a village that is near to (but not inside) the expanding city, or a village that is distant from the city. Their experiences also depend on whether they came to Zouping for blue or white or pink collar jobs (or to start their own business), and on whether they came as unmarried youth or families with children.

In the book, I present the diversity of these experiences while theorizing the patterns of social transformation that Chinese urbanization has entailed. Mindful of criticisms of classic theories of “modernization” and “development,” I nonetheless insist on focusing on the problem of social transformation, that is, the set of interlinked social changes that have occurred during the process of urbanization. Addressing classic problems like alienation, class formation, changes in familial dynamics and the formation of new communities, I theorize these processes as “recombinant”, as always taking from the past as they incorporate the new.

Andrew B. Kipnis is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language of the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University. From Village to City: Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat is available for pre-order now.

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Interracial Marriage

By Emma Jinhua Teng

This guest post is published in advance of the Organization of American Historians conference in St. Louis. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference theme, Taboos. Come back for new posts every weekday until April 17.

Emma TengFew things have been more taboo in American history than interracial marriage. Before a 1967 Supreme Court decision declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, paving the way for a “biracial baby boom,” marrying across certain racial lines was illegal in many states, and where not illegal was often punished by disinheritance or ostracism. Americans also transported this taboo abroad, using it to guard the boundaries of their expatriate communities — in Shanghai of the interwar years, for example. Those who dared to defy convention, like George Sokolsky and Rosalind Phang in 1922, might find themselves shut out of expatriate social circles, or their children turned away from exclusive private schools.

Interracial marriage was equally taboo in colonial Hong Kong. When Eric Peter Ho (1928 –) first learned that his grandfather was European, he recalls, he was “told solemnly not to disclose these family secrets to anyone.” “Half-caste” and “gwei-jai” were fighting words.

Given these entrenched attitudes, it might seem surprising that back in 1875 the Rev. Joseph Twichell, Mark Twain’s pastor, encouraged his Chinese friend, Yung Wing, to wed an Anglo-American woman — “glorying in” his marriage to Mary Kellogg as a union of East and West. It might seem equally surprising that in 1914 Chinese diplomat Wu Ting-fang declared that the intermarriage of the “yellow” and “white” races would be “productive of good to both sides.”

It turns out that the notion that “intermarriage was taboo” can take us only so far in understanding the rich and complex history of Sino-American cross-cultural encounters. My book, Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842-1943, tries to tell a more nuanced story by examining not only the obstacles faced by mixed families on both sides of the Pacific, but also the emergence of ideas supporting Sino-American intermarriage as “productive of good” on social, political, or biological grounds. I demonstrate how Eurasians navigated a complex world in which they faced contradictions between exclusionary and inclusive ideologies of race and nationality, and between overt racism and more subtle forms of prejudice that were counterbalanced by partial acceptance and privilege.


Emma Jinhua Teng is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow and the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations and Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at MIT and the author of Taiwan’s Imagined Geography: Chinese Colonial Travel Writing and Pictures, 1683-1895 (Harvard, 2004).


The Rise of Eco-Cities

By Julie Sze

This guest post is published in advance of the American Society for Environmental History conference in Washington, DC. UC Press authors share their research and stories that reflect on this year’s conference them, Turning Protest into Policy. Come back for new posts every weekday until March 19th.

My book, Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis, examines the eco-city phenomenon through a case study of four recent ecological developments in Shanghai. The book is focused on two main questions: what does the rise of eco-cities in both government policy and popular imagination mean; and what does the eco-city phenomenon mean in China, and in the United States. My initial interest was sparked by my family connection to Chongming Island, where Dongtan Eco-city was proposed, and which seemed an utterly improbable place to site a high-tech ecotopian city.

In attempting to understand why and how eco-city developments are flourishing, especially in China, I develop a concept of eco-desire. Elsewhere, I have written about the intellectual history of the eco-city.[1] These eco-desires are complex, and competing, in different national, regional and racial contexts, but the broadest reasoning behind eco-desire is to address anxiety in the face of global climate change.

My first book, Noxious New York, focused on environmental justice activism in New York City, and is connected to the conference theme of “Turning Protest into Policy.” Rather than a US centered narrative of eco-Davids fighting corporate Goliaths, the narrative here is fundamentally different. That difference is not in and of itself surprising given the Chinese Communist Party’s power and much more extensive suppression of protest movements- environmental or otherwise. But in many ways, the stories in Shanghai and New York City are deeply interwoven. They are linked through the focus on place, power, globalization, privatization, and the emergent urban discourse of sustainability. The question that remains, after the bells and whistles of techno-utopian fantasies: is what does sustainability mean, how and for whom?



Julie Sze is Associate Professor of American Studies and founding director of the Environmental Justice Project for the John Muir Institute for the Environment at UC Davis.


Three Kingdoms in Modern Day China

The Chinese literary epic, Three Kingdoms, which will be published in a fifteenth anniversary edition by UC Press this spring, has spurred a growing tourism industry in China, according to the New York Times:

There are countless hamlets, towns and cities across China that boast of links to the four or five towering classics of Chinese literature and the historical events on which those works are based. Virtually all Chinese learn these tales, which mix history and myth, and so residents of otherwise obscure locales leap at the chance to latch on to the legends, sometimes for profit.

Luo Guanzhong’s Three Kingdoms, which is as important for Chinese culture as the Homeric epics have been for the West, tells the story of the fateful last reign of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), when the Chinese empire was divided into three warring kingdoms.

One Chinese town, Longmen, famous for its association with the king Sun Quan, “charges a $13 entrance fee to outsiders, who usually make the 30-mile drive from the provincial capital of Hangzhou,” according to the article. Read more about Three Kingdoms’ connection to modern day China at the New York Times.


38th Parallel Authors Reflect on China’s New Environmental Policy

David and Janet Carle, authors of Traveling the 38th Parallel: A Water Line around the World, are optimistic that China’s recent decision to de-emphasize the pursuit of economic growth above all else will mean positive changes for the environment. During their travels along the 38th Parallel, the Carles experienced firsthand “the serious pollution problems generated by the nation’s recent push to grow, grow, grow.”

Read more at their blog, Parallel Universe 38°N.

In Memoriam: Michael Sullivan

Michael SullivanMichael Sullivan, the author of five UC Press books on Chinese art, including Art and Artists of Twentieth-Century China, The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art, and Arts of China, has passed away at the age of 96. He was Professor Emeritus at Stanford University and Fellow Emeritus at St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University.

Sullivan was “was one of the most distinguished experts in the field of Chinese art,” according to an obituary in The Guardian. “He had a matchless personal experience of the civilisation that became his life’s work, and amassed the leading private collection of modern Chinese art outside the country.”

Read more about Michael Sullivan’s life and work in The Guardian.

New Images from NASA

Image Credit: NASA/Terra – MODIS

Air Quality Suffering in China

Residents of Beijing and many other cities in China were warned to stay inside in mid-January 2013 as the nation faced one of the worst periods of air quality in recent history.

The Chinese government ordered factories to scale back emissions, while hospitals saw spikes of more than 20 to 30 percent in patients complaining of respiratory issues, according to news reports.

Read the full report here.


Peter Hessler Shares How He Got His Start in China

Chinese CharactersImagine travelling through China in 1994 by way of the Trans-Siberian Railway, with little knowledge of the country’s culture or language, and a plan to spend “as little time as possible there.” New Yorker writer Peter Hessler describes the bizarre details of the experience, from talking alarm clocks that only speak in Russian, to the creative maneuvering of goods to avoid customs fees in Mongolia, in this interview with Angilee Shah in the Atlantic.

Shah is the co-editor, with Jeffrey Wasserstrom, of the new volume Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land (UC Press, September 2012). Hessler is one of 15 contributors to the book who challenge oversimplified views of China by shifting the focus away from the question of China’s place in the global order and zeroing in on what is happening on the ground.

Despite initial plans, Hessler ended up staying in China for 11 years after his trip on the Trans-Siberian, and went on to become an award-winning journalist, reporting for National Geographic, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and writing three books.

Read the Atlantic interview for more on Hessler’s crazy first days in China, where he and a friend found work playing foreigners in a Hong Kong soap opera and auditioned for a Disney movie. Hessler also tells the backstory behind his chapter for Chinese Characters, an investigative piece on the factory town of Lishui.

Also be sure to check out the Chinese Characters Tumblr, which shares stories from the book and news from China (highly recommended: “Girl from small Liaoning town brilliantly nails “Rolling In The Deep”. Madness ensues.”). You can also like Chinese Characters on Facebook.