Covid-19 first laid the Chinese economy low.
“Nannü pingdeng” (gender equality) was one of the key principles of the Chinese Communist Party’s platform before and during the Mao era. Widely celebrated in political campaigns and social policies alike, it has acquired a status in the historiography of modern and contemporary China as one of the pillars of the revolutionary programme of social transformation undertaken by the CCP. Scholarly research has long demonstrated that the promise of gender equality was only ever partially realized after 1949, yet the assumption has been that even if limited in its social implementation, the term “gender equality” signified an emancipatory aspiration shared by all. Based on long-term archival and ethnographic research in a deprived neighbourhood in central Beijing, now facing its last stages of demolition and gentrification, this talk argues that far from being shared by all, “gender equality” barely featured amongst the capital’s subalterns as a significant term in memories of everyday life during and since the Mao era. At the same time, in contrast with their mothers and grandmothers, women who grew up under Mao’s banner had access to opportunities for education and employment, limited though they were, and claimed recognition for their determination to keep their families going through long decades of scarcity and hardship. Drawing on Butler’s and Mahmoud’s arguments, this paper analyses the apparent paradox of women’s independence in income generating activities and their attachment to deeply embedded and apparently conservative ideas about women’s gender roles and relationships. Why is it that the key slogan and policy of nannü pingdeng seems to have completely passed them by? What do we understand by change and by agency?
Harriet EVANS is Professor Emerita of Chinese Cultural Studies (University of Westminster) and Visiting Professor of Anthropology (LSE). She has written extensively on the politics of gender and sexuality in China, and on political posters and visual culture of the Mao era. Her main publications are Women and Sexuality in China: Dominant Discourses of Female Sexuality and Gender since 1949 (1997), Picturing Power in the People’s Republic of China: Posters of the Cultural Revolution (co-edited with Stephanie Hemelryk Donald, 1999), and The Subject of Gender: Daughters and Mothers in Urban China (2008). Her Beijing from Below: Stories of Marginal Lives in the Capital’s Center is in press with Duke University Press. She is currently working on a volume to be co-edited with Professor Michael Rowlands (UCL) to mark the completion of a 3-year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, on ‘Conflicts in Culture: Localities and Heritage in Southwest China.’
Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies
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