Research notes: gender relations

First of all, happy national day to all those in China. I've come across another interesting question in secondary reading I want to write about a bit. There have been a few books I have come across in the last year or so that talk about a conservative ideological backlash in the 1930s in China (see for instance, Haiyan Lee's Revolution of the Heart; Leo Lee's Shanghai Modern; Susan Glosser's Chinese Vision of Family and State). Robert Culp puts it quite succinctly when he talks about a "universe of discourse" in the early 20th century. This begins, as Benjamin Elman points to, around 1900, or 1904 to be exact, when the government is completely stripped of any intellectual legitimacy and reform of the nation is passed onto citizens, reformers, intellectuals, and others outside of government. They created infinite ways to reform the nation, and (as the topic of this particular post) the ways that women fit into this new nation. Many reformers pushed women's rights and women's equality. Some reformers were as bold as to say that marriage should be erased altogether, as it is these kinds of romantic relationships that are holding China back.

What is interesting, then, is a backlash that occurs in the 1930s, which emphasizes the importance of family in an almost Confucian sense. Glosser points out that this is much more of an emphasis on nuclear family than on the "older" and "feudal" extended family that was once the basis of Chinese society. But Culp talks about the return of the Confucian rhetoric. He also cites lectures by Pan Guangdang, who claims that men and women could never be equal (147), and that for a truly great society, Western sense of family and Chinese sense of family should be compromised.

Culp mirrors this conservative backlash with another trend of this time, which is the Guomindang narrowing of the "universe of discourse" created in the early 20th century, thus creating a national order out of the chaotic universe that reformers had created. So my question is: why this return to Confucian values? Why can men and women never be equal? Why was it this particular discourse that fit best with GMD values?

Many nationalist writers (Partha Chatterjee comes to mind immediately) have talked about how, in the creation of a national identity, often times those who are taking over the governmental post (he talks specifically about post-colonial India) will use familiar models from the exact regime which they are fighting against. In the case of India, moderate reformers who took over the government after the British relinquished control used governmental models very similar to that of the colonial government. Can the same be said for the GMD? That they used models and metaphors from the exact society they were fighting against to create their own legitimacy? Furthermore, Chatterjee talks about the use of traditional core values of society to legitimize a modern state; this is similar to the GMD claims that that which makes China unique and great is its tradition of filial piety, an important emotional bond which the West lacks, thus making them soulless and empty, and China rich and fulfilled.

I feel like it is more complex than this. I am wondering what specifically about gender inequality worked so well in the GMD party line. Or is it simply an attempt to legitimize themselves in the more rural sectors of society, because if they make the family-state analogy, those less educated will understand them and give the GMD their loyalty (and with this recurrence of Confucian values necessarily comes gender inequality). It would be very interesting to examine the "official party line" if you will on gender relations under the GMD. Certainly a lot of work has been done on the women's rights movements; my thesis was about this transition of the revolutionary woman of the 1910s and 1920s to the modern consumer girl of the 1930s. But how did this benefit the GMD? Was Culp being too simplistic? Is there more the GMD beliefs about family structure? This is another question I hope to examine in the months to come.

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