Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Gender of Memory

Gender of Memory

Gail Hershatter
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 472
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnc71
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Gender of Memory
    Book Description:

    What can we learn about the Chinese revolution by placing a doubly marginalized group—rural women—at the center of the inquiry? In this book, Gail Hershatter explores changes in the lives of seventy-two elderly women in rural Shaanxi province during the revolutionary decades of the 1950s and 1960s. Interweaving these women’s life histories with insightful analysis, Hershatter shows how Party-state policy became local and personal, and how it affected women’s agricultural work, domestic routines, activism, marriage, childbirth, and parenting—even their notions of virtue and respectability. The women narrate their pasts from the vantage point of the present and highlight their enduring virtues, important achievements, and most deeply harbored grievances. In showing what memories can tell us about gender as an axis of power, difference, and collectivity in 1950s rural China and the present, Hershatter powerfully examines the nature of socialism and how gender figured in its creation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95034-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    When Zhang Chaofeng was five years old, in 1938, her mother came back after a month away. Chaofeng lived with her parents and grandparents, famine refugees from neighboring Henan who had begged their way to Shaanxi. Chaofeng had an older brother, but her newborn sister had been given away. Then her mother had left to earn money working as a wet nurse for another family’s child.

    Chaofeng’s mother was happy, carrying a month’s wages in crisp new Nationalist government banknotes. She called the child over to her. Chaofeng took the pretty blue bills and held them up to the room’s...

  6. 1 Frames
    (pp. 13-31)

    In rural Shaanxi in the 1950s, gender was everywhere an important axis of difference, and it remained so even as the content of normative gendered behavior shifted. Yet gender itself was entangled with specificities of locale and with generational differences. Other themes, too, crosscut and sometimes confound the neat sorting of women into specified roles and orderly progress through time. This chapter frames many of the stories that follow with attention to four of those themes: the importance of place, the limitations of the archive, the particularities of the listeners and speakers, and the gendered qualities of memory.

    In each...

  7. 2 No One Is Home
    (pp. 32-64)

    When she was twelve years old, Xiuzhen’s parents sent her to live with her future inlaws.¹ It was the mid-1920s, and Shaanxi Province was gripped by drought. Xiuzhen’s parents feared that if her husband-to-be starved to death, she would become unmarriageable. Better, they thought, to have his family finish raising her. Later, if both young people survived, the two could formally wed.

    Xiuzhen’s future husband, an only child, lived thirty li [about ten miles] from her parents’ home in Beitun, Liquan County.² Most young women did not marry so far away from their parents, but both families were Christian.³ Years...

  8. 3 Widow (or, the Virtue of Leadership)
    (pp. 65-95)

    In the summer of 1949, a few months after Liberation, Shan Xiuzhen received a summons.The work team from outside, and the village head we had elected, were staying in the village school. The village head said, “The work team is calling you.” I said, “You don’t need to drag me.” Even in the old society, I was basically not feudal. So I went.

    The primary school originally had been a Guan Gong temple. As I entered, I looked around. Why? I had been in that village for more than ten years and never been to this temple before. In...

  9. 4 Activist
    (pp. 96-128)

    When Feng Gaixia speaks of her youthful career as a marriage freedom activist, she connects her tale to the national story by breaking into song.Here are the lyrics of the Women’s FreedomSong. I might not be able to sing it so well now because it’s been many decades:

    The old society is like a dark and bitter well, ten thousand zhang¹ deep

    The bottom of the well pressing down on us common folk

    Women on the bottom layer

    Unable to see the sunshine, unable to see the sky

    Countless days and months, countless years

    Endless work as beasts of...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Farmer
    (pp. 129-153)

    Until 1954 Qiao Yindi had never left Village G. But at the age of twenty-two she joined her husband in Xinjiang, where he had been assigned to do statistical work for the Health Bureau. The journey with her toddler daughter in the back of a truck was long and difficult, the three years spent among strangers lonely and disorienting. Yindi never stopped longing for Village G during her years in Xinjiang. The village, a dry brown place crisscrossed by deep gorges, emerges in her telling as a kind of green oasis. After three years away she told her husband that...

  12. 6 Midwife
    (pp. 154-181)

    In 1947, after a day spent hauling in the corn harvest, Yang Anxiu miscarried at five months. She was seventeen.My husband was away from home, hiding from military conscription. My mother-in-law slept on the other side of the house, and I shared a room with my elder sister-in-law. There was no light at night. I was bleeding. I said, “What is happening?” Finally, I struggled to climb to the edge of the bed. By the second half of the night, I could not endure the contractions. I moaned and knelt on the ground.

    In the morning, my sister-in-law said, “I...

  13. 7 Mother
    (pp. 182-209)

    The year before we interviewed Liu Dongmei, a high fever left her blind in one eye. Before her illness, she had been known in Village Z for the skill and artistry of her embroidery. Families bought her fine pillows to decorate the marriage beds of their daughters, and her navel-protecting baby bibs were popular with new mothers. Dongmei’s tales were full of intelligence and energy. Born in 1932, she had been a Protestant since the age of seven, when her mother converted in the hope, later twice fulfilled, that the Christian god would give her a son. Helping her mother...

  14. 8 Model
    (pp. 210-235)

    To become an agricultural labor model or a village leader, a man had to be good, even innovative, at what had always been man’s work. A woman labor model, in contrast, had to do something completely different from what women had conventionally been recognized as doing, even while continuing to do most of what she had done before. Women labor models pioneered shifts in the gendered division of labor that affected men as well as women, easing the transfer of men out of agriculture into dam construction, rural industry, and technical supervisory positions. Rural development can not be understood without...

  15. 9 Laborer
    (pp. 236-266)

    Gao Xiaoxian: In your view, what is equality between men and women?

    Liu Dongmei: Equality between men and women? Whatever you men can do, I can too. You can carry water, so can I. You can carry earth, so can I. You can carry stones, so can I.

    Gao Xiaoxian: What else?

    Liu Dongmei: What else can there be?

    Campaign time and domestic time collided with unprecedented intensity during the Great Leap Forward, briefly and memorably upending every aspect of rural life. The Great Leap, launched in May 1958, was a massive national campaign aimed at overtaking the industrial output...

  16. 10 Narrator
    (pp. 267-288)

    I always taught my two grandsons and granddaughter, “Your grandma was the most pitiful one. . . . At that time, I even hated to throw away a small amount of leftover and burned rice. I would soak it in hot water or boil it with some vegetables and eat it. Now you kids, even with the food left from breakfast, such as white rice, will say, ‘Grandma, throw it away. I can’t eat it.’ If it is left over from last night or the day before, maybe you can’t eat it. But this is only from breakfast. ‘How can...

  17. APPENDIX: Interviews
    (pp. 289-292)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 293-400)
  19. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 401-410)
  20. REFERENCES
    (pp. 411-442)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 443-455)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 456-456)