Merchants' Daughters

Merchants' Daughters: Women, Commerce, and Regional Culture in South China

Edited by Helen F. Siu
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 388
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  • Book Info
    Merchants' Daughters
    Book Description:

    For scholars of modern Hong Kong society, Merchants' Daughters refocuses attention to cultural dynamics in the South China region of which Hong Kong is an integral part. For audiences generally interested in gender issues, this book illuminates the analytical importance of long historical periods in which layers of social, political, and economic activities intersected to constitute the complicated positioning of women.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-579-6
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Helen F. Siu
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Helen F. Siu and Wing-hoi Chan

    The study of Chinese women has contributed significantly to gender theories. The construction of gender differences and women’s negotiation of cultural space in restrictive power contexts have been given ample attention.¹ This volume continues the analytical direction by using materials from South China to illuminate the junctures of history, gender subjectivities, and power play. The authors, an interdisciplinary team, have done extensive archival and fieldwork in South China. Like many before them, they challenge static and dichotomous frameworks that stress patriarchy, women’s subjugation, and resistance. Moreover, the choice of South China signifies an additional analytical agenda. The authors hope to...

  6. Part I Cultural Spaces between State-Making and Kinship
    • 1 Women’s Images Reconstructed: The Sisters-in-Law Tomb and Its Legend
      (pp. 25-44)
      Liu Zhiwei

      Women in Ming-Qing literature were portrayed in extremes. Most were, if not virtuous virgins or chaste widows, then dissolute women or lascivious girls. These images of women were literati constructions based on the morality of Neo-Confucian thought in the Song-Ming periods.¹ Reinforcing notions of male superiority, the images were prevalent in the central plain (zhongyuan) region but were more nuanced in the Lingnan region.² When Lingnan gradually became part of the imperial order in political and cultural terms, the reconstitution of women’s images was an important means adopted by the literati to spread “civilization” to their own localities. Layers of...

    • 2 Images of Mother: The Place of Women in South China
      (pp. 45-58)
      David Faure

      Research on the history of the family in south China is both important and difficult. It is important because the family obviously occupies a crucial position in the Chinese psyche, but difficult because available records tend to bear on the lineage rather than the family as such. That is to say, the record tends to dwell on men and their connections rather than women and theirs.

      A viable source on the history of the family would be biographies of women, many of which are included in genealogies and essay collections. One might, for instance, focus on biographies written in memory...

    • 3 “What Alternative Do You Have, Sixth Aunt?” — Women and Marriage in Cantonese Ballads
      (pp. 59-76)
      May-bo Ching

      Sixth Aunt is about to marry a man she has never met. Unappealing and fond of gambling, this man is by no means an ideal husband. Does Sixth Aunt have an alternative? She is supposed to have. Growing up in the Pearl River Delta region, she could have chosen to become a “zishunu.” Women had formed sisterhoods with other female companions and taken vows not to marry. She could also have chosen to practice buluojia by not cohabiting with her husband after marriage.¹ Nonetheless, Sixth Aunt is not free to decide her fate because she is merely a fictitious character...

    • 4 Women’s Work and Women’s Food in Lineage Land
      (pp. 77-100)
      Wing-hoi Chan

      Patrilineal descent has dominated the study of Chinese society in late imperial and early modern periods. The lineage model has been under considerable critical scrutiny.¹ But the influences of the paradigm on the study of women and gender in South China have not received comparable attention.

      In fact, influential studies on Chinese women seem to reinforce the lineage model rather than challenge it. For example, Margery Wolf’s² theory of women and the family in Taiwan is based on a single “Chinese concept of family” equated to patrilineal descent, outside of which women are supposed to have constructed “uterine families,” which...

  7. Part II Agency in Emigrant, Colonial, and Mercantile Societies
    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 102-104)

      In the previous section, the chapters outline an emergent Confucian moral order during agentive historical moments of state-making in the late imperial period, the upward mobility of local populations, and an increasingly commercialized regional economy. In the process, women experienced ambiguous positioning. For merchant families, gentility signified upward mobility along a rather orthodox path shaped by literati pretensions. As in Jiangnan, education made daughters marriageable. They became respectable wives and mothers in the inner chambers and were competent household managers. Although culturally binding in the construction of gender expectations and in the cultivation of social capital, mercantile South China was...

    • 5 Stepping out? Women in the Chaoshan Emigrant Communities, 1850–1950
      (pp. 105-128)
      Chi-cheung Choi

      Although Chinese women have been viewed throughout history as exploited and oppressed with little ability to control their fates, for the Chinese women themselves, this was not always true. Studies have revealed, especially during the late imperial period that women were powerful, independent, and content with their status within society.¹ In different parts of China, they are described as domestic financial managers as well as supporters of the family budget.² Myron Cohen, for example, has distinguished the differences between the family head and manager. The former is usually a male member of the most senior generation while the latter, an...

    • 6 Abandoned into Prosperity: Women on the Fringe of Expatriate Society
      (pp. 129-142)
      Carl T. Smith

      Chinese and Eurasian women lived on the edge of expatriate society in the China coast cities where the cultures and peoples of trading empires met. The passage of time has altered the nature of these relationships. As the world moves in fits and starts towards globalization, there is increasingly greater interrelation of peoples, a breakdown of racial exclusiveness, and a blurring of cultural distinctions.

      The initiation of this interracial and intercultural movement began when the first foreigners arrived on the edges of the Middle Kingdom. European vessels touched the China coast in the sixteenth century, with Portugal leading the way....

    • 7 The Eurasian Way of Being a Chinese Woman: Lady Clara Ho Tung and Buddhism in Prewar Hong Kong
      (pp. 143-164)
      Josephine Lai-kuen Wong

      This study uses a biographical account of Lady Clara Ho Tung and her contribution to Buddhist institutions in Hong Kong and China to illuminate the social, cultural “space” enjoyed by elite Eurasian women in an unusual colonial environment in the early decades of twentieth century. Lady Clara Ho Tung’s marriage to Robert Ho Tung, compradore for Jardine Matheson & Co., transformed a young woman from a modest professional family into the matriarch of a distinguished Eurasian lineage. Clara dutifully bore and raised children and took care of the Ho Tung household. While enduring the sicknesses and deaths of her loved...

  8. Part III Work and Activism in a Gendered Age
    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 166-168)

      How have the historical moments in the postwar decades, when the border between Hong Kong and mainland China hardened and softened, affected the subjectivities of women and their positioning? Has their gendered activism contributed to wider civic participation and political engagement? Helen Siu uses Anson Chan’s generation of women in politics to illustrate how postwar manufacturing and the needs of a colonial meritocracy in Hong Kong have allowed educated women to excel beyond their own imaginations. They seem to have straddled the demands of locality, nation, and the world to perform in cultural styles that gained unusual charisma in the...

    • 8 Women of Influence: Gendered Charisma
      (pp. 169-196)
      Helen F. Siu

      Although working women in Hong Kong have been given analytical attention, studies of professional women and political figures are not numerous.¹ Serious biographies of female movers and shakers are rare compared to those written about male public figures.² When the images of these women circulate in the local culture industry, a curious mixture of qualities marks them. Popular impressions distinguish them from their counterparts in China and Taiwan. It is said that high-ranking officials in China are too “man-like” whereas their counterparts in Taiwan flaunt their “womanly ways.” Hong Kong women, on the other hand, are powerful as well as...

    • 9 Women Workers in Hong Kong, 1960s–1990s: Voices, Meanings, and Structural Constraints
      (pp. 197-236)
      Po-king Choi

      This chapter tells the stories of women workers in Hong Kong during the period between the 1960s and the 1990s. These three decades witnessed the growth of a vibrant economy fuelled by rapid industrialization, which peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the years, much has been written about this postwar “economic miracle,”¹ but up till now, there has been a dearth of discussion about the part played by women, who had furnished much of the labor power for this phase of industrialization.

      Now, writing in the early 2000s, the story of these women industrial workers is trailing off with...

    • 10 Half the Sky: Mobility and Late Socialist Reflections
      (pp. 237-258)
      Yan Lijun, Yang Meijian and Taotao Zhang

      At the end of the 1950s, during the years of the Great Leap Forward, steelmaking became a nationwide movement in China. “Iron,” as a symbol of strength and firmness, was endowed with a special political significance. In this atmosphere, the government promoted the ideal of the “steel maiden,” typified by women like Xing Yanzi, who left her comfortable city life to “eat bitterness” and labor work in the countryside for the revolutionary cause. The Chinese Communist Party widely publicized her stories. Song lyrics in her honor provided the justification:

      Xing Yanzi is an excellent role model . . .


    • 11 Fantasies of “Chinese-ness” and the Traffic in Women from Mainland China to Hong Kong in Fruit Chan’s Durian Durian
      (pp. 259-272)
      Pheng Cheah

      Following the work of Jean Baudrillard, David Harvey suggested that the flexible accumulation that gives rise to the postmodern condition is characterized by the production of images and sign systems rather than commodities themselves.¹ Such cultural forms and the fantasies they generate in daily experience are integral to the circulation of capital. One of the key fantasies driving and underpinning the East Asian circuit of flexible accumulation is the fantasy of the Chinese diaspora as cosmopolitan capitalist entrepreneur. The Chinese diaspora is fantastic in two senses. Historically, these waves of migration were driven by fantasies of wealth outside the poverty...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 273-334)
  10. Glossary
    (pp. 335-342)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 343-370)
  12. Index
    (pp. 371-376)