History 296s, Spring 2002


Professors Jonathan Lipman and Kay Johnson
Office: Skinner 208, extension 2368 Office: Patterson Hall 211 (Hampshire)
Office Hours: Mon 4-5, Thurs 12-2 Office Hours: Mon/Wed 10:30-12:30
e-mail: jlipman@mtholyoke.edu e-mail: kjohnson@hampshire.edu

Writing/Speaking Mentor: Tara Lindros (talindro@mtholyoke.edu, PO Box 2559, 493-4016)

This course explores the history of Chinese women from early classical texts to the present: their places and behaviors in society and culture, their relationships with one another and with men, and the evolution of gender roles and attitudes in China's long and complex story. Topics will include ideals of femininity and beauty, sexuality, women's place in family life, life cycles and rites of passage, the participation of women in the revolutions of the 20th century, and contemporary women's lives.

Implicit in all of our work will be comparison of Chinese women with your perceptions and experiences of what it is to be female in societies other than China. Consonant with current developments in women's history, we will explore crucial variables outside gender (such as class, religion, language, political context, etc.) which have affected women's and men's lives in China, or anywhere. The interaction of these variables with gender, rather than gender alone, has created the world in which Chinese women actually live(d). And that actual living will be, inasmuch as is possible, the goal of our understanding. In comparing Chinese women's history to women's history elsewhere, we will search not only for differences but also for similarities.

We will begin the course with a consideration of life cycle and "traditional" ideals of femininity--physical, intellectual, and moral. We will go back to the formative period of Chinese culture to discover the place of women in the classical tradition. Moving forward in time, we will find great changes in women’s lives, especially in the prosperous commercial cities of central and southern China, with the advent of the Song dynasty (after 960 A.D.). Those changes, both positive and negative, continued to affect women's lives throughout the late imperial period (the Ming and Qing dynasties, 1368-1912). Reaching the 20th century, we will find women as both objects of attention and as participants in China's modern (r)evolutions. Throughout the course, the feminist and historical scholarship of the past twenty years will help us to understand the ongoing conflict between textual prescription (ideals) and social reality.

The course will function as a colloquium, a discussion course which focuses on the readings as the core of the work. Each classroom session will focus on one or more readings. The three (3) short papers will be critical essays on some of the course readings. The final paper will require that you design and answer a significant question regarding the history of women in China. The course requirements are:

1. Attendance at class and participation in discussion.

2. Completion of the readings on time.
3. Three (3) short essays (around 5 pages each), on assigned topics.
4. A eight to ten (8-10) page final essay, based on your own research, answering a question you designed yourself. A summary of your research--including your question(s) and bibliography-- will be due two weeks before the final essay, which is due on the last day of the examination period.
A series of six feature-length films from China will be shown, one every other week, in conjunction with this course. The time and place will be determined by the convenience of the majority of the members of the course. This series will be open to the public, and it is not required for the course, but it will certainly enrich your experience and learning to attend the films. If you decide to write your final essay using the films as sources or subject matter, you should certainly plan to attend all of the showings.

All due dates are noted in the syllabus. Please be sure that you complete all written work on time, for extensions will be granted only for medical emergencies.

The following books have been ordered at the Odyssey Bookshop. You should buy them all, since they constitute an important part of the course readings:

Margery Wolf, Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan

Ning Lao T'ai-t'ai, Daughter of Han
Anchee Min, Red Azalea
Susan Mann, Precious Records: Women in China’s Long Eighteenth Century
Other readings, marked with numbers in the syllabus, will be available in a readings packet, which you will be able to obtain from the History Department.



January 28 Methods and Trends in Women's History and Chinese History

January 30 The Language(s) and Geography of China

February 4 The Family Setting: Patriarchy, Patriliny, Patri(viri)locality

Readings due: Pan Chao, “Lessons for Women” (#1)
Rubie Watson, “The Named and the Nameless” (#2)

February 6 A Woman's Life Cycle: Traditional? Modern? Typical?

Readings due: Wolf, Women and the Family, Chapters 1-10, 14

February 11 Alternative Women’s Communities?

Nüshu (Film)
Readings due: Cathy Silber, “From Daughter to Daughter-in-Law” (#3)
M. Topley, “Marriage Resistance…” (#3a)

February 13 Marriage in Song Dynasty China

Readings due: Ebrey, Inner Quarters, Introduction and Chapters 1-3 (#4)

February 18 Footbinding: A “Curious Erotic Custom”

Readings due: Wang Ping, Aching for Beauty, Chap. 2, Conclusion (#5)


February 20 Women in Late Imperial China

Readings due: Susan Mann, Precious Records, Chaps. 2-3

February 25 A Late Qing Woman Speaks

Readings due: Daughter of Han, Books I-II

February 27 Late Qing as Early Modern: Ch’iu Chin and Other Rebels

Readings due: Mary Rankin, “The Emergence of Women…” (#6)

March 4 Modernists and the “Woman Question”

Readings due: Selections from Lan and Fong (#7)

March 6 A”Traditional” Woman in “Modern” China

Readings due: Daughter of Han, Book III

March 11 Women’s Role in Forming the Communist Party

Readings due: Christine Gilmartin, Engendering…, Chaps. 3, 7 (#8)

March 13 Revolutionary Women in War and Turmoil

Readings due: Kay Johnson, Women, the Family…, Chap. 2 (#9)


Spring Break

March 25 Hope and Transformation: Women in the Early People’s Republic

Readings due: Yuan-tsung Chen, Dragon’s Village, 4-7, 20-24 (#10)

March 27 Reinventing the Family: The Marriage Law of 1950

Readings due: Kay Johnson, Women, the Family…, Chap. 3 (#11)
The Marriage Law (#16)

April 1 The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution: Holding Up Half the Sky

Readings due: Anchee Min, Red Azalea, Parts I-II

April 3 Women’s Roles in Revolutionary China

Readings due: Anchee Min, Red Azalea, Part III

April 8 Talking about the Unspeakable

Readings due: Zhang Xueping, “Male Suffering…” (#12)
Chang Jung, Wild Swans, Chaps. 23-24 (#13)

April 10 A NEW New China: Women in the Era of Reform

Readings due: Honig and Hershatter, Personal Voices, 1-2 (#14)

April 15 Rural Women at the Opening of the Reform Era

Film: “Small Happiness”


April 17 Rural Women in a Changing World

Readings due: Kate Zhou, “Rural Women” (#15)
Tyson and Tyson, “Losers from Reform” (#16)

April 22 Population Control and Chinese Women’s Lives

Readings due: Greenhalgh and Li, “Engendering…” (#17)
Kay Johnson (et al), “Female Abandonment…” (#18)

April 24 Research Questions: What do you want to find out?


April 29 Changing Images of Masculinity/femininity

Readings due: Brownell, “Gender and Nationalism…” (#19)

May 1 Women and Women’s Studies after Mao

Readings due: Li Xiaojing, “Economic Reform…” (#20)
Mayfair Yang, “From Gender Erasure…” (#21)
Susan Greenhalgh, "Fresh Winds in Beijing" (#22)

May 6 Reprise

FINAL ESSAY DUE AT NOON ON THE LAST DAY OF EXAM PERIOD (except for graduating seniors, whose final work is due on May 13th).

Writing Assignments

First Essay (due on February 18)

Margery Wolf argues that Chinese women seek and obtain power through construction of a “uterine family,” an unacknowledged entity which includes herself, her sons, and their sons. Answer the following questions in clear, well-annotated five page essay: What does a woman gain through her “uterine family”? How does this formation, and the life cycle which Wolf builds around it, differ from or resemble that of a woman in the contemporary USA?

Research Proposal (due April 24)

Design a significant research question in Chinese women’s history and find sources which will allow you to answer it. This Research Summary should include the following elements:

a. Your question(s)

b. A 1-2 page summary of the readings you have done on that question
c. A tentative answer to the question
d. A bibliography of sources

Final Essay (due by noon on the last day of Exam Period or, for graduating seniors, May 13)

Ask and answer your question, on the basis of evidence located through your own research, in an 8-10 page essay. Cite all sources that you use (but no others), and be sure to proofread your essay with care before turning it in.