May 2011

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By Helen M. Schneider

[A goal is] to cultivate children’s happiness. The basic idea is that you want your child to feel satisfied. Even if the food is unsatisfactory, the clothes are inadequate, or the habitation is insufficient, you still should tell your child that it is very good. You do not want the child to be greedy and insatiable. In the future whether or not he is law-abiding, well-behaved, satisfied, or works for his own knowledge and does not simply enjoy the fruits of other’s labor, these all start from this word: “Happiness.”

In the 1940s, Nationalist Ministry of Education bureaucrats in conjunction with educators in teacher training schools developed social education experimental zones in China’s interior. The purpose of the zones was to improve the physical and emotional quality of citizens by addressing all aspects of their daily existence. The training document from which the epigraph is taken shows the significance the ministry attached to a mother’s role in developing the attitudes and behaviours conducive to a stable social order. The female and male intellectuals who worked in these zones, including Nationalist bureaucrats, educational leaders, and students, believed that improving the quality of how women dealt with the daily fundamentals of family management was key to the nation’s long-term success and positive development. The goals of creating a stable society and saving China from national disintegration were directly and intimately related to the work of making families happier.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Chinese intellectuals felt that women were responsible for perfecting their management of domestic space in order to strengthen the Chinese nation. As the Qing dynasty experienced dramatic decline at the end of the nineteenth century, intellectual leaders believed that women, because they were uneducated and superstitious and had bad habits that were a negative influence on their children, were at least partly responsible for China’s weaknesses. They wanted women to be better prepared for their responsibilities as mothers and wives and, in the final years of the dynasty, Qing officials mandated that new schools for girls and teacher training schools should train women in important skills that would prepare them for their gendered responsibilities as household managers.

In these new schools, educators taught household management classes and encouraged women to take their roles as wives and mothers seriously in order to ensure the future stability of the nation. As more schools of higher education opened up to girls, the emphasis of domestic science shifted from a curriculum in housekeeping skills to the preparation of domestic managers with scientific skills. By the end of the 1920s, the field as it was taught in normal schools and colleges no longer trained women solely for their wifely roles; instead, the discipline of home economics prepared women who might not only manage households efficiently but also manage projects of social reform and help engineer a better China. The graduates of home economics programs and their fellow intellectuals, such as the participants in the wartime social education experimental zones, created and promoted a broader agenda of nurturing an emotionally stronger, physically healthier, and more productive citizenry prepared to meet the challenges of the modern age.

The discipline of home economics facilitated the formation of a group of white-collar professional women who advocated more rational ways of living and practical habits for all Chinese people. In the government’s support for home economics and its regulation of the social education experimental zones, it is clear that one cornerstone of social order was the division of fundamental responsibilities between men and women. Educators, administrators, and officials alike clearly delineated these differences as they asked women to pay particular attention to domestic responsibilities, to matters of emotional development, to internal management, and to significant daily tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and child rearing. The discipline of home economics thus tells us much about how a system of gendered responsibilities was institutionalized and made foundational to the Chinese nation-state.

This book introduces readers to educated, professional Chinese women — home economists — who played an important role in their country’s social and political transformations in the twentieth century. As an educational discipline designed to train women in managerial, scientific, and transformative skills, home economics developed in China as intellectuals infused the social space of the home with new political and modern significance. Like political theorists in the past, reformist intellectuals who designed the field stressed the foundational nature of the family for the stability of the state. Twentieth-century domestic reformers radically re-imagined the home as a place where habits of citizenship were formed, and they believed that opening up the domestic, “inner” sphere to public scrutiny and to careful management were central parts of becoming modern. The discipline of home economics created a class of trained women with disciplinary and managerial skills who worked to transform the most fundamental of political spaces, the home, and who invested deeply in instilling new, modern ideas in the inhabitants of that space, the families of the nation.

* * *

One staunch advocate of more widespread home economics training in China was He Jing’an (also known as Irene Ho, Ho Ching’an, Liu-He Jing’an). He Jing’an had a long career as an academic home economist, and devoted her academic career to popularizing and teaching home economics in mainland China and, after 1949, on Taiwan. He Jing’an received a master of science degree in home economics from Oregon State College in 1926. She returned to China and served as instructor and rotating chair of the Home Economics Department at Yenching College in Beiping in the late 1920s, and later held posts at Northeast University in Shenyang and National Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. In the late 1940s, she was head of the Department of Home Economics at the Teacher’s College in Tianjin. After 1949 she went with the Nationalists to Taiwan, where she continued to write textbooks on nutrition, childcare, and home management.

In 1931, He Jing’an made a trenchant call for the further development of home economics, which she translated literally as jiating jingji (“home” and “economics”) rather than the more common jiazheng. In this piece, she assessed the contemporary problems with home economics education in China, and suggested paths for the discipline’s further development. She first expressed her disappointment that China had not followed the wave of development in this field that had taken place abroad, and noted the already well rehearsed line about the discipline’s significance in other countries. “This is a new field of study in Europe and America, and in the last 20 or 30 years it has been flourishing. All state universities have established colleges of home economics, or departments of home economics, and at Chicago, Columbia, Iowa and Oregon, these are the biggest departments. Many female college students choose this as their major, and all European countries also look on it favorably.” She added that it was also a popular field of study for girls in Japan.

She then explained why she thought China did not have well-developed home economics programs. Although Chinese primary and middle school for girls sometimes had cooking and needlework classes as well as a few classes in other domestic arts, very few colleges had home economics classes. She believed that one reason home economics education had not caught on at higher levels was its improper name. “In the past it has been called ‘jiaxueshi’ [literally, “home study work”] or ‘jiashi xue’ [literally, housework studies], which sounded like things such as cooking, needlework, etc. … miscellaneous household chores, not something that should be taught in a college.” The name suggested that it was something that taught mundane tasks, rather than a discipline that was of fundamental value to Chinese society and that would expand the minds of women. He Jing’an here echoed the concerns of educators earlier in the Republican period that “modern” educated girls were shirking their responsibilities: “Many girls who go off to school live in dormitories and ‘do not look back’ at home. They only go home during holidays, and so they do not have a sense of what life in the home is like, nor do they have any housekeeping skills. They think that anything that men can do women can do as well.” He suggested that modern education needed to recognize the significance of the home.

He Jing’an did not believe that teaching women to properly manage the home would create or perpetuate a system of inequality. She wrote: “I think that in a society where men and women are equal, not only do we want to keep the old values of ‘wise wife, good mother,’ at the same time we should promote the value of ‘wise father, good husband.’” Home economics was only a pragmatic recognition that men and women had different social duties: “When thinking about sharing work, men should take responsibility in the home, but women should definitely take charge of managing the home, the family’s clothing, food, and shelter, and the raising and educating of the children.” For her, expanding home economics training was a way of empowering women by giving them a leadership role in strengthening China from the inside out.

As a highly trained woman, He Jing’an recognized that most women would manage their families and would have responsibility for domestic management. She did not advocate a radical re-imagining of labour in the home, nor did she suggest that wives and mothers be paid for their domestic work. Although she asked that men help out in the home and take some interest in it, she assumed that women would continue to have primary responsibility for homemaking and caretaking. She imagined that the discipline of home economics would improve the lives of Chinese women by rationalizing their domestic labour, and would improve the nation by strengthening China’s families.

Calls for expanded home economics education continued over the course of the 1930s. A contributor to Funü gongming made points similar to those of He Jing’an. Qu Jingni argued that home economics training would provide the Chinese with a better conception of what was important about family and home management. Like He, Qu believed that the name of the field was misleading and argued that many people just thought that jiazheng referred to “daily insignificant household chores” or “‘housewives and wives’ job,’ something that women are responsible for doing.” Qu explained: “What I mean by jiazheng is not narrowly defined by jiashi, but is the organization of the family [jiating] (including theories and points of view about the family), household economics [jiating jingji], household hygiene, raising children, and all other kinds of common knowledge about the home.” Schools should teach basic ideas about the home so that all Chinese, men and women alike, would know how to create and maintain an ideal domestic space and more perfect family.

Even after the discipline became more widespread in China’s higher-education system of teachers’ schools, colleges, and universities, the question of who should take home economics classes at the middle-school level popped up now and again in various circles, as Qu’s article suggests. In a 1939 piece about how to improve rural education, Wu Zhanyan suggested that jiashi be included in the common curriculum for boys and girls, pointing out that educators were clearly “favoring the old attitude that this class was only for girls, and this is an unfair distribution.” Normal schools should train more teachers in jiashi, but with the aim of thinking about how to solve everyday problems of rural families, and, as Wu put it, “not just accepting the ideas of the west.” Wu was part of a small group of educationalists (along with Qu Jingni) who suggested that both boys and girls participate in home economics training in 1930s China.

Helen M. Schneider is Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Tech and currently a Research Associate at Oxford University.

Reprinted with permission of the Publisher from Keeping the Nation’s House: Domestic Management and the Making of Modern China by Helen M. Schneider © University of British Columbia Press 2011. All rights reserved by the Publisher.

By Nick Holdstock

I first went to Xinjiang in August 2001, ostensibly to teach English in a college in Yining, a small town near the Kazakh border. While I was interested in the region as a whole, what led me to choose Yining were the protests that had taken place in the town in February 1997. Though this had been clearly been a massive outpouring of dissent which led to many casualties, arrests and subsequent executions, the specifics of what had happened, and why, remained frustratingly obscure. I hoped that by living in the town, I could find an explanation that went beyond the polarised narratives offered by the Chinese government— that it was the work of Islamic terrorists—and by Uighur expatriate groups, many of whom portrayed the event as a Tiananmen Square-style massacre.

My immediate, and most enduring, impression was how divided the Han and Uighur communities were in Yining. They lived in different areas, never mixed socially, and had mostly negative stereotypes about one another. The protests were still a politically sensitive topic, and it took time before people were willing to speak about them. By the time I left in late 2002, I felt I had some understanding of the disparate social, economic, and cultural factors that had led to the protests, many of which were still a source of resentment amongst Uighur. My forthcoming book, The Tree That Bleeds, is an attempt to explain some of these issues, and in particular how they affected the lives of ordinary people in the town. My hope is that it will introduce the region and its culture to a non-specialist audience.

The July 5th 2009 riots in Urumqi were an eruption of the same kinds of resentment that led to the Yining riots. Around 200 people were killed, and for the first time it appeared that the protesters (mostly Uighur, young, and male) were targeting people on the basis of their ethnicity, since most of the victims were Han Chinese. On July 7th there were revenge attacks on Uighur neighborhoods in Urumqi, and further protests in September.

When I visited the city in April 2010, I interviewed several of the organisers of the protests (see my piece at n+1), and was shown the following video, which has recently been posted on YouTube (there has since been an effort to prevent the video being seen by parties unknown. This has taken the form of uploading lots of unrelated content with a similar title and keywords, so that it’s now hard to find this video by searching). The clip seems to show soldiers handing out metal poles to Han Chinese civilians, which resemble those used by the mobs that later attacked Uighur districts.

The people in the clip seem bored, and are perhaps waiting—it appears that there are lots of police and soldiers in the area. The most significant moment is around 3:10, where the crowd cheers and then several metal poles are handed out by a soldier in the back of a lorry. There’s no way to know whether this was an isolated incident or not, but if nothing else, it is a small act of collusion between the military and the citizens, one which raises questions about the impartiality of some sections of the state.

Nick Holdstock’s writing on China has appeared at the London Review of Books and n+1.

Earlier this month, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger published On China. Kissinger’s work has received, understandably, a significant amount of attention: not only does On China cover the inside story of Richard Nixon’s landmark 1972 visit to the People’s Republic, it’s also full of Kissinger’s musings on the past, present, and future of Chinese foreign policy. Here, in a special On China reading round-up, we’ve compiled a list of the reviews so far, as well as some links for further reading and listening:

• If you haven’t yet had a chance to dive into Kissinger’s work itself, get a taste of On China from this excerpt at the Wall Street Journal. Also at the WSJ’s website, read this interview between Kissinger and Bret Stephens.

• As we posted the other day, Oxford professor Rana Mitter had an extended conversation with Kissinger on BBC Radio (link active until June 1); read Mitter’s review of On China at the Guardian’s website (and check out the book’s slightly more exciting UK cover art).

• Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace also spoke with Kissinger; listen to the interview and read a sample chapter, on “First Encounters with Mao and Zhou,” here.

• Historian Jonathan Spence reviews On China in a lengthy piece at the New York Review of Books.

• CNN’s Fareed Zakaria named On China his book of the week.

• The New York Times ran two reviews of the book: the first by Michiko Kakutani, the second by Max Frankel.

• A “virtual book tour” around the web featured reviews at many sites familiar to China Beat readers, including Mark’s China Blog and Inside-Out China. For a complete list of tour stops and links to reviews (some still yet to come), see here.

• For readers wondering if On China has gotten any attention in China, Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei notes that while the book has not been published on the mainland, it has been commented on. A sample of articles: Netease, People’s Daily, and M4.cn, which ran a translation of Kakutani’s New York Times review.

• Elizabeth Economy reviews On China at the Council on Foreign Relations website.

The Economist has a review that spins off Kissinger’s work to question how long the U.S. and China can sustain a relationship based on economic interdependence but marked by an absence of mutual trust.

• Finally, a contrarian view: at the Huffington Post, Michael Levy offers this advice to readers seeking to understand China: “skip Henry Kissinger’s new tome and pick up books by writers (whether journalists or novelists) who are in touch with the average Zhou.”

By Rana Mitter

I was recently asked to interview Henry Kissinger for BBC radio, on the occasion of the publication of his new book On China. Something of an unnerving prospect – on the one hand, clearly one of the most controversial figures of the Cold War, on the other, one of the few still left who can claim to have taken part in an event that really did change the way the world works. We had time for an extended conversation, which stretched from his views of Truman and Eisenhower, through the Nixon visit, to more contemporary issues of human rights and democracy. I think there are some interesting answers there, some of which we haven’t heard before from Kissinger. Though I do regret that the BBC cut my question about whether he identified with Li Hongzhang (he said he didn’t… but he understood him).

The interview is available through this weblink until 10 pm UK time on Wednesday 1 June.

By Stefan R. Landsberger

King, Richard, Ralph C. Croizier, Scott Watson, and Sheng Tian Zheng. Art in Turmoil: The Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1966-76. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010. xii, 282 pp. $85.00 (cloth), $32.95 (paper).

The Cultural Revolution (CR) decade may have ended more than 40 years ago, but interest in the massive quantity of artwork it produced is still very much alive, leading to heated debates on relevance, quality, influence, and even, one could argue, more reactionary discussion on recognition, authorship and (intellectual) ownership of the original producers. The present volume engages with the creation and appreciation of visual, literary and performing arts of that decade, as well as their interpretation, appropriation and reinvention since then.

Julia Andrews examines the careers of representatives of the three generations of artists active during the CR, such as those who had grown up during the Republic, those who actively participated in the creation of the People’s Republic, and those who were born after 1949 (27-57). She shows how creative ability could help overcome persecution: the same political demands on the arts that had relegated older and established cultural producers to the “cow sheds” could actually alleviate their suffering in a later stage when their talents were needed. Likewise, promising artists from the third generation were able to follow alternative career paths by creatively manipulating the same political practices that had initially blocked their advance. Lastly, Andrews looks beyond the Maoist period to try and fathom why its aesthetics remain so pervasive to the present day. Her tentative conclusion points to the commonality that these public presentations have, i.e., a kind of “fictionalized remembrance” (56-57). The story of Shi Lu (Feng Yaheng), who created the masterpiece Fighting over Northern Shaanxi, as described by Shelley Drake Hawkes (58-90), narrates the vagaries of an artist who started out as an ardent supporter of the Party, only to be caught in the crossfire of life-and-death struggles over artistic styles and politics even before the CR had actually begun. Spurned by contemporaries for his artistic innovations, he achieved a form of self-liberation by returning to the precepts of the New Culture movement and Confucius.

Part Two presents the memoirs of two artists who took part in the movement, in different capacities. Shengtian Zheng, now credited with having created most of the landmark painting Chairman Mao Inspects Areas South and North of Yangtze River Near Wuhan, looks back on his experiences as a young artist and teacher at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (Hangzhou) during the CR (93-106). Gu Xiong, on the other hand, was an active participant in the movement, first as a Red Guard and then as a sent-down youth. During his stay in the countryside, he documented his fellow exiles and the lives they led in sketchbooks, which he was able to retrieve a quarter of a century later (107-118). Although these chapters, dwelling on deprivation, mistreatment and torture, are certainly interesting, they shy away from certain critical issues that need clarification: the nature of the Party leadership’s relationship with the arts establishment and the artists as well as the artists‘ attitudes towards and their relationship with (political) patrons. How else can one explain the relative liberty that artists enjoyed while preparing a commissioned work, even while being struggled against?

Part Three deals with the way in which iconic artistic products of the period are negotiated in the present. Britta Erickson discusses the creation of the famous Rent Collection Courtyard sculpture group in 1965 and the furor its appropriation by Cai Guo-Qiang at the 1999 Venice Biennale caused in China (121-135). Although the political sentiments instrumental in the creation of the original group are no longer relevant, its ascribed model status has turned it into an exemplary “Chinese” creation that cannot be sullied. Cai’s “recycling” turned him into a lightning rod for nationalistic resentment (132-135). Similar but, at the same time, completely opposite mechanisms are at work when dealing with the creative works produced over the past five decades by the peasants-artists in Hu Xian, Shaanxi Province. Ralph Croizier shows how these painters moved from wall painting to basically producing art in any medium for any type of demand. They responded to the highly politicized market of the early 1970s by painting, with or without the assistance of sent-down professional artists, politically correct images of idealized rural life that would come to define how China “looked” in those days. At the same time, they easily adapted to the commercialized market of the 1980s, when naive “peasant art” became much sought after (136-163).

Paul Clark not only dispels the myth that there were only eight model works for 800 million people to go see during the CR, but also convincingly shows the vibrancy and dynamism of the performing arts in this period (167-187). And even though the model works (operas, ballets, symphonies) arguably stifled creativity in many respects, they may have, in the end, contributed more to the modernization of various genres of performance than the political pronouncements and experiments in the decades preceding it. By analyzing the two model ballets The White-Haired Girl and The Red Detachment of Women (188-202), Bai Di takes the role and meaning of model works one step further to argue that they in essence stressed degendering, creating a feminist utopia where androgyny is very much present (190-191). This degendering is antithetical to the current regendering taking place in Chinese society, making the model women of the CR exemplary in their escape from subordinate gender roles. In the final chapter, Richard King analyzes the militant hero around whom most of the model (propaganda) art of the CR revolved (203-215). As the fortunes of the CR leadership waned, the militancy of their heroes, intended to mobilize the people against perceived opponents, became ever more outspoken. But this was a cardinal sin against the principle of propaganda: to be acceptable, propaganda (art) must at least reflect some recognizable reality. Once this ceases to be the case, it falls on deaf ears.

This volume compellingly illustrates that the artistic products of the CR period were anything but “artless, sterile, without depth, without truth, and without reality” (189). Moreover, present-day artistic producers and their works, as well as society at large, continue to be influenced by them.

Stefan R. Landsberger is Olfert Dapper Professor of Contemporary Chinese Culture at University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Associate Professor of Contemporary Chinese History and Society at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

© 2011 by Twentieth-Century China Editorial Board. All rights reserved.

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