2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 193

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Gender Paradigms Before and After the Scholarship of Susan Mann

Organizer: Dorothy Ko, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA

Chair: Cheryl L. Barkey, Cabrillo College, USA

In a span of thirty years, historian Susan Mann has reshaped scholarship on China by introducing new sources and methods to illuminate the lives of previously neglected social groups. To mark the retirement of this influential scholar (Levenson and Fairbank-prize winner and past AAS president), this panel brings together junior, mid-career, and senior scholars to examine the broad impact of Mann’s scholarship. The papers which each take up a different thread of Mann’s work range from the humanities to the social sciences; from studies of visual and material culture to analyses of state policy and local history; from the late imperial period through the communist era. All five papers use gender as a shared category of analysis. Fourteen years after the publication of Mann’s Precious Records, they extend and complicate the meaning of the gender paradigm for future researchers. Li focuses on gender and ethnicity in migrant communities on the empire’s south-eastern border. Lu investigates the emotional dimensions of husband-wife relations. Wu extends gendered analysis to merchant masculinity. Judge uses visual culture to probe the elusive question of sexuality. Wang analyzes the engendered state from comparative and cross-period perspectives. The panel will use a creative format. All papers will be posted online in February. Participants will have ten to twelve minutes to comment not on their own but on one of the other four papers which they will briefly summarize before raising questions and making connections that broaden the discussion. A full hour will be devoted to discussion from the floor.

Writing Marital Intimacy after the Works of Susan Mann
Weijing Lu, University of California, San Diego, USA

In the early 1970s, anthropologist Margery Wolf first brought attention to the “mother-son” bond in the Chinese family. In the decades that followed, culminating in the 2007 publication of Mann’s book, Talented Women of the Zhang Family, the field witnessed a transformation in the study of relationships and emotions that not only ended the marginalization and isolation of women but also changed the conventional ways of conceptualizing historical questions and understanding history. Mann’s work has been instrumental to this change. Her sensitive constructions of relationships, including those of mother-child, husband-wife, father-daughter, sister-brother, aunt-niece, and teacher-student, are integral to her narratives of late imperial women’s and gender history, bringing to life the rich meanings of humanity that were mediated by contemporary (local as well as empire-wide) ideological, socio-economicand cultural conditions. This paper intends to (re)read Mann’s work—on the women in scholar Zhang Xuecheng’s life, the 18th century women’s life course, and especially the generations of female poets of the Zhang family—in order to reflect on and envision future research. I focus first on the methodological significance of Mann’s work—how she retrieves and contextualizes sources, applies analytical devices and historical imagination, and bridges historical, anthropological, and literary methods in her research. Second, I discuss the inspiration I have drawn from Mann’s work in my own current project on conjugal intimacy. Marital love and intimacy have long evaded historians’ attention, and now with a much changed field, it is possible to write their history.

The Courtesan’s Other: Visibility, Sexuality, and the Republican Lady in Early Twentieth Century China
Joan Judge, York University, Canada

“Republican Ladies,” forthright but upright women who emerged into public space in the period following the 1911 Revolution, were more visible than their talented late imperial forebears and more respectable than their infamously public courtesan contemporaries. Their as yet understudied lives provide crucial insights into the modern unfolding of the millennia-old tension between good women and fallen women, and by extension, into early Republican social and sexual practices. This paper draws on Susan Mann’s scholarly legacy in seeking new methods of overcoming the silence in the Chinese historical record on women’s intimate lives. It also follows Mann in both using gender issues to question received narratives of Chinese history and the study of Chinese history to challenge universalizing Western assumptions. The paper attempts to overcome the silence on issues related to sexuality in the Chinese sources by examining non-textual materials, specifically, a unique and extensive archive of photographs published in China’s first commercial women’s journal. Read in conjunction with texts from both within and outside of the journal, and juxtaposed to photographs printed in a series of contemporary courtesan albums, these photographs add new layers to our knowledge not only of gender representations but of everyday materiality and social practices. Contrary to received narratives that depict the early Republic as an unmitigated failure, these various visual and textual sources reveal the dynamism and creative ambivalence of the early Republican moment. They further highlight Chinese moral and aesthetic approaches to sexuality and desire that challenge the hegemony of contemporary Western medicalized conceptions of the body.

Women’s Learning: Gender and Ethnicity in Local History
Guotong Li, California State University, Long Beach, USA

This paper will open with an analytical review of Mann’s work on women’s learning and learned women in late imperial China, including Precious Records and Talented Women of the Zhang Family. Building on Mann’s method and insights, the paper will discuss the entanglements of gender and ethnicity in local history. Its focus is a case study of the first didactic book for women published in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911)—Women’s Learning by Lan Dingyuan (1680-1733). As Mann has revealed, the study of local history offers us an incisive perspective on how local administrators devised policies to promote Qing family values and how they negotiated with the court in favor of the local. Lan was a non-Han county magistrate in China’s Southeast Coastal region. The analysis of his dedication to women’s learning and his unique opinions on the importance of gender issues in a migrant society across the Taiwan Strait allows us to place Mann’s scholarship on the Lower Yangzi region in a broader geographic perspective. As Mann has pointed out, “Studies of mobility to date have focused on males, but anecdotal evidence reveals the impact of mobility on gender relations.” This research will move beyond anecdotal evidence in order to enrich our understanding of a gendered migrant society along the Southeast Coast through the lens of a non-Han county magistrate.

Constructing Masculinity: Extending Susan Mann’s Work to the Study of Merchant Material Culture in Late Imperial China
Yulian Wu, University of South Carolina, USA

Susan Mann has won prizes for her ground-breaking work on women’s history, but it is less well-known that she also opened the field to men’s studies by expanding the meaning of gender as a category of analysis. Unlike previous works on masculinity that focused on literati men or homosexuality, Mann has broadened the study of men by tracking three venues of male bonding: the family, sworn brotherhoods, and friendship networks. She has thus provided the groundwork for studies of men beyond the literary elites. In this paper, I first summarize Mann’s analytic frameworks and findings, which I then extend to the study of merchants. Specifically, I draw on my research on the material culture of merchants in Huizhou in the Ming-Qing period to address the following questions: How did merchants as sojourners who spent an enormous amount of time on the road with other men, create and maintain networks with other businessmen, degree holders and powerful people through the flow of objects, such as gift-exchanges and the negotiation of dowries? As merchants blurred the status boundary by investing in the scholar-elite lifestyle through hobbies such as collecting, were their activities motivated by a desire to build up their masculinity as wen civility? During the late imperial commercial revolution, did the concepts of ownership or luxury consumption define a new type of masculinity for merchants, outside the realm of literati identity? By exploring merchants’ masculinity, this paper aims to outline a new method of integrating analyses of gender and material culture.

The State in Susan Mann’s Gender History
Zheng Wang, University of Michigan, USA

This paper analyzes the innovative methods Mann has used to transform our knowledge of state policies and the structure of the polity in China by conducting two sets of comparisons. First, it compares her work with work on gender and the state in U.S. history. This cross-field comparison highlights how by applying a gender lens to a realm in which women were systematically excluded, Mann shows that “the state” is inherently gendered and inseparable from women’s labor and multiple roles in the family. In so doing, she also illuminates significant differences between China and the West in relations between the state and the family. This contrast enhances our appreciation of Mann’s theoretical efforts to identify the limits of theories and conceptual frameworks generated from Euro-American experiences in analyzing Chinese politics, society and culture. Second, this paper compares Mann’s analyses of the late imperial state and society with studies of modern China—a cross-period comparison. Mann’s works provide scholars of modern China with a point of reference to examine both the continuity and transformation of the Chinese state in its pursuit of modernity. More importantly, her scholarship delineates a paradigm of engendering the state by examining economic, social, and cultural activities of women, either in response to state policies or in their impact on the polity. Mann’s adroit weaving of diverse threads yields new patterns of historical fabric and is instructive for researchers of any period and in fields as diverse as history, anthropology, political science, and economics.