2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 323

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Gender and Transnationalism in China

Organizer: Adelyn Lim, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Chair: Lisa C. Fischler, Moravian College, USA

Discussant: Lida V. Nedilsky, North Park University, USA

This panel aims to situate critical perspectives of China within a gendered understanding of transnationalism. Transnational processes are embedded in and transcend one or more nation-states and implicit in scholarship on transnationalism is the work of the “state” as the guardian of national borders, the arbiter of citizenship, and the entity responsible for foreign policy. However, this does not entirely encapsulate the agency of ordinary men and women in transnational processes. One of the most visible and significant manifestations of transnationalism in China is the process of mobility – migration and travel, diffusions of information, culture, and discourse, and flows of capital and trade – that crosses, transcends, or otherwise challenges the limitations of Chinese state bureaucracy and other state apparatuses in establishing and reproducing national ideologies and borders. In this panel, transnationalism is not merely analyzed as multiple interactions and networks linking individuals or institutions across national borders. Rather, transnationalism here is concerned with the contradictions and tensions that accompany these multiple interactions and networks. We examine systematically the crucial contribution of gender relations in several major dimensions of transnational processes: citizenship rights and duties; identity, kinship, and community; women’s activism and feminist discourse; and war and nationalist ideologies.

The Impact of War on Transnational Consciousness in the Chinese Women’s Movement
Louise Edwards, University of South Wales, Sydney, Australia

This paper explores the manner in which core Chinese women’s magazines published during the 1937-1945 Sino-Japanese war reflected a change in the transnational consciousness in the women’s movement. Prior to the crisis generated by the war women activists had maintained strong international and regional links with sister women’s organizations—including those in Japan. The women’s movement had an inherent transnational consciousness prior to the invasion by Japan. This paper explores the impact of war, with its incumbent increase in nationalistic sentiments, on the Chinese women’s movement. It explores how the dominant idea of China as a beleaguered race-nation, threatened with extinction and destruction, altered the enthusiasm for transnational links and changed the ways in which they operated.

From China to America and Back: Gender and Chinese Identity Transnationally
Lisa C. Fischler, Moravian College, USA

Transnationalism, the defining hallmark of socio-political life since the 1990s, offers perspectives on the global circulation of peoples, information, ideas, goods, and services that challenges leaders and activists more than ever before due to the contingent ways in which these factors rapidly shape countries’ interdependence and interconnectedness. In the era of opening and reform, most of the focus has been on the People’s Republic of China’s economics and politics. Since the days of the “ping-pong diplomacy” that nudged open the closed diplomatic doors between the PRC and the U.S., though, people-to-people exchanges across the Pacific have undergirded the ebbs and flows in relations between China and America. The international adoption of China’s daughters by American families encompasses economic, political, and social dimensions of transnationalism in the Sino-American relationship, but remains an as yet under-researched and underappreciated lens by which to better understand how the local and the global are complexly interwoven in the twenty-first century. The flow of China’s orphaned girls across the Pacific to American families has and is changing the ways in which “Chinese identity,” “kinship,” and “community” are constructed in both the U.S. and the PRC. The ripple effect of such shifts has yet to be fully comprehended in both countries. Using a comparative and historical gender perspective, this paper proposes to flesh out the implications for the socio-political impact of the current transnational circulation of China’s orphaned daughters on migration and citizenship because these issues continue to challenge both U.S. and China policymakers in a twenty-first century globalizing world.

Transnational Solidarity among Women Activists in Hong Kong
Adelyn Lim, National University of Singapore, Singapore

This paper examines the mobilization of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. Migrant domestic workers, the majority of whom are Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, and Nepalese, comprise ten per cent of the working population but are not considered part of the “labor movement” and remain an “invisible” community of women within Hong Kong society. Class, ethnicity, and gender are constructed in ways that have created divisions among migrant workers and between migrant workers and local workers. I discuss conditions leading to the emergence of their mobilization and how these women challenge existing perspectives of global feminism and transnational activism. I show how activists, both local and migrant women, come to recognize the diverse concerns, interests, and needs of each ethnic group, confront language and cultural differences, and overcome these divisions to act with solidarity. This movement, I argue, is an alternative form of women’s transnational organizing.

Indigenization, Localization, Nativization: The Meanings of Bentuhua and Transnational Feminism in China
Sharon R. Wesoky, Allegheny College, USA

This paper will explore the various meanings of bentuhua (“indigenization”), in contemporary Chinese women’s studies and feminist practice. Transnational feminism has undoubtedly had a profound influence on Chinese feminism in the reform era—through international funding agencies financing feminist “projects” in China as well as through the discursive channels of international conferences and exchanges. Concepts such as shehui xingbie (“gender”) as well as “training” (peixun) have been adopted and adapted into the Chinese context, with increasing discussion among Chinese feminist practitioners regarding the need for bentuhua of transnational feminist concepts and discourses. This paper will examine how some leading Chinese feminist thinkers, including Li Xiaojiang, Du Fangqin, and Liu Bohong, understand the meanings of bentuhua, and will also explore how bentuhua presents critiques both of universalizing globalization and the state-led version of capitalist modernization current hegemonic in China.