Holding Up Half the Family

Women in the Villages of South China


In: Journal of Chinese Overseas
Michael Williams (韋邁高) Adjunct Professor, Australia China Institute for Arts and Culture, Western Sydney University Sydney Australia

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The Chinese diaspora seen as a movement, at least in the years before the mid-twentieth century, is characterised largely as one of men. But the majority of these men stayed in close connection with an equally great, if not larger, group of women who remained at home in their south China villages. It is argued here that the role and significance of these women of the villages in the Chinese diaspora has been greatly under-researched. It is also argued that such neglect has meant that too great an emphasis has been put in the literature on leaving and settlement, as opposed to remaining and returning. Life for these women in the villages was one dependent on remittances, which in turn was a mixture of relative wealth and poverty, dependence and independence, authority and anxiety, and loneliness and freedom. It is concluded that the integration of half the participants in the Chinese diaspora – in so far as our largely male-based sources allow – into the literature of the Chinese overseas has much to offer in terms of our interpretation of the impact of the restrictive laws of the white-settler nations and of the motivations of those who returned to the villages and of those who did not.

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