In Republican Beijing matchmakers (mei) not only arranged marriages, but also acted as brokers in domestic labor. Finding and helping a family to keep a suitable wet nurse often proved contentious. Changes to the legal environment from the 1910s to the 1930s made the task even more challenging. Previously Chinese society may have treated wet nurses as part of a household with stakes in the overall well-being of the family and a paternal guarantee of food and shelter, but the emphasis on contract as the mode of engagement in the early twentieth century altered wet nurses’ status. For some women contracts became a device through which to confront their employers, while for others the loss of constructed family obligation proved devastating. This article draws upon police records to expose rivalries between servants and the precarious nature of domestic employment in this transitional period. The experience of wet nurses also reveals competing ideas about what constituted a family at the beginning of the twentieth century, as eventually co-sanguinal prevailed over co-residential conceptions of the household unit.
Charlotte FurthA Flourishing Yin: Gender in China’s Medical History 960–1665 (Berkeley: University of California Press1999); Yi-Li Wu Reproducing Women: Medicine Metaphor and Childbirth in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: University of California Press 2010). For the more recent period see Tina Phillips Johnson Childbirth in Republican China Delivering Modernity (New York: Lexington Books 2011).
Margaret KuoIntolerable Cruelty: Marriage Law and Society in Early Twentieth Century China (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield2012); Lisa Tran Concubines in Court: Marriage and Monogamy in Twentieth Century China (Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield 2015).
Alison Dray-Novey“Spatial Order and Police in Imperial Beijing,”Journal of Asian Studies 52.4 (1993): 885–992 and “The Twilight of the Beijing Gendarmerie 1900–1924” Modern China 33.3 (2007): 349–76. See also Michael Hoi Kit Ng “The Ordering of Crime in Republican Beijing from the 1910s to the 1930s” in Billy K.L. So and Madeline Zelin eds. New Narratives of Urban Space in Republican Chinese Cities: Emerging Social Legal and Governance Orders (Leiden: Brill 2013) 113–34.
Lisa Tran“The Concubine in Republican China: Social Perception and Legal Construction,”Études chinoises 28 (2009): 119–49. To demonstrate this Tran provides sample cases and cites as well Guo Wei 郭衛 ed. Daliyuan panjueli quan shu 大理院判決例全書 (Taibei: Chengwen chubanshe 1976) 210.
Paul J. BaileyWomen and Gender in Twentieth Century China (New York: Palgrave Macmillan2012) and especially “Chapter 3: Gender Discourses in the Early Republic” 49–67. Siao-chen Hu “The Construction of Gender and Genre in 1910s New Media: Evidence from the Ladies’ Journal” in Nanxiu Qian Grace S. Fong Richard J. Smith eds. Different Worlds of Discourse: Transformations of Gender and Genre in Late Qing and Early Republican China (Leiden: Brill 2008) 349–82. Gary Wang “Making ‘Opposite-sex Love’ in Print: Discourse and Discord in Linglong Women’s Pictorial Magazine 1931–1937” Nan Nü: Men Women and Gender in China 13 (2011): 244–347.