Over the last several decades, there has been a voluminous amount of scholarly literature about the transformation of women and gender, as well as about the reconstruction of Chinese religions in the context of twentieth-century Chinese modernity. The relationship and intersection of these two separated fields, however, remain uncharted territory. This essay is an introduction to three studies which address this lacuna. It places these writings in the existing scholarship on themes related to women, gender, and religion, and outlines the various ways in which they bring together the two hitherto disconnected facets of academic research on women and religion in the study of modern China, with a focus on the period from the 1900s to 1950s. Together they highlight the gender dynamics of the twentieth-century construction of Chinese religions, and forge new gendered understandings of Chinese modernity.
This article seeks to bridge the hitherto disconnected studies of the “woman question” and “religious question” in the twentieth-century Chinese revolution. It focuses on the issues of women’s liberation and anti-superstition in Communist propaganda through Xiao Erhei jiehun (Young Blackie gets married), a popular novel by the Communist writer Zhao Shuli (1906-70) published in 1943, and examines its impact in comparative context in wartime Communist base areas. Drawing on the religious culture of the author’s native southern Shanxi, this revolutionary classic promoted freedom of marriage through attacking “feudal superstition.” The article compares wartime religious and revolutionary culture in Zhao’s rural Shanxi with the CCP’s cultural and political agendas in its headquarters of Yan’an. Despite its immense success, the novel’s original messages of women’s liberation and anti-superstition gradually became marginal in the early PRC years – both discourses gave way to the party-state’s higher ideological goal of class struggle, and were subsumed into the metanarrative celebrating the absolute leadership of the Communist Party and Mao Zedong.
This volume includes 14 articles translated from the leading academic history journal in China,
Historical Studies of Contemporary China (Dangdai Zhongguo shi yanjiu). It offers a rare window for the English speaking world to learn how scholars in China have understood and interpreted central issues pertaining to women and family from the founding of the PRC to the reform era. Chapters cover a wide range of topics, from women’s liberation, women’s movement and women’s education, to the impact of marriage laws and marriage reform, and changing practices of conjugal love, sexuality, family life and family planning. The volume invites further comparative inquiries into the gendered nature of the socialist state and the meanings of socialist feminism in the global context.