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Women in China’s Long Twentieth Century is a book written by Gail Hershatter. The book is an essential guide for scholars of both Chinese and non-Chinese origins interested in learning about the history of Chinese women. Hershatter is a renowned historian of China. In the book, she reviews up to 600 scholarly works. These reviews focus on marriages, relations, sexuality, employment, and public modernity of the Chinese women during the 20th century. Through this, she presents intense and logical verdict about the life of the Chinese women in the 20th century. The outcome of this is a book with a considerate expression of how we can come close to the history of the Chinese women.
Goals of the work
After reading through this book, a reader will notice that the author’s main goal of writing was to offer a historical analysis about the study of women in the recent Chinese history. Through this, the author wanted to reveal the marriage, family, sexuality, labor, and public modernity of Chinese women in the 20th century. In the first chapter, the author’s main objective is to introduce the reader to the marriage, family, sexuality, and gender difference in Chinese history (Hershatter 4).
In these chapters, the author illustrates the Chinese urban and rural marriage in the 20th century. During this period, the city women had began to be tolerable to foreign cultures, and others got married to the foreigners. On the other hand, wedding feasts, transfer of gifts between families, and official exhortations to frugality depicted the rural marriages. The author points out that the descriptions of marriage practices across the 20th century, among both elites and the less affluent, were focused on the patriarchal, patrilocal, and patrilinear features of marriage (Hershatter 18).
Over the last few decades, there have been misconceptions about the Chinese people in the western countries. As such, many westerners believe that most Asian women are loose as depicted in the movies. Others believe that Asian women are respectful and well behaved. This book brings out the clear understanding of Chinese women during the 20th century demystifying the misconception held about them in the west. Therefore, another major objective of the author for writing the book is to demystify the misconceptions about the Chinese women and their families.
With respect to family, the author asserts that most of the sociological literature published in the 20th century in China focused more on the study of household rather than on gender or women. She asserts that this has had an implication in the study and analysis of women’s lives. As such, these literatures indicate that while the governments might have modified marriage and family practices, it did little to transform women’s lives.
Equally, the author points out that the extended or joint family triumphed until the establishment of the PRC. During the New Culture Movement, critics of the extended family argued that China’s problems were to be blamed on patriarchal families. According to these critics, extended families enhance slave mentality, perpetuated generational and gender hierarchies, monopolized people’s loyalties, and prevented interest in wider social and national issues.
To illustrate the labor situations of the 20th century to the reader, the author analyses several literatures focused on Chinese women’s history (Hershatter 51). Through this, he asserts that the scholarship on women and labor in 20th century China follows a familiar path of feminist scholarship. This path begins by indicating that in the 20th century women played a huge role working in the factories, fields, and homes. By doing so, they contributed to the household income and working class as their male counterparts.
Later, an examination of how the presence of women changes the overall historical narrative is illustrated (Hershatter 54). Despite the women’s enormous contribution in the labor force in the 20th century, the author points out that division of labor was still gendered to some extent that some women were prohibited from certain professions. Into the 20th century, women’s proper place in labor was still associated with family and household roles.
In the third chapter, the author’s main goal was to highlight the theme of national modernity in China during the 20th century. Through the chapter, the author reminds the readers that the past Chinese scholars and revolutionaries always regarded the position of women in society as an indicator of the strength of the state. For instance, the author asserts that the Chinese legendary ruler called Liang Qichao held women responsible for the weakness of the state. In the book, Hershatter asserts that Liang Qichao believed that women were parasites in the society. The leader failed to appreciate the role played by women as reproductive citizens (Hershatter 79).
Similarly, the author might have written this book with the aim of celebrating the struggles of Chinese women in the 20th century. The depiction of Chinese woman’s life in the 20th century was completely different from the depiction of the 21st century. This implies that many transformations have occurred in the Chinese society to improve the livelihoods of their women and girls. Thus, the author in producing this book wanted to celebrate these transformations, and remind the 21st century of the struggles their predecessors had.
Because this book relies on existing literatures about Chinese women in the 20th century, there is a possibility that the author wrote it to combine several essays written by different people into a single volume. Through this, it would be easy for scholars to locate and analyze on Chinese women’s history.
How the author pursues these goals
While coming up with the book, Hershatter pursues several approaches to ensure that his goals are met. To substantiate on her claims, she consulted more than 750 existing literatures. The whole of this book is based on an analysis of the previous literatures written on women during the 2oth century. Hershatter analyses these literatures to come up with detailed history of the Chinese women. These literatures do not only make his work reliable, but also allows the reader to have a comprehensive understanding about the 20th century Chinese woman.
With the use of the above literatures, the author uses exposition approach to analyze the history of Chinese women. She combines these literatures’ explanations and analyses to present her facts. Through this, the subject matter being discussed in the book is presented clearly as possible.
By printing this book in the English language, the author manages to attract the attention of international readers. This approach enabled him to offer the world a chance to learn about the historical analysis of 20th century Chinese women, which was part of his major goals in writing the book. If the writer had written the book in Chinese language only, the book could be available to Chinese readers only. Through this, scholars from all over the world who can read in English can read and understand the book.
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Another approach used by the author to achieve her goals in the book, is evidenced by the way she arranged the chapters, paragraphs, and pages. As such, the book is written using simple language. A reader really finds the use of complex or exaggerated words in the book. In the book, paragraphs are presented in short sentences. Similarly, these paragraphs are made up of short sentences. Equally, there is a logical transition between paragraphs. As such, one paragraph leads to the other. The same approach has been used in the organizations of the book chapters. For instance, the first chapter focuses on the history of marriage, family, sexuality, and gender difference.
The second, the third, and the fourth chapter focus on labor, national modernity, and afterthoughts in that order. Based on this arrangement, a reader is first introduced to the basic information about the Chinese families and gender issues. From the second chapter onwards, the subject matter gets complex as the books transitions from one chapter to another. The information learned in the first chapters are used in the understanding of the following chapters. Through this approach, the author manages to achieve his goal of getting the readers understand her arguments in the book. Similarly, through the approach the author manages to attract the attention of the reader throughout the book.
How successful is the author
After reading through this book, I have understood how women lived and behaved in China during the 20th century. The book has enabled me to have a mental picture of how labor, family, and gender situations were in China during the 20th century. Based on this, I believe that the author was successful in meeting her objectives. According to amazon.com, a leading e-bay company that sells books, the number of books sold through its website total to 1,064,018 from the year 2007.
Considered that amazon.com is just a part of numerous retailers that sell books, there are possibilities that the book has been sold in more units across the world. As a result, millions of individuals have read and understood the book’s content. Through this, the author’s intentions of informing more and more individuals about the history of the Chinese women have been achieved. Therefore, the author’s effort can be rated as successful.
Equally, a search through a number of English books and articles focused on Asian women’s history have mentioned and acknowledged this book. This indicates that the book is being considered one of the major guides to understanding the history of Chinese women in the 20th century. For instance, Susan Mann in the book Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History has made reference of this book (Mann 210). Based on these illustrations, it is apparent that the author has been successful.
Concerning reaching out to the non-English speaking readers, the author can be deemed as unsuccessful. This book is only available in an English version, preventing non-English readers from accessing its content. If the book could be made available in other languages, the success of the author would increase tremendously. He would be able to reach out to millions of other interested readers who are not accessible by now.
In conclusion, it should be noted that Women in China’s Long Twentieth Century is an essential guide for every scholar of both Chinese origin and non-Chinese origin interested in learning about the history of Chinese women. After reading through this book, a reader should notice that the author’s main goal of writing this book was to offer a historical analysis about the study of women in the recent Chinese history. Through this, the author wanted to reveal the marriage, family, sexuality, labor, and public modernity of Chinese women in the 20th century.
Correspondingly, the author might have written this book with the aim of celebrating the struggles of Chinese women in the 20th century. The depiction of Chinese woman’s life in the 20th century was completely different from the depiction of the 21st century. This implies that many transformations have occurred in the Chinese society to improve the livelihoods of their women and girls.
In coming up with the book, Hershatter pursues several approaches to ensure that his goals are met. To substantiate on her claims, she consulted more than 750 existing literatures. The whole book is based on an analysis of the previous literatures written on women during the 2oth century. By printing this book in the English language, the author manages to attract the attention of international readers. Another approach used by the author to achieve her goals in the book, is evidenced by the way she arranged the chapters, paragraphs, and pages. In general, the author was successful in meeting her objectives.
Hershatter, Gail. Women in China’s long twentieth century. Berkeley, Calif. [u.a.: Global, Area, and International Archive, University of California Press, 2007. Print.
Mann, Susan. Gender and sexuality in modern Chinese history. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.