Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 1, September 1998

The Language of Liberation:
Gender and Jiefang in early Chinese Communist Party Discourse.

Harriet Evans

  1. Debates about feminism and socialism have long ceased to occupy centre stage in feminist analyses of approaches to women's liberation.[1] If the events that shook the socialist 'bloc' in 1989 finally sealed the fate of socialism, the suggestion that socialism could somehow provide an answer to feminism's concerns had been discredited long before. As Deng Xiaoping's market-oriented reform programme progressed in the 1980s, Chinese feminists became increasingly critical of the vertical approach to the 'woman question' pursued between 1949 and the late 1970s.[2] Evidence had long demonstrated the fallacies of the classical Marxist formula that women's participation in 'social labour' was the key to women's emancipation. The entry of women into the labour force did not significantly alter the customary domestic division of responsibilities, with women as the prime carers and servicers of husbands, children and often parents-in-law.[3] Scholars writing in English about women in socialist states, in particular China and the former Soviet Union, repeatedly pointed to the contradictions between the official promise that women would be liberated by proletarian revolution and the realities of women's continuing social and economic subordination to men.[4] Unable to counter this barrage of criticism, the canon of 'socialist feminism' now reads as testimony to a particular historical moment far removed from the aspirations and desires of young feminists today, whether in the US, Europe or in China. Echoes of it continue to resonate in official Chinese analyses of gender disparities under the current system.[5] At the other extreme, it serves as a reminder of a vertically constructed programme of 'women's liberation' that in many key respects had little to do with women's identification of their own needs.
  2. Given the failure of communist states' programmes of 'women's liberation', discussion about the gendered meanings of jiefang (the Chinese term for liberation) might appear as something of an irrelevance.[6] 'Liberation' now represents ideas and projects which, as Apter and Saich wrote with reference to contemporary understandings of 'Yan'an' as a political experience, have, in the eyes of many, been 'trivialized by history'.[7] To many Chinese women, the notion of 'liberation' belongs to their mothers' and grandmothers' generations. For those older generations, it often recalls a nostalgia for the shared ideals of a purer past when policies of sexual equality seemed to offer women unprecedented and empowering opportunities of social action.[8] The term and practice 'funü jiefang' [women's liberation] for them signified a positive challenge to the conventional male/female dichotomy according to which gender and sexuality were the main signifiers of female experience.[9] Younger women, by contrast, associate the term with a denial of feminine self, with a subjugation of self to masculinist interests, and to political and social constraints belonging to another time and another place. For them, the failure of policies of funü jiefang to eradicate the commercial exploitation of women's bodies, for example, speaks much more eloquently than their mothers' memories.
  3. In the context of these suggestions, the political and ideological positions invoked by the term 'liberation' of course seem condemned to historical ignominy. From another perspective, however, unravelling the different layers of meanings and effects associated with the word jiefang is important because of the formative influence the term had in shaping public articulation about women's and gender issues in China for a very substantial part of this century. Many of the ideological values inscribed in the term jiefang as it was developed in the first two decades of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) history continue to occupy an influential position in contemporary debates about, for example, the distinctions between Chinese and Western approaches to feminism.[10] The collectivist priorities signified by the word 'liberation' have by no means been rejected by contemporary thinkers and activists, even if the term itself is no longer in common usage. Within the dominant discourse of the revolution, the term jiefang exercised extraordinary authority as the set of dispositions that informed women's subjective positioning of themselves as well as others' positioning of them.
  4. Critiques of the Party's failure to live up to its promise to women have largely started out from socio-economic and political analyses of empirical data-for example, of discriminatory employment and remuneration practices, unequal access to education at different levels of the educational system, unequal representation in political bodies, and gender discrimination in the formulation and implementation of population control policy. Many of these analyses have also drawn attention to the inadequacies of Marxist theories of women's emancipation. Recent analyses of dominant discourses of sexuality in the People's Republic of China (PRC) have broadened the debate to argue that a hierarchical biological essentialism has been a persistent constraint on the conceptualisation and implementation of gender policies since 1949.[11] This paper adopts another approach through focusing on the term and concept of 'liberation' [jiefang] as a central component of the Communist Party's discourse on women. On the basis of analysis of CCP and related documents produced between the early 1920s and 1950s, I argue that the texts written about and often for women produced fixed and hierarchically arranged meanings of jiefang, which consistently denied identification of women as agents of gender transformation, and which insisted on the absolute privileging of class over gender in analyses of gender inequalities. The effect of this was not only to subordinate the 'women's movement' to the goals of social and national revolution as a whole. It established the only language in which gender issues could be publicly discussed. funü jiefang thus became a discursive and ideological tool of Communist Party authority, always and necessarily indicative of pre-ordained approaches to women as social agents. The word produced and reinforced many of the hierarchies that its integration into the rhetoric of revolution ostensibly sought to challenge.

    The Party and 'Women's Liberation'
  5. Normative uses of the term jiefang between the 1920s and the early 1950s identify different fields of revolutionary discourse and action, in which those of the nation/society (led by the proletariat) and women were particularly prominent. As part of the linguistic capital accumulated by the Communist Party during these decades, the former was arguably the principal one, as was evidenced by its symbolic place in the moment of the Communist Party's ascension to state political power after its defeat of the Nationalists in 1949. From the earliest days of the CCP and before, national liberation [minzu jiefang] referred to the linked tasks of overthrowing imperialist and feudal control as the condition for national independence. Liberation, in this context, signified a release from the controls of a past system of socio-economic and political power as well as from colonial domination, and the possibility, therefore, of formulating new structures and practices to sustain the benefits of that release.[12] It simultaneously signified the removal of constraints and the creation of a new future. Liberation was also a class process, in which only those constituents identified with the social sectors integrated into the term renmin [the people] could participate.[13] Linked through renmin to the concepts of democracy and dictatorship, it further signified the possibility of extending democratic rights to those within the category of the renmin, and of denying them, through exercising the controls of the dictatorship of the people, to classes deemed unassimilable to the revolutionary purpose.[14]
  6. With reference to women, liberation signified a particular aspect to the struggle envisaged for the nation as a whole. Women's liberation [funü jiefang] was generally defined between the 1920s and the early 1950s as liberation from the patriarchy [zongfa] as well as from feudalism and imperialism. At first glance, it brought a gendered range of meanings into the concept of liberation, to identify the point at which women's particular situation and experiences departed from, or were distinct from those of the nation and society as a whole. Another gloss on the concept of 'women's liberation' of course derives from Mao Zedong's famous analysis, set out in 1927 in his 'Report on an Investigation of the Hunan Peasant Movement'. Mao argued that while 'men generally are subject to the control of three systems of authority (political authority, clan authority and religious authority) ... women in addition are also subject to the control of men (authority of the husband) [fuquan]. These four kinds of authority represent the entire ideology and system of feudal patriarchy [fengjian zongfa]'.[15] From this perspective, patriarchy - here defined very generally to refer to the system of oppression which accounts for women's gendered subordination - emerges as a term which conflates gender and class issues in describing a past system of authority associated with the socio-economic forces that the national application of liberation was oriented to overthrow.
  7. From its earliest days, CCP policy toward women was unequivocal in its formal commitment to women's equal rights with men. Before the founding of the Party in 1921, individuals who were to become communist activists such as Li Da, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao had published a number of articles about women's issues.[16] In its Second Congress, held in July 1922, the young party passed a resolution committing itself to women's liberation as an integral part of the proletarian revolution. It also stipulated a series of laws concerning women's economic, social and educational rights.[17] The following year, in its Third Congress, it reviewed the development of the women's movement, with particular focus on women's participation in the burgeoning labour struggle, and called for the formation of a Women's Committee and the publication of a women's organ.[18] In both congresses, the Party made reference to the need to integrate the women's movement with the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles. Just as significantly for presaging future approaches to gender issues in funü jiefang, the Third Congress also pointed out that patriarchal 'habits' among the male workers were producing conflicts between women and men which threatened the unity of the labour movement.
  8. In this early stage of the communist women's movement, funü jiefang was one - albeit increasingly authoritative - among a number of terms applied to the diverse tasks associated with the women's struggle. Nüquanzhuyizhe (lit. women's power-ism activists), nüquan yundong (lit. women's power movement), nüxingzhuyizhe (female/woman-ism activists) were all terms used by Communist Party sympathisers and members to denote different aspects of the women's movement.[19] Even jiefang was far from being used uniformly during this period. Li Da's 1919 use of nüzi jiefang referred to a kind of humanistic re-integration of women into the political demand for 'persons' rights' [renquan, also translated as 'human rights'].[20] Li Dazhao, writing in 1922, called for 'great unity throughout the world' [shijie de da lianhe] as the condition of women's full jiefang.[21] Again, Xiao Chunü in 1923 called for liberation to start with the 'essential self' [ziji de xing], with the 'essential female' [nüxing] in women. In an essay entitled 'The basic meaning of women's liberation', she argued that women should not demand liberation from society in the expectation that society would grant it to them, but should 'take it' [qu] through liberating themselves from customary expectations and practices.[22]
  9. However, Party expositions on women increasingly clarified the positions associated with funü jiefang , with the simultaneous effect of marginalising other potentially contesting terms outside the boundaries of ideological legitimacy. Hence, by 1925 nüquanzhuyi was clearly identified with a partial and implicitly divisive approach to the whole notion of persons'/human rights.[23] By 1926, articles appeared denigrating the gains of the previous stages of the women's movement, even to the point of questioning women's sincerity in struggling for women's rights.[24] 'Women's activists' [funüzhuyizhe] came in for attack on the grounds that they were too narrowed-minded in their perspective on the 'struggle between the sexes' [liangxing douzheng].[25] By 1926 communist appropriation of jiefang seems to have eclipsed contesting terms defining the women's movement. Henceforth, renewed invocation of women's rights [nüquanzhuyi], ipso facto signalled a challenge to the Party's version of 'liberation'. After 1927, though the specific referents of funü jiefang often shifted according to moment and political need, the discursive range and authority associated with the term settled into a stable relationship with other aspects of communist practice and language.
  10. In its customary use in the language of Chinese communism, jiefang had little to do with the notions of individual and personal rights inscribed in the Western humanist tradition. As Li Xiaojiang has pointed out, whereas liberation and liberty in English are etymologically the same, and signify similar fields of meaning, the Chinese words for liberation and liberty are contrastive; liberation has little to do with freedom in any philosophical or humanist sense, but denotes liberation from particular shackles through collective action with the oppressed class(es).[26] It is thus in the historically specific context of the nation-state, and with particular reference to the twentieth century formulations of national liberation struggle, that the Chinese word jiefang matches its usage and development elsewhere.[27] In England, the women's movement started using the term 'liberation' through its association with political movements from 1940. The common earlier word had been emancipation, a term which was more associated with freeing from the legal powers of the pater familias in Roman law, from slavery, and then by the nineteenth century with 'the removal of legal and political disabilities of women'.[28] The subsequent shift from emancipation to liberation, in Williams' analysis, seemed to 'mark the shift from ideas of the removal of disabilities or the granting of privileges to more active ideas of winning freedom and self-determination.'[29]
  11. In her study of women's activism and gender issues in the CCP the 1920s, Christina Gilmartin uses the term 'emancipation' for 'jiefang' 'to remain faithful to the historical tenor of the 1920s' when women's emancipation was dominant term used in the English women's movement.[30] Though this infers some of the early European influences on the May Fourth women's movement, I prefer to stick to the term 'liberation' in the discussion that follows for a number of reasons. First, its meanings were far from fixed in its early appearance in communist discourse, and though it was often quite loosely applied to a diversity of tasks and goals, it rarely seemed to refer to Western experiences of struggle for the political participation and representation without the mediating textual presence of other terms such as 'women's-rights-ism' [nüquanzhuyi]. As more and more documents were published about the women's movement, funü jiefang's ideological association with the women's labour movement, with the communist-directed challenge to economic structures sustaining private ownership and with the liberation of the proletariat as a whole, became increasingly clear. At the same time, as the above discussion has noted, contrasting terms became increasingly identified with unacceptable ideological positions. Henceforth jiefang was the only legitimate term to apply to the broad goals of 'woman-work' both before and after 1949. Use of the term 'liberation' thus serves to identify the discursive trajectory through which funü jiefang came to identify the legitimate meanings associated with 'woman-work' against its potential contenders. 'Liberation' also identifies the common ideological parameters the CCP used to define the goals and processes of the women's and general social and national struggle.

    Texts and terms of funü jiefang
  12. In a very broad sense, the following discussion about jiefang is informed by my reading of an extensive range of materials written about and often by women in China between the 1920s and the present.[31] My analysis of the key meanings of 'liberation', however, is based on a more focused examination of specific documents and articles from the communist movement between 1919 and the early 1950s. Though the dominant meanings of the term were clearly established by the time the first united front with the Nationalist Party (GMD) collapsed, reference to this longer period better demonstrates the full range of its discursive positions as they were established through time as well as through linguistic, symbolic and ideological structures. As the overall goal of all 'woman-work', funü jiefang of course never identified exactly the same commitments and acts, regardless of moment. In implementation, funü jiefang-and the particular meanings it acquired in political processes-varied in very specific ways at different moments and periods, at different levels of political authority and activism and in different localities. Hence, at the level of central policy formulation, in the form of congressional resolutions for example, 'liberation' could identify a general programme or strategy. In more deliberative or polemical texts, funü jiefang could just as well function as a marker of a particular political position at a particular moment. It was also subject to some modification in interpretation in accordance with policy fluctuations and factionalisms at the central levels of the Communist Party's command structure. A more detailed examination of the specific synchronic meanings of the term within the context of particular strategies and policy orientations would undoubtedly yield some interesting variations. Yet, while as Michael Schoenhals has pointed out, the 'use and abuse, currency and obscolescence of individual terms' invalidates the possibility of any absolute fixing of meaning, funü jiefang rapidly became an instance of discursive closure.[32] Its range of meanings shifted within parameters that were firmly established in the early years of the Communist Party. The dominant significations of the term acquired a hegemonic status within the official discourse on women which transcended policy changes and factional interests.
  13. The following analysis falls into two main parts. The first draws out particular readings of the word jiefang through its political and ideological references, and through its semantic and collocational associations within the narratives of the text. The second contains a more reflective discussion about the meanings inscribed in the various uses of the term to position women as particular subjects within the processes of social transformation.[33]

    a. funü jiefang as destruction of the past and creation of the future
  14. One of the dominant and most frequently applied meanings of funü jiefang before 1949 identified a dual process of 'liberation from' as the condition and basis for the creation of a new future. Women sought liberation from the feudal shackles of the past, from abuse by husbands and mothers-in-law, from ignorance and illiteracy, and from patriarchal constraints on mobility and social activity. As the Hubei activist Xiang Ying (1898-1941) put it in 1940, 'Women's liberation is the thorough destruction of the old and the creation of the new. Progress means getting rid of the old and creating the new....'[34] Though its meaning as a release from the constraints of the feudal past diminished in prominence as the socialist transition gathered steam in the mid-1950s, this theme of jiefang corresponded with the Party's exposition of its 'anti-feudal' struggle in approaching the past as a source of reaction, constraint and burden. Destruction of this past thus became the necessary condition for forging a new future, as Deng Yingchao, one of the most important communist women's leaders, speaking at the Second National Congress of Women in 1953, noted. 'The central tasks the Central Committee has put to the people of the nation....are the reform of the old society in all its aspects and the construction of new democracy. These [provide] the economic and political basis necessary to fundamentally eradicate the feudal system which shackles women and to create the social conditions for the liberation of women.'[35]

    b. funü jiefang as social liberation
  15. A second very common assumption about funü jiefang apparent in its earliest communist usages concerned the links between women's and societal liberation as a whole. The Second Congress of the CCP held in 1922 made this clear when it stated that 'the Chinese Communist Party thinks that women's liberation needs to be carried out through relying on the liberation of the labouring people as a whole, because only if the proletariat obtains political power will women be able to achieve full liberation.'[36] Another document argued that the women's movement was 'an indispensable arm of the revolutionary struggle as a whole'. Raising women's specific demands was therefore an appropriate strategy to encouraging the development of the revolutionary struggle as a whole.[37] Or again, in 1940, an editorial article in the New China publication in Yan'an commented that 'In order to demand their own liberation, Chinese women of today must participate in all movements that benefit the state and nation.'[38]
  16. Here funü jiefang was defined in a dual and complementary sense, on the one hand, as a necessary part of 'social liberation as a whole', dependent on it and doomed to defeat without it, and, on the other, as essential to the success of the broader movement. The particular campaigns or policy objectives of which funü jiefang was expected to become a part shifted at different moments between the 1920's and 1949, to correspond with the particular policy emphases given the revolutionary movement as a whole. Thus, in the Yan'an base area of anti-Japanese resistance, women's participation in the broader movement of 'liberation' took concrete form in setting up co-operative production associations to support frontline activities.[39] In 1948, it took the form of encouraging women to actively participate in the struggle against 'American imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism'[40] By the early 1950s, with the CCP's successful consolidation of state power, it referred more to the classical Marxist formula according to which women's liberation lay in women's equal entry into the public sphere of production and labour. As Deng Yingchao indicated in 1953, 'Ten years of practice has proven that mobilizing the masses of women to participate in production is the basic key to improving equality between men and women and to achieving the thorough liberation of women.'[41]
  17. The gendered and the general applications of 'liberation' are here conflated in a single process of struggle and change. In these first two glosses on the term, the distinctions between its general and the gendered applications emerge not with reference to their implied goals and ideals, but to the mode of their interrelationship and the means used to encourage women's participation across the two. The main distinction was therefore instrumental and tactical, as the CCP's commentaries made clear. However, this collapsing of the two fields of reference of the term did not presuppose a relationship of mutuality, but rather of hierarchy, as a 1941 document made clear.

      In our view, mobilising women to participate in the war is the basic task of the current women's movement. However, if we are to increase women's enthusiasm for participating in the war and want to enable them to participate spontaneously and self-consciously, then we have no option but to take appropriate steps to remove their feudal fetters, raise their social position, protect their personal interests and improve their lives.[42]

    Women's liberation was dependent on social liberation. In epistemological and material terms, society and the revolution pre-existed women, and molded women's gendered struggle for transformation within a political context that privileged class and nation.

    c. funü jiefang as a process of class and gender unity
  18. As a potentially gendered process, funü jiefang rarely referred to release from male controls on grounds of gender. Typically, it called for a challenge to male authority only when this was associated with class oppressors. Within the social classes and sectors to which the term funü jiefang applied, women's liberation could not be divisive. It could only target men of the non-revolutionary classes, men not included within the ranks of renmin, the People. Though in the aftermath of the May Fourth movement until the mid-1920s, communist commentators on women's issues from time to time drew attention to the necessarily gendered aspect of women's demands, official policy documents distributed by the Party made its own position absolutely clear.[43] The Resolution of the CCP's Third Congress for example, referred to the 'crisis' [weiji] produced by gender conflicts between male and female workers which threatened disunity within the labour movement.[44] Or as a 1928 provincial report on woman-work in Henan unequivocally put it,

      women's liberation is only one part of the broad movement of labour liberation. The target of women's liberation in the rural areas are not the men of the same class, but the gentry and landlords. So the women's movement in the rural areas must not impede the broad peasant movement, and rural women must stand on the same battle front as the men of their class, to carry out the revolutionary struggle. Only in this way will they be able to attain liberation.[45]

  19. In this light, funü jiefang could only become an explicitly gendered process when associated with a struggle against the past in the form of male class enemies. As a term central to the political language of the communist-led revolutionary struggle, funü jiefang was thus divested of notions of conflict, contestation and challenge, except where these invoked class as distinct from gender. The hegemonic paradigm of class struggle determined a vocabulary of revolution that had uniform and universal applicability.

      Approaching the women's movement in separation [from the broader movement] gives rise to the 'women's rights' [nüquanzhuyi] tendency. Of course we all know in theory that it is mistaken to emphasize the antagonistic position between the sexes [typical] of the women's rights movement. But in fact, some people cannot avoid committing this error. They fail to examine the roots of women's oppression from a socio-economic basis but explain women's suffering and oppression by referring to men.[46]

    The idea that gender might be treated as a marker of difference in addition to or alongside class resonated too closely with the 'individualist' pitfalls of 'women's-power-ism' [nüquanzhuyi] for the Party's comfort.
  20. This particular aspect of funü jiefang signified a closure on the possibilities of gender as an experimental arena of debate; it also established the parameters of the state's policy towards women after 1949. Apart from a brief period after 1949 when women were urged to take advantage of their new rights as enshrined in the 1950 Marriage Law, women were disenjoined from entering into conflictual relationships with men of their class.[47] By the same token, they were unable to insist on the specificity of a range of gender issues through uniting with women as a gendered rather than class or social category. Logically, therefore, women had to forge the conditions of their own liberation in unity with the rest of the renmin. This construction of funü jiefang by definition precluded the possibility of treating it as an explicitly gendered process, rather than as a bunch of particular effects of other processes on women. The association between an emphasis on gender (as opposed to class) and a 'bourgeois' political stance-already well in place in CCP texts of the mid-1920s-effectively invalidated any plea for a gendered approach.

    d. funü jiefang through the liberation of the majority
  21. A common criticism of the individualist potential of 'gender' as an analytic category was that it suggested the possibility of liberation of a social minority of women. The 'errors' of nüquanzhuyi in large part lay in the latter's elite social positioning, and its elitist separation from the demands of the majority of labouring women.[48] Not only, moreover, was a social minority of women unable to adequately represent the interests of the majority, but as He Xiangning put it in 1925, 'there are too few educated women to rely on them alone for liberation. We have to rely on peasant and worker women if we are to obtain liberation.'[49] The 'misses and ladies from the upper classes' would make little progress through peaceful means; 'women's liberation is a very pressing need, particularly in the countryside. To incorporate all women and not just women from petty bourgeois backgrounds must include several specific aims, including organizing female cadres in factories and villages, demanding equal wages for equal work, giving allowances for childbirth and pregnancy.'[50] Xiang Ying also stated the position very clearly:

      Women's liberation is not the liberation of a minority, for the liberation of a minority is actually no more than the desire of lower level slaves to ascend to the status of higher level slaves, in which even though the situation of the slaves is different, the basic essence of slavery remains the same. So the thorough liberation of women must be the liberation of the great mass of lower class [xiaceng] women. Our female comrades should not only demand their own individual liberation but ought to contribute all their strength to the struggle for the liberation of the great mass of women, particularly working class and peasant women. Women's individual liberation can only be guaranteed through the thorough liberation of the great mass of women.[51]

    As a class-based process, the signifieds of the term funü jiefang identified the appropriate class context establishing the legitimate approaches to women's liberation. In this meaning, funü jiefang identified the worker and peasant women masses as the social carriers of its project. As a category which applied to the political and social tasks of the renmin, funü jiefang by definition could not include interpretations which contradicted its association with the collectivist, class-based principles of those agencies responsible for defining it. In itself, funü jiefang could mean none other than a mass-based approach to woman-work.

    e. jiefang as external process
  22. The language of funü jiefang in the texts examined so far almost exclusively denoted acts and processes in which women were actively encouraged to participate, but in which that participation was discursively removed from women's agency. Women 'are encouraged', 'are mobilized', 'are educated' and 'are liberated' - women are 'done to' - without being active agents of the processes involved. The acts and processes of liberation were defined by authorities external to women, in voices speaking on women's behalf, and defining their good. Of course, this did not mean that women did not act, nor that their actions did not have profound effects on their self-identification as women. The concept of active participation in itself identified women's active efforts in the processes of change. However, textual representation of the efforts involved suggested a collective activity defined and directed by other sources of authority. 'Women's liberation' acquired meaning and possibility not through its links with the experiences and voices of material, living women but through its articulation by a supposedly non-gendered authority which stood outside and above women. Though centrally premised on the massive participation of women in active struggle, funü jiefang thus identified women, first of all, as vehicles of interests, designs and strategies formulated by others.
  23. Of course, the issue of agency was neither necessarily nor specifically gendered; the renmin were also denied agency in the textual processes of their own transformation. However, the Party's claims to legitimacy rested on a kind of organic link with the people; in its own self-definition, the Party's success in 1949 was the inevitable culmination of its self-appointed role as the vanguard and the voice of the People. Women may have been part of the People, but the texts of funü jiefang positioned women in a relationship with the Party that could only be hierarchical-the women's movement was 'under' the leadership of the Party-rather than organic as well. In its idealised self-definition, therefore, the Party did not, and could not, represent women in the way it did the People; by the same token, the lack of women's agency was not simply another discursive rendering of the lack of people's agency.

    f. readerly and writerly positioning of women in texts of funü jiefang
  24. The Party's insistence that the women's movement be integrated into the revolutionary movement as a whole had particular effects on the textual and syntactical organisation of funü jiefang. The term often appears at the end of a sentence or paragraph, or in a subordinate clause, structurally and discursively privileging other terms of the narrative. funü jiefang also appears in fixed places, notably in contexts which invoke the 'People', the 'labouring masses', the proletariat. It is also significant that with a few exceptions in the early 1920s, women's jiefang is never associated with women positioned as nüren, nüzi, or nüxing.[52] As a project defined and implemented by the Party and assimilated into the People's [renmin] struggle as a whole, jiefang could only refer to the officially sanctioned category funü. Documents about general issues also typically listed references to women after other items, often including young people. [53] In all, the rhetorical and political status of the term funü jiefang as both goal and process of the women's movement did not give it a particularly privileged place in the narrative organisation of CCP texts.
  25. A Fujian directive of 1930 pointed out that 'in the past in Fujian, only a few young women have joined the struggle, in part because of the fact that we have not thrown off the shackles of the feudal past but also because we have not given adequate attention to women's needs.'[54] Despite frequent criticisms of the Party's failure to pay adequate attention to the women's movement, and exhortations to male cadres to treat woman-work more seriously, the texts of funü jiefang invariably targeted a female audience. Many of the more detailed texts, particularly those which specified tasks to be undertaken in work with women, were drawn up by women's organisations, and intended for women activists. General texts also implied that the responsibilities and tasks of 'women's liberation' were principally women's. It was women who were asked to refrain from undertaking acts that would impair revolutionary unity between women and men.[55] It was women who were expected to correct past mistakes in the struggle for sexual equality, such as thinking that the 'struggle between the sexes' was an important aspect of women's liberation, or that the anti-imperlaist struggle was irrelevant to the women's struggle. It was also women who were asked to 'liberate their thought' [jiefang sixiang], despite references to men's attachment to 'feudal customs.' Women were thus given almost exclusive responsibility for conducting processes of transformation which, by definition, were those of society as a whole. Between the writing and the reading of these texts, therefore, women were thus caught between contradictory positions: on the one hand, fixed, ideologically bound and displaced from privilege, while on the other, charged with the major responsibilities of their own and society's liberation.
  26. To summarize these points, women were encouraged to 'liberate their thought' [jiefang sixiang] in contexts of anti-feudal struggle and to 'liberate out from' [jiefangchulai] conditions of feudal oppression. Liberation appeared as a process and goal to which not all women could aspire, but rather women [funü] identified with particular socio-economic and political positions. If liberation was associated with notions of struggle, then the targets of that struggle were first of all defined in class terms, and never in gendered terms which transcended or ignored those of class. Hence, men from the oppressor classes appeared as the missing element of the gender struggle; men from the revolutionary classes, from 'the broad masses of the people', were discursively excluded from the agenda for transforming gender relations, except when they were urged not to ignore women's issues.

  27. The fixing of jiefang as a keyword of the Communist Party's language was a necessary component of its project of national unification and control. The formation of such a language was both part of and synonymous with a political process. Arif Dirlik has suggested that the 'learning of a new language and forgetting the old has been a basic problem in Chinese politics, as is evident in the radical shifts in the language of socialist ideology'.[56] He went on to argue that a revolution, to be authentic, has to create a new language of its own, in order to assert hegemony over history, and as an indispensable part of the attempt to discover new ways to think about social relationships and structures. Such a new language was simultaneously a language of vision and a language of control.
  28. Dirlik's argument about the radical shifts in the CCP's language of socialist ideology is certainly relevant to the deployment of words such as revolution, class, struggle and transformation, the meanings of which been profoundly transformed (as well as rewritten) since the Party's founding. It is not, as I understand it, so relevant to jiefang, at least in its reference to women, though jiefang was key to the CCP's 'hegemony over history'. As one component of the new revolutionary language, funü jiefang was not subject to radical changes of signification. While its specific relationship to liberation as a general process was constantly modified to correspond with the changing priorities the Party authorities gave to the national revolutionary project, depending on moment and political need, its core identification with a class-based and collectivist process of transformation that involved the renmin as a whole did not change. As a politico-linguistic term, jiefang was fixed in distinctive relationships. Jiefang could only be obtained and experienced by funü, which itself, as Tani Barlow has argued, was a word which produced woman as a category belonging to the communist state and to the political category of renmin. [57] Within this language, nüren and nüxing could not go through the processes of jiefang, for these signified other meanings to woman which were excluded from the legitimate language. By the same token, jiefang could not signify an individualist search for gendered identities; its textual and semantic associations with the nation, society, mankind and class produced only collective women positioned within particular class parameters.
  29. Whatever the tasks and visions inscribed in the word jiefang, it denoted a series of fixed positions and relationships with other words and phrases, which in themselves identified the processes and possibilities of its operation. jiefang was not a trope-a device to explore possible meanings-but rather a figure denoting fixed structures and positions in a closed discourse, in which fixed associations- for example, in the use of pronouns and adjectives-and fixed distinctions between wrong and right were repeatedly made through invoking the same set of practices, the same kinds of people, and the same kinds of class characteristics. As a key word in this discourse, funü jiefang limited the range of subject positions it offered women by marginalizing everything that did not correspond with its fixed positions to the realms of the unacceptable, the 'bourgeois', 'individualist' and 'counter-revolutionary'. Through explicit and implicit oppositional device, it set out clear lines defining the appropriate approach to any particular course of action. Through its fixed associations, textual relationships and exclusions, jiefang itself identified the range of meanings it incorporated.
  30. Contestation of the meanings given to funü jiefang by the Party centre were specific, isolated and short-lived. If occasional writings between 1921 and 1926 featured alternative meanings, through use of contested categories such as nüxing, or through less fixed versions of the tasks of 'women's liberation', the dominant meanings of funü jiefang were clearly established by the formal organs of the Party early on in the 1920s. Criticisms of the Party's inscription of the term in its practice of woman-work, most famously associated with Ding Ling's critique in 1942, came to very little.[58] One way of explaining this would be to use Bourdieu's notion of complicity and Henrietta Moore's analysis of dominant discourse. Bourdieu argued that the generalised use of legitimate language depends not only only formal institutions of political and legal power, but on the complicity of those who use it, a relationship between the users and the language which presupposes neither 'passive submission' nor 'free adherence'.[59] Discourses become or are dominant by virtue of their power to define and articulate social processes; and as Moore has argued, material subjects - living persons - have no alternative but to negotiate their own identities with reference to those terms, whether through conscious or unconscious means and processes, and whether to support them or to contest them.[60] In this light, Ding Ling's self-criticism and her adoption of the language of her authorities in Yan'an may be seen not only as an individual response to sanctions used to silence her, but also as the impossibility of following through a critique, the development of which depended on the substitution of the legitimate language for another. Her critique implied an attack on the only terms available within the legitimate language of the revolution that women could use to identify the processes of their own transformation. The approach to women and gender which her critique demanded logically implied the substitution of a new language of women's liberation for that which was already essential to the Party's project. It was, in this light much more than an attack on the Party's authority, for it signified a challenge to the language that its users-whether they believed in the Party's version of revolutionary truth or not-were obliged to use to maintain their association with the revolution.
  31. The texts presented above demonstrate that the dominant usages and referents of jiefang were the nation, the collective, the labouring masses and society-words and concepts which in themselves were removed from gendered meanings. As such, jiefang excluded the possibility and experience of gendered difference, and constructed women as the same kinds of subjects as men. Here it is useful to refer to Meng Yue's discussion about the ways in which narratives about issues of gender and sexuality in The White Haired Girl were divested of gendered and sexual meanings and reinscribed with class meanings.[61] The dominant significance of the successive revision of Xi'er's image was to represent her as a subject of class struggle and its effects, and not of gender struggle and transformation. These notions may be extended to the analysis of the term 'liberation' to grasp the ways in which, as associated with the tasks of 'woman-work', 'liberation' either brought gender, class and nation together into a single, indivisible bunch of meanings, or subordinated specifically gender tasks to those defined for class and nation. It rarely-at least in the terms of central party policy pronouncements-identified debates and practices associated with gender as autonomous and principal sites of strategic thinking about policy. Meng Yue's analysis is therefore useful for approaching ways in which, though formulated and used as a rhetorical device to signal the party's commitments to gender equality in public and domestic life, the term itself collapsed its specifically gendered references into the hegemonic meanings of class and nation. Though explicitly linked with a range of tasks which sought to transform women's social and political practice, the term was discursively developed without reference to women's articulated experiences of gender as daughters, wives and mothers.
  32. Funü jiefang was defined by centres of power which in their gendered composition, social and political commitments, and vision of revolutionary need, had little to do with women's articulation of their own interests. It simultaneously produced women through voices mediated not by their own experiences, but by Party perceptions of revolutionary strategy. jiefang was a keyword of a discourse which offered the dominant and necessary terms in which material women could publicly identify themselves.

  33. Apter and Saich have looked at Yan'an and the rectification movement in Yan'an as the triumph of an exercise of exegetical bonding, in which subjects of the revolution came together through uniform identification with a key body of texts. Apter and Saich have argued that the main signifiance of the Yan'an experience within the totality of the Party's political trajectory was the 'point during the Chinese Revolution when the discourse community was reformed and generated sufficient power to change the course of China's history'. In their terms, Yan'an signified the transformation of the CCP from a political movement into an established discourse community which defined fixed boundaries, primary affiliations, obligations and powers, by cementing loyalties to shared myths and ideals through 'acknowledgement of the need to observe methods of discipline (exegetical bonding) and through subscription to and drawing down from cultural, educational and moral forms of power (symbolic capital).'[62]
  34. Their analysis, however, did not include an examination of gender, and my reading of the term funü jiefang suggests different conclusions to theirs. The main parameters delineating the possible meanings of 'liberation' in its references to women seem to have been established almost as soon as the word made its appearance in the language of revolution, when the dominant features and principles of the Party authorities' interpretation of 'liberation' as an organizational, social and political principle were set down. Between the 1920s and the Yan'an period, the term was subject to limited contestation, which famously exploded in Mao Zedong's attacks on Ding Ling for her criticism of the Party's approach to women in 1942. In particular, meanings were debated and contested around the mediating influence of the individualist strains of the May Fourth legacy on the more collectivist-oriented principles of the communist led women's movement. The debate was never an equal one, though, for despite the extraordinary influence on the early communists' lives and ideological outlooks of the May Fourth movement, 'individualism' was almost from the outset used as a synonym for selfish, morally suspect, and eventually bourgeois and reactionary tendencies. The dominant meanings and tasks signified by the word were clearly established in its early usage, when tight links-to the point of total overlap-were established between the meanings inscribed in women's and social/national liberation. The specific referents of liberation were, of course, modified to correspond with the changing definitions of the Party policy priorities and emphases. However, the overriding collectivist and social principles which gave the term liberation its essential meanings in Party discourse were rarely disturbed.
  35. From this perspective, the Yan'an condemnation of Ding Ling and her own recantation reinforced meanings and practices associated with funü jiefang that were already well established. If Mao Zedong's response to Ding Ling was to emphasize the 'unity' of women with men in the processes of women's liberation, then this signalled a consolidation of previous tendencies within an episteme already established in the early stages of the communist movement and which continued as part of communist rhetoric, with only momentary disruptions, until the late 1970s. The place of jiefang as a keyword within the Communist Party's exegetical lexicon signified not a change of course from previous usage and application, but rather the definitive reinscription of women in positions already established for them as vehicles of others' power.
  36. One of Li Xiaojiang's principal arguments concerning the different stages of the women's movement in China concentrates on a key distinction between the revolutionary (1921-1978) and reform periods. She argues that the shortcomings in achievements of gender equality in the first period were the necessary effect of an understanding of women's liberation as something to be bestowed or imposed by the Party authorities, and not as a process formulated in autonomous spaces defined by women themselves. To use the terms of a recent article of hers and Zhang Xiaodan's, the 'stumbling block in Chinese women's progress toward their own emancipation, in fact, has been that many Chinese women have been wholly passive in the liberation process.'[63] The term liberation as I have analysed it brings an additional element to her argument. For it suggests that while the Party consistently defined the principal aims and processes of the women's movement, and stressed the importance of women's agency in accordance with its strategic identification of the goals and processes of the revolution as a whole, its 'bestowal' of policies and practices defined as furthering women's interests in their own liberation did not, fundamentally, construct women as agents of their own transformation. Indeed, the Party's conservative response once ordinary women did treat themselves as agents, in seeking divorce, for example, or in selecting a marriage partner, suggests that female agency outside officially sanctioned parameters was seen to disturb women's capacity to function as vehicles of power.[64]
  37. This analysis of the term jiefang suggests that the Party's limitations in implementing its commitment to achieving gender equality were fully inscribed in the meanings of the word itself. The term positioned its users in such a way that they had no alternative but to support it, or be rejected by it. The intersection between the gendered and societal associations of liberation severely limited women's capacity to identify themselves as agents of a process of transformation of gender relations. To a certain extent, by contrast, it positioned them as what Foucault called 'vehicles of power', to realize aims that had no more than an indirect bearing on gender relations. Its identification of particular goals and objectives, its disqualification of others, and its dissociation from the possibility of formulating a gender analysis in language, all determined the outcomes of its application. The term 'liberation' was associated with 'women' in various practices and policies, but was rarely linked to notions of gender as a site of struggle. So, while for example, 'women's liberation' was often presented as a yardstick measuring the success of social and national liberation, this did not, in itself, invoke gender relations as a site of social transformation.
  38. In this light, this analysis of funü jiefang clarifies a familiar paradox which long preoccupied Western feminist commentators.[65] For years, Western feminists treated with incredulity Chinese women's frequent claims to be liberated. How could they be, without sexual autonomy, or without the individual freedom to choose not to marry, for example? Western feminist objections, however, derived from a very different conceptualisation of 'liberation', situated with the liberal Western discourse of individual rights and freedoms, permitting a significant but, at the time unacknowledged, slippage between Chinese and Western uses of 'liberation'. The boundaries of meaning of 'liberation' within which Chinese women were working excluded such matters to another site of political identification. From this perspective, the assertions of Chinese commentators were much nearer to the 'truth' in claiming that they had been liberated than their Western sisters were prepared to countenance.


    [1] A first draft of this paper was presented at a conference on Keywords of the Chinese Revolution, held at the Center for Pacific Asia Studies, Stockholm University, 27-28 February, 1997. I would like to thank Michael Schoenhals and Jeffrey Wasserstrom for supporting the initial research for this paper through inviting me to participate in the Keywords project. I would also like to thank both of them, as well as Stephanie Donald, Stephan Feuchtwang, Gail Hershatter and Steve Smith for their many thoughtful comments and suggestions on the arguments developed in this paper.

    [2] I am using 'feminists' in this context as a term of convenience to refer to women's studies scholars, activists in the Women's Federation and in the emerging NGOs-a diverse range of women committed to discussing and resolving issues of gender discrimination.

    [3] For further discussion about women's complaints about their 'double burden' in the 'Maoist' period, see for example Elisabeth Croll, Feminism and Socialism in China, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978, pp. 266-7, 328-9.

    [4] Phyllis Andors, The Unfinished Liberation of Chinese Women, 1949-1980, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983; Kay Ann Johnson, Women, the Family and Peasant Revolution in China, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983; Marilyn Young, 'Chicken Little in China: Some Reflections on Women', in Arif Dirlik and Maurice Meisner (eds.), Marxism and the Chinese Experience, M.E.Sharpe, 1989, pp. 253-68; Maxine Molyneux, 'Family reform in socialist states; the hidden agenda', Feminist Review, 21 (1985): 47-66.

    [5] Women's Federation analyses suggest, for example, that higher rates of female unemployment, or factory managers' preference for male or unmarried female labour, are at root caused by economic constraints, the effect of which are gender disparities.

    [6] Of course, women's equality with men [nan'nü pingdeng] continues to be invoked in the relevant laws of the People's Republic of China, such as the Constitution, the Marriage Law (1981), the Law on the Protection of Women's Rights (1992). But as the effects of marketisation of the economy continue to exacerbate gender inequalities and divisions in China, official references to 'nan'nü pingdeng' and 'funü jiefang' are becoming noticeably fewer in official policy pronouncements and commentaries.

    [7] David Apter and Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994, p. 6. Yan'an, in Shaanxi province, was the communist base area and centre of the communist-led movement of resistance against Japan between 1936 and 1944. It is particularly associated with Mao's consolidation of power over his rivals, through his speeches on art and literature (which established the principles of artistic and literary creation that were to dominate during the following decades) and the famous 'rectification campaign' of 1942-43, which in Apter and Saich's terms, sought to create an 'exegetical bonding' - an exercise in intellectual and moral remoulding designed to produce ideological uniformity - within the Party.

    [8] In personal interviews, a number of Chinese women who identify with the 'masculinist' images of female gender of the 1950s-1970s have told me that the gender 'sameness' of dress in those days contributed to a sense of being first and foremost 'persons' rather than women. While this view clearly demands more analysis than I can give it here, it also indicates some of the main lines of women's memories of that past. See also Rae Yang's memory of her appearance as a Red Guard in her recent Spider Eaters: A Memoir, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997, p. 213. In a recent special issue of boundary 2, Dai Jinhua has also written about the 'imagined nostalgia' for the gendered positioning of this earlier revolutionary discourse. Various women who are now actively involved in establishing new organisations to represent and defend women's interests in China have in private conversation with me indicated their dismay at the way in which young women are now obsessed with interest in appearance, with romance and wealth. A number of them seem to feel that the commercialised and sexualised images of femininity which abound in China's current media and advertising and film industries impose much greater constraints on the possibilities for women's full liberation than the supposedly gender-neutral images of the 1950s to the 1970s.

    [9] Ample evidence from interviews, autobiographical accounts and other writings also indicates the excitement many women felt when given the possibility of engaging in public activities through challenging the association between women and the private sphere. See, for example, Rae Yang's Spider Eaters or Yue Daiyun and Carolyn Wakeman's To the Storm: The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985. Jiefang certainly did signify such a challenge, but not in ways that could withstand the reassertion of sexualised and domesticised femininity that reemerged together with the market in the 1980s.

    [10] The appropriate 'naming' of the Chinese word for 'feminism' was a particularly heated aspect of debate at a conference on Chinese Women and Feminist Thought held in Beijing by the Institute of Philosophy and the Sino-British Summer School in Philosophy in June 1995. Some contributors to the debate felt that 'nüquanzhuyi' (lit. women's power-ism) resonated too closely with the pejorative 'bourgeois' ideology so long associated with it in communist discourse to be able to use it in a new context. Despite the participants' critiques of the practices associated with funü jiefang, and despite their commitment to broadly feminist goals, few of them identified themselves as 'feminists'.

    [11] Harriet Evans, 'Defining difference: the "scientific" construction of female sexuality and gender in the People's Republic of China', SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 20, 2, (Winter 1994-5): 357-96; Harriet Evans, Women and Sexuality in China: Dominant Discourses of Female Sexuality and Gender since 1949, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997; Frank Dikotter, Sex, Culture and Modernity in China, London: Hurst and Company, 1995.

    [12] In correspondence with me, Steve Smith has pointed out that the term 'jiefang' was not tied exclusively or even mainly to national liberation in the early days. In his 1915 'Address to Youth', Duxiu wencun [Chen Duxiu's Collected Works], Vol. 2, Hong Kong, 1965, Chen Duxiu talked of 'jiefang' in terms of liberation from monarchy, from oppressive government, religious tyranny and economic exploitation. Later, in another essay in January 1920 entitled 'Jiefang' [Liberation], he talked about breaking old forms and liberating new ones. In this sense, 'liberation' emerges as a polyvalent notion applicable to different contexts and capable of forging discursive links between different political struggles. While I agree that it was applied distinctively in different contexts, I argue that the general/social/national aspects of 'jiefang' consistently occupied a more privileged position in the CCP's political discourse than the other, more focused, applications of the term.

    [13] Michael Schoenhals discusses the key political distinctions between 'People' [renmin] and 'fei renmin' [non-people], which together constituted the indefinite category of persons ('men and women indefinitely'). See Michael Schoenhals, '"Non-People" in the People's Republic of China', Indiana East Asian Working Paper Series on Language and Politics in Modern China, Paper 4, July 1994.

    [14] This gloss on the class aspects of national liberation derives from Mao Zedong's 1949 essay 'On the People's Democratic Dictatorship', Selected Works, Vol. 4, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1969, pp. 411-24.

    [15] Mao Zedong, 'Report on an Investigation of the Hunan Peasant Movement', Selected Works, Vol. 1, Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1968, p. 31.

    [16] See Christina Gilmartin's Engendering the Chinese Revolution, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995, pp. 24-30, for a discussion about the male activists in the early stages of the communist-led women's movement. A number of the early essays of these male participants are included in Vol. 2 of Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao [Materials on the history of the Chinese women's movement], Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1988, and in Wusi shiqi funü wenti wenxuan [Selected documents on women's issues during the May Fourth period], Beijing: Zhongguo funü chubanshe, 1981.

    [17] See 'Zhongguo gongchandang di'erci quanguo daibiao dahui guanyu funü yundong de jueyi' [Resolution of the Second National Congress of the CCP concerning the women's movement], in Vol. 2 of Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, pp. 29-30. See also Lü Meihe and Zheng Yongfu (eds.), Zhongguo funü yundong, 1840-1921, Henan: Henan renmin chubanshe, 1990, pp. 378-79.

    [18] 'Zhongguo gongchandang disanci quanguo daibiao dahui guanyu funü yundong de jueyi an' [Decision of the Third National Congress of the CCP concerning the women's movement], in Vol. 2 of Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, pp. 68-69.

    [19] In many ways, the literal translations of these terms offer as partial an understanding of their meanings and uses as would simple use of the word 'feminism' to translate the entire bunch. For example, nüquanzhuyi, here literally rendered as 'women's power-ism', was much more closely linked with the liberal notion of women's equal rights with men than with women asserting their power over, or against men. I here offer these literal translations as a way of indicating the range of words used for similar projects nd principles. The distinctions between the terms also overlap with Tani Barlow's discussion about the different terms in Chinese for 'women'. Nüquan refers to concepts of women's rights, whereas nüxing leans more to an essentialist gender position for women, according to which notions of womanhood are grounded in basic, natural gender differences. See Tani E. Barlow, 'Theorizing Woman: Funü, Guojia, Jiating', in Angela Zito and Tani E. Barlow (eds.), Body, Subject and Power in China, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, pp. 253-89.

    [20] Li Da, 'Nüzi jiefang lun' [On women's liberation], (1919) in Li Da wenji [Li Da's Writings], Vol. 1, Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1980, pp. 9-11.

    [21] Li Dazhao, 'Xiandai de nüquan yundong' [The modern women's movement], in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 49-52.

    [22] Xiao Chu'nü, 'Nüzi jiefang' de genben yi' [The basic meaning of women's liberation], in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 98-101.

    [23] 'Guangxi funü lianhe hui chengli xuanyan' [Declaration on the establishment of the Guangxi Women's Federation], October 1925, in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 408-9.

    [24] For example, 'Guangdong funü jiefang xiehui diyici daibiao dahui ji yijue an' [Decision of the First Congress of the Guangdong Women's Liberation Association], in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 672-5.

    [25] Yang Zhihua, 'Zhongguo funü yundong zuiyan' [The errors of China's women's movement], in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 555-61.

    [26] Li Xiaojiang, 'With what discourse do we consider women: who created the concept and defined it?', paper prepared for conference on Chinese Women and Feminist Thought, Beijing, June 1995.

    [27] In its political sense, 'liberation' (or liberty and liberator) make occasional appearance in the sixteenth century but became more common in the middle of the nineteenth and especially the twentieth centuries, when it became the name for movements of resistance to Fascism and then against occupying powers or forces. See Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, London: Fontana Press, 1988 (1976), pp. 181-2.

    [28] Williams, Keywords, p.183.

    [29] Williams, Keywords, p.183.

    [30] Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution, pp. 7-8. My reading of the term funü jiefang differs from Gilmartin's in another significant way. While the Chinese Communists of the early 1920s did not reject the nüquan yundong, their dominant definitions of funü jiefang clearly eclipsed alternatives by the mid-1920s.

    [31] Though not specifically included in the present discussion, my analysis here also draws on detailed readings of writings about women and gender issues between the late 1940s and the post-Mao reform period. See, in particular my unpublished doctoral dissertation 'The Official Construction of Female Sexuality and Gender in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1959', and Women and Sexuality in China.

    [32] Schoenhals, '"Non-People" in the People's Republic of China', p. 1.

    [33] My theoretical approach draws on the work of Bourdieu, particularly with reference to his concept of 'habitus', and to his work on legitimate language, interpretation and social change. I also draw on Henrietta Moore's discussion about dominant discourses and the ways in which they produce social and gendered subjects. See Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990; Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991; Henrietta Moore, A Passion for Difference, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.

    [34] Xiang Ying, 'Women de nü zhanshi' [Our female comrades-in-arms] (1940), in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 4, pp. 409-10.

    [35] Deng Yingchao, 'Zai Zhongguo funü di'erci quan guo daibiao dahui shang de gongzuo baogao' [Work Report to the Second National Congress of Women], 16 April, 1953, in Zhonghua quanguo funü lianhehui sishi nian, 1991, p. 387. Deng Yingchao became vice-head of the All China Women's Federation in 1949.

    [36] 'Zhongguo gongchandang di'erci daibiao dahui de jueyi' [Resolution of the Second Congress of the CCP], 1922, Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 29-30.

    [37] 'Zhonggong zhongyang tonggao dibashiwu hao' [Circular 85 of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee], 21st July 1930, in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 3, pp. 63-4.

    [38] 'Jinian guoji funü jie guangfan kaizhan funü yundong' [Commemorate international women's day and extensively develop the women's movement], in Shaan-gan-ning bianqu funü yundong wenxian ziliao xuanbian [Selected materials on the women's movement in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia border region], Shaanbei sheng funü lianhehui, 1982, pp. 80-2. Xiang Ying elaborated a bit more on this aspect of jiefang in her 'Our female comrades-in-arms': 'Women's liberation and social liberation cannot be separated, and it is inappropriate to seek women's liberation detached from social liberation.... Women must participate in the revolutionary struggle and must unite with all revolutionary forces to struggle for the victory of the revolution, for only with revolutionary victory can the victory of women's liberation be won....Women's liberation is the glorious future to social progress and the progress of mankind. See Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 4, pp. 409-10.

    [39] Shi Xiuyun, 'Bianqu funü yundong de renwu' [The tasks of the women's movement in the border area], March 1938, in Shaan-gan-ning bianqu funü yundong wenxian ziliao xuanbian, pp. 17-22.

    [40] 'Zhongguo gongchandang zhongyang weiyuanhui guanyu muqian jiefang qu nongcun funü gongzuo de jueding' [Decision of the CCP's Central Committee on current work among rural women in the liberated areas], December 1948, in Zhongguo funü yundong zhongyao wenxian, Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1979, p. 20.

    [41] Deng Yingchao, 'Work Report at the Second National Congress of Chinese Women'.

    [42] Zhang Qinqiu, 'Dongyuan funü can zhan yu baohu funü qieshen lieyi de guanxi' [The relationship between mobilising women to participate in the war and protecting women's personal interests], in Zhongguo funü yundong zhongyao wenxian [Important documents of the Chinese women's movement], Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1979, p. 131.

    [43] In fact, the 'jiefang' position was clear in numerous documents from the early 1920s. For example, a 1923 article on the origins and influence of the 'women's liberation movement' [funü jiefang yundong] published in Women's Weekly argued that earlier proposals for the women's movement were not, in themselves, bad, but their 'individualistic tendency' to stress women's particular position in matters concerning marriage and love, for example, seemed more prominent than attention to collective issues such as the welfare of humanity, and were having fragmentary and divisive effects. See Hui Daiying, 'Funü jiefang yundong de youlai he qi yingxiang' [The origins and influence of the women's liberation movement], October 1923, in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 94-6. Another 1925 article from Guangxi Province argued that the 'women's rights movement' was both unreasonable and divisive, for it ignored that fact that men were as oppressed as women. 'Guangxi funü lianhehui chengli xuanyan' [Declaration on the establishment of the Guangxi Women's Association], Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 408-09.

    [44] 'Zhongguo gongchandang disanci quanguo daibiao dahui guanyu funü yundong de jueyi an', in Vol. 2 of Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, pp. 68-9.

    [45] 'Henan funü gongzuo dagang' [An outline of woman-work in Henan], August 1928, in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 3, p. 27.

    [46] Ou Mengjue, 'Lüe tan funü gongzuo zuofeng' [Talking about the work style of woman-work] November 1941, Shaan-gan-ning bianqu funü yundong wenxian ziliao xuanbian, p.136.

    [47] For further discussion of the 'gender retrenchment' in implementing the Marriage Law after 1953, see Evans 1991, and Croll 1981, pp.184-8. See also Evans, Women and Sexuality, pp. 129-34, 195-8. It is only relatively recently, with the rapid increase in women's demands for divorce from abusive and violent husbands, and revelations about domestic violence and marital rape, that a more conflictual tone has entered into discussion about gender relations.

    [48] 'Guangdong funü jiefang xiehui diyici daibiao dahui ji jueyi an' [Documents of the First Congress and Resolution of the Guangdong Women's Association], May 1926 , in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol.2, p. 674.

    [49] He Xiangning, 'Guomin geming shi funü weiyi de shenglu' [The national revolution is the only lifeline for women], 1925, in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, pp. 285-6. Though this article does not include analysis of Guomindang approaches to the women's movement, it is interesting to note that though He Xiangning was a member of the Guomindang, her views on the positioning of women through funü jiefang were similar to those of contemporary CCP activists. Contrary to retrospectively applied arguments that the CCP was alone in denying the individual political space in the course of revolution, her interpretation of funü jiefang is one example of the ways in which the GMD's emphasis on national unity and its understanding of national and social need in this early period intersected with that of the CCP's. An early activist in Sun Yatsen's Revolutionary Alliance in Tokyo, and married to Liao Zhongkao, He Xiangning was appointed to the directorship of the Nationalists' Central Women's Department in 1924.

    [50] 'Hunan gongzuo jihua dagang' [Outline for a work plan in Hunan], 1929, Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 3, pp. 55-6.

    [51] Xiang Ying, in Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 4, pp. 409-10.

    [52] As references in earlier sections of this paper indicate, these terms reinscribed liberation with notions of individualism, femininity and elitism which were anathema to the Party's collective emphasis. See Tani Barlow's 'Theorising Woman: Funü, Guojia, Jiating' for a detailed discussion about the different positioning of women through deployment of these different terms. Tani Barlow's frequently cited analysis was arguably the first of its kind with reference to the contemporary women's movements in China to look at the importance of language and discourse in defining gender subject positions for women.

    [53] While conducting research for this paper, it became obvious to me that compilations of Party documents that did not specifically refer to women contained virtually no references to women in their contents pages. See for example the authoritative neibu collection published in two volumes as the Zhongguo gongchandang xinwen gongzuo wenjian huibian, Beijing: Xinhua chubanshe, 1980. At the risk of pushing the argument too far, the editorial exclusion of women's issues from compilations on central political matters could be seen as a further subordination of women's issues from the significant affairs of state.

    [54] 'Minxi suweiai zhengfu tonggao diqi hao' [No 7 circular of the Fujian Soviet government], December 1930, Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 3, pp. 97-99.

    [55] Ou Xiamin, in May 1926 suggested, for example, that it was women's responsibility to stop thinking about their conflicts with men. Zhongguo funü yundong lishi ziliao, Vol. 2, p. 548.

    [56] Arif Dirlik, 'Revolutionary Hegemony and the Language of Revolution' in Dirlik and Meisner, (eds.), Marxism and the Chinese Experience, p. 27.

    [57] Borrowing from Tani Barlow's analysis, funü jiefang could not position nüxing or nüren, except possibly as class elements excluded by funü jiefang's association with the renmin as defined by the Party. For the most of the period under analysis here, nüxing or nüren denoted gendered behaviours, aptitudes and attitudes which were considered ideologically unsound by the Party exponents of funü jiefang.

    [58] The well-known and radical novelist and short story writer Ding Ling wrote an essay entitled 'Thoughts on March 8' which appeared on the literary page of The Liberation Daily in Yan'an on 9 March 1942. In it she criticised the Party's policy of gender unity, and drew attention to its failure to live up to its claims to liberate women. Women, she wrote, were still subject to contempt and misery, were overworked, were expected to play a double role, and were criticised if they failed in either. The Party attacked her for her 'narrow feminist standpoint' and for ignoring the difficulties in forging new social and economic roles for women. Later, in an interview with Gunther Stein Ding Ling retracted her position and agreed that the first priority for women and men was to co-operate and work together for the revolution. See Croll, Feminism and Socialism in China, pp. 212-24, and Delia Davin, Woman-Work: Women and the Party in Revolutionary China, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976, pp. 36-39.

    [59] Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, pp. 50-52.

    [60] Moore, A Passion for Difference, pp.49-66.

    [61] Meng Yue, 'Female Images and National Myth', in Tani E. Barlow (ed.), Gender Politics in Modern China, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993, pp.119-22. The earliest version of The White Haired Girl was a yangge opera created in the late 1930s by teams of writers and musicians doing anti-Japanese war propaganda. The first published version was an opera script in 1942 in Yan'an, and English language translation of which was published by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang in 1954, as The White Haired Girl, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1954. The first film of the story was made by the Northeast Film Studio in 1950, directed by Shui Hua It was later produced as a ballet by the Shanghai Ballet Institue, and became one of the approved eight model plays during the Cultural Revolution.

    [62] Apter and Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic, pp. 66-7, 300.

    [63] Li Xiaojiang and Zhang Xiaodan, 'Creating a Space for Women: Women's Studies in China in the 1980s', SIGNS, 20, 1, (Autumn 1994): 146.

    [64] Here, I am referring to the Party leadership's response to the disruption of families and local communities which followed the initial encouragement to women to make use of their new rights as set out in the 1950 Marriage Law. By 1953, alarming evidence about the numbers of divorces, women's suicides, and acts of violence against women, resulted in a radical modification in the implementation of the marriage law to discourage women from disruptive acts and to insist on their responsibilities to maintaining family and social stability.

    [65] I would like to thank Gail Hershatter for suggesting this last point. In a recent private discussion about her own work on women and gender in the rural sector in the 1950s, she also suggested that the interpretation of 'liberation' I have offered in this paper might contribute to elucidating other arguments put forward by Chinese women about the non-existence of gender in the Maoist period as a category of understanding social relations and transformation.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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