AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 80

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Session 80: Marriage, Gender and Law in Republican China

Organizer: Lisa Tran, California State University, Fullerton, USA

Chair: Jennifer Neighbors, University of Puget Sound, USA

Discussant: Jennifer Neighbors, University of Puget Sound, USA

Past scholarship has highlighted the gendered nature of nationalist imaginings and explored the gendered implications of legal reform. Elaborating the discussion, the papers in this panel focus on the broader implications of marriage reform in the first half of the twentieth century. Neither universal nor self-evident, the meaning of marriage underwent significant changes. Using marriage as a lens, each of the papers explores the relationship between gender relations and legal reform. Highlighting the key theoretical issues at stake, Margaret Kuo's paper examines the interactions between Republican marriage law and practice and the formation of a Chinese modernity based upon liberal ideas. Lisa Tran's paper focuses on the public discussion of tongyangxi, young girls sold by their parents to their future parents-in-law, to examine the role of public opinion in shaping public policy under the Guomindang. Centered on a 1943 legal case, Xiaoping Cong's paper examines the marriage and gender concepts constructed through legal practices in the Communist-controlled regions and traces their influence on marriage practices after 1949 as these concepts were brought from the local to the national stage. Together, the three papers demonstrate how shifts in the meaning and purpose of marriage influenced legal reform, gender systems and political modernity.

The Paradigm of Gender in Modern Chinese Law
Margaret Kuo, California State University, Long Beach, USA

In this paper I seek to investigate the theoretical implications of my recent research on marriage, law, and society in Republican China. The fundamental question that I will attempt to address concerns what the history of Republican marriage law and practice illuminates about the Chinese gender system. I will draw upon theories of law, gender, liberalism, nationalism, and modernity in order to examine the relationship between law and gender and the ways in which law and gender both reflected and helped construct twentieth-century ideological shifts. I will also explore the overlap between the formal legal system and the informal gender order and how both functioned to help consolidate and legitimate political changes already underway, to help undermine traditional norms, and to help launch new change associated with liberal modernity. My examination of the shift in family ideology from the patriline to the conjugal unit, the rise of a political ideology that stressed primary loyalty to nation, and legal developments that championed the lens of rights and liabilities over criminal punishment underscores the significance of the intersection of law, gender, and political modernity.

The Tongyangxi: Public Opinion, Social Custom and Legal Reform in the Republican Press
Lisa Tran, California State University, Fullerton, USA

What can the public discussion of the tongyangxi, a young girl sold by her parents to her future parents-in-law, tell us about developments in the first half of the twentieth century in China? Given the centrality of the figure of the tongyangxi in media coverage on marriage and family reform, the discussion can help us to understand the relationship between public opinion and legal change. Given the continued practice of buying and selling tongyangxi despite widespread social censure, the debate highlights the conflicting logics underlying the custom associated with the tongyangxi. More broadly, given the tendency to link women’s inferior status in Chinese society to China’s subordinate position in the international arena, public conversations about the plight of the tongyangxi reveal the ways in which imaginings of the nation and visions of modernity are gendered. Drawing from periodical literature from 1915 to 1949, my paper reconstructs the public debate on the tongyangxi issue and explores the different meanings the tongyangxi held for participants in the discussion. I analyze the significance and complexity of this debate by comparing two views: one inspired by “modern” ideals like freedom and equality to eliminate the custom, the other driven by various logics to justify its continued existence. The tongyangxi debate reflects the tension between, and perhaps even a reconciliation of, imported ideals and inherited customs and reveals changes in thinking about family and marriage that held long-term legal and social implications.

From Feng Peng’er to “Liu Qiao’er”: Law, Marriage and Gender Construction in the Chinese Revolution, 1940-1960
Xiaoping Cong, University of Houston, USA

This paper examines the social and cultural significance of Communist legal practice in constructing marriage and gender relations in China during the middle decades of the twentieth-century in a particular cultural and social setting. The center of this study is a 1943 legal case (Feng vs. Zhang) that disputed traditional arranged marriage in a rural community of northern China under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. The paper traces the development of this case from being reported by Communist newspapers and then reshaped into a series of cultural products (i.e., a wood-carving print, story-telling, several local operas, and a movie) from 1944-1957. It examines how the media reports and artistic works created a new image of womanhood, “Liu Qiao’er,” that represented the communist ideal model for freedom of marriage and gender relations, and how this image, along with the military and political victory of the Communist Party in China, was brought to the national stage to be used for mobilizing women’s participation in the national political campaigns for implementing land reform and a new Marriage Law in the 1950s.