AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 705

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Session 705: The Biology and Economics of Social Reproduction: Health, Wealth and Happiness in the Modern Chinese Family

Organizer: Nicole C. Richardson, University of California, Davis, USA

Chair: Helen M. Schneider, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, USA

Discussant: Helen M. Schneider, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, USA

Building upon recent scholarship that has pointed to the pivotal relationship between the family and the Chinese state, this panel asks: in what ways did scientific ideas and commercial forces intersect with political ideology to shape the construction of the domestic ideal in twentieth-century China? Specifically, this panel will examine how the new biological concepts and economic currents influenced the practices that are most essential for reproducing the institution of the family: marriage, pregnancy, and childrearing. Experts and instructors were often, but not exclusively, men who used scientific and economic language to explain and reform women’s domestic activities. The panel examines these practices as sites of contestation for legitimacy and meaning – for example, these topics include: the normal-school curricula of kindergarten teachers vis-à-vis the moral rectitude of female exemplars; the modern “science” for eugenics as justification for continuing, condemning, or redefining fetal education; state legitimacy of civil weddings vis-à-vis the commercial popularity of romantic weddings; and priestly preparation of “fetal worship” vis-à-vis the personal expression of female patrons. The first three panelists examine these contestations by tracing the shifting definitions of the social and biological roles of wife, mother, child, and fetus in the early twentieth century, and the final panelist employs an anthropological case study in Taiwan in order to bring into focus larger intellectual questions about locating female agency within scientific, economic, and political discourses.

Age and Authority in China’s New Kindergartens, 1903 to 1912
Margaret Tillman, Purdue University, USA

When central and local governments issued statements about the need to establish schools for children aged 4 to 7 in 1903-04, they complained about the lack of trained “nannies” (baomu), who would supplement -- or correct -- children’s “home education.” Politicians and educators disagreed about whether virtuous widows or educated professionals would be best qualified to serve as nannies. These disagreements demonstrate that kindergartens had opened up a new field of age-graded developmental education, thus moving away from a merit-based testing system in which moral and intellectual authority was easily recognizable in terms of mastery of the classics. Modern kindergarten education thus emphasized biological and social growth in addition to moral cultivation and skill acquisition. The position of “nanny” helped women to enter schools as teachers, but also helped to inform mothers about how to treat infants. Given the state’s criticism of home education and family life, this paper argues that the instruction of nannies helped to inform both the professionalization of motherhood and the socialization of children.

The Nation in Utero: Translating the Science of Fetal Education in Republican China
Nicole C. Richardson, University of California, Davis, USA

This paper examines how Republican era writers reformulated pre-existing traditions of fetal education by incorporating both nationalist concerns and new scientific concepts into their discussion. As writers translated new ideas about biology, psychology and eugenics from European, American and Japanese texts they also introduced new concepts and cultural attitudes about human reproduction. Influenced by Social Darwinism and eugenics, many writers advocated fetal education as a way of strengthening the nation by improving the fitness of the Chinese race in utero. Intellectuals used science to legitimize or discredit contemporary Chinese practices as they argued over which aspects of fetal education should be discarded and which should be preserved or reformed. The new image of the sperm and the egg was used to demonstrate bilateral descent as authors stressed the importance of spousal selection to prevent the spread of dysgenic traits. At the same time, modern psychology helped reinforce the importance of traditional fetal education by asserting the influence of the pregnant mother’s mental state on the fetus. By analyzing popular books and journals on fetal education this paper aims to demonstrate the centrality of reproduction to discussions of modernity, as well as the diversity of ways in which writers negotiated and redefined categories of traditional and modern, Chinese and Western. I also aim to demonstrate the important role that pre-existing medical beliefs and popular practices continued to play in the modern Chinese discussions of fetal education.

The Undeniable Allure of the New Style Wedding: Ritual, Consumption and the State in 1930s Shanghai
Charlotte Cowden, University of California, Berkeley, USA

By the 1930s, traditional style Chinese weddings were on their way out, at least in urban centers like Shanghai. But what was to take their place? After the Nationalist consolidation of power in 1927, the government looked to redefine ritual in a way that would favorably enhance state power. The Nationalists deemed Shanghai a crucial site for ritual reform with weddings at the crux of this movement, as was evident in their 1931 Civil Code. Simultaneously, in Shanghai, urban elites and those with means were producing their own versions of new style ceremonies, ceremonies which gained further recognition through the publication of wedding photographs in women’s pictorial magazines of the day. These ceremonies - which featured a bride in a white wedding dress - took place outside of the home. It was implicitly understood that participants choose their own spouse rather than being betrothed by their parents, making new style ceremonies all the more appealing. Through a consideration of wedding photographs, women’s magazines, government documents, and case studies of Nationalist sponsored group weddings I examine the range of ceremonial options available for Shanghai residents. This paper will demonstrate the tension between consumption, urban fashion, and the newly drafted civil code and illuminate the power of the state relative to the power of market forces.

A Realm where the Woman’s Voice is Heard: A Case Study of Abortion Ritual in Modern Taiwan
Grace Cheng-Ying Lin, McGill University, Canada

Abortion ritual has been part of the evolution of local religious discourses and institutions in Taiwan since the 1970s. Within the context of religious discourse, abortion is seen as an inappropriate means of ending a life, but women who have abortions can seek redemption by appealing to appropriate deities and priests. This ritual has been denounced by religious scholars, and several Taoist, Buddhist and Catholic priests, as well as by feminist activists in Taiwan as the heterodox product of male dominance and religious manipulation. Nonetheless, I argue that the women who sponsor these rituals also play an active role in the popularization of the ritual. My paper examines the ritual process as well as an interview with a sponsor of an abortion ritual performed in a shrine, the Hall of Complete and Virtuous Eternity, in October, 2009. The analysis shows the participant acts on her own initiative to pursue and participate in the ritual in order to assist her in going through the abortion and post-abortion recovery, and to help her cope with difficulties and conflicts in her life. She takes advantage of the ritual to negotiate the relationship between her agency and the rapid socioeconomic changes surrounding her reproductive ability. Moreover, through her ritual participation she gains an arena to display her emotions toward her sexuality, pregnancy, abortion, marriage and family. As a result, the ritual space is transformed from a confessional for the sake of the fetus to a realm dominated by the woman’s peripheral power.