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Women's Work and the Politics of Homespun in Socialist China, 1949–1980

  • Jacob Eyferth (a1)
Summary
Summary

For decades after the socialist revolution, people in rural China continued to wear homespun cloth, and millions of rural women continued to spend a large part of their waking hours producing cloth and clothing. This is puzzling because the state opposed manual cloth production as wasteful of labor and raw materials, and because state monopolies should have ensured that all cotton ended up in the hands of the state and that all rural people were supplied with rationed machine-made cloth. This article looks at the reasons for the long survival of handloom cloth. These include the ways in which manual cloth production was integrated with rural gender norms and with a gift economy that prescribed the exchange of cloth at major life cycle events, and the existence of interlocking scarcities (of grain, cash, cotton, and cloth) that forced rural people to sell their cloth rations and make their own cloth from whatever cotton they could scrape together.

Résumés

Jacob Eyferth. Travail de femmes et la politique du travail domestique dans la Chine socialiste, 1949–1980.>

Pendant des décennies après la révolution socialiste, la population de la Chine rurale continua de porter des vêtements tissés à la main, et des millions de femmes rurales continuèrent de passer une grande partie de leurs heures de veille à produire du tissu et des vêtements. Ceci est étonnant, parce que l’État s'opposait à la production manuelle de tissu, qu'il considérait comme une activité engendrant un gaspillage de main d’œuvre et de matières premières, et parce que les monopoles étatiques auraient du garantir que tout le coton se retrouverait entre les mains de l’État, et que toute la population rurale soit approvisionnée en tissu fabriqué à la machine. Dans cet article, l'auteur examine les raisons de la longue survie du tissu fabriqué sur métier à tisser manuel. Parmi celles-ci figurent les façons dont la production manuelle de tissu était intégrée avec les normes de genre rurales et avec une économie du cadeau, qui prescrivait l’échange de tissu au principaux événements du cycle de la vie, et l'existence de pénuries étroitement liées (de grains, d'argent comptant, de coton et de tissu) qui forcèrent la population rurale à vendre ses rations de tissu et à fabriquer son propre tissu pour le peu de coton qu'elle parvenait à rassembler.

Zusammenfassungen

Jacob Eyferth. Frauenarbeit und die Politik des Selbstgewebten im sozialistischen China, 1949–1980.

Jahrzehnte nach der sozialistischen Revolution trugen Menschen im ländlichen China weiterhin Selbstgewebtes, und Millionen ländlicher Frauen verbrachten nach wie vor einen Großteil ihrer Tageszeit damit, Tücher und Kleider zu fertigen. Das ist rätselhaft, denn der Staat kritisierte die Handarbeit als Verschwendung von Arbeitskraft und Rohstoffen; außerdem hätten Staatsmonopole eigentlich die Verfügung des Staates über sämtliche Baumwollvorräte und die Versorgung der gesamten Landbevölkerung mit rationiertem, maschinengefertigtem Stoff gewährleisten sollen. Dieser Beitrag untersucht die Gründe dafür, dass sich der am Handwebstuhl gefertigte Stoff so lange hielt. Dazu gehören die Art und Weise, auf die sich die Handfertigung von Stoff in ländliche Geschlechternormen einfügte, eine Schenkökonomie, die für einschneidende Lebensereignisse den Tausch von Stoff vorsah, sowie ein Komplex des Mangels (an Getreide, Bargeld, Baumwolle und Stoff), der Menschen auf dem Land zwang, ihre Stoffrationen zu verkaufen, um dann aus mühsam zusammengetragenen Baumwollresten eigene Textilien zu fertigen.

Resúmenes

Jacob Eyferth. El trabajo de las mujeres y la política de la confección doméstica de ropa en la China socialista, 1949–1980.

Después de haber transcurrido varias décadas desde la revolución socialista, la gente en la China rural continúa vistiendo ropas tejidas en sus propias casas y millones de mujeres que viven en esos espacios continúan ocupando gran parte de su jornada tejiendo y cosiendo. Esto es desconcertante dado que el Estado considera la producción manual de tejidos como un desperdicio de trabajo y de materias primas y, además, porque los monopolios estatales deberían haberse asegurado que, por un lado, todo el algodón acabe en manos del Estado y que, por otro, a todos los habitantes de estas áreas rurales se les suministren ropas confeccionadas con maquinaria considerada más racional. Este artículo se enfoca sobre las razones de la larga supervivencia de la ropa tejida manualmente. Esto incluye la forma en que la producción manual de ropa se integró tanto con un marco de género existente en el mundo rural como con una economía del obsequio que establece el intercambio de vestidos en los momentos clave de la vida de una persona. Además también se relaciona con la existencia de cadena enlazada de escasez (de grano, de dinero, de algodón, de ropa) que fuerza a la gente rural a vender la ropa “racionada” y confeccionarse sus propios vestidos con cualquier algodón que puedan conseguir.

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References
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2. Similar regulations were later put into place for silk, wool, and other textile fibers. Throughout the collective years, more than 90 per cent of all Chinese textiles were made from cotton.

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Richard A. Kraus, “Cotton and Cotton Goods in China, 1918–1936: The Impact of Modernization on the Traditional Sector”, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1968; H.D. Fong [Fang Xianting], The Growth and Decline of Rural Industrial Enterprise in North China (Tianjin, 1936)

Huang Philip, The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta, 1350–1988 (Stanford, CA, 1990)

24. Xu and Min, “Struggle of the Handicraft Cotton Industry”, p. 35

Kraus, Cotton and Cotton Goods, p. 142

25. Shiwen Zhang, Dingxian nongcun gongye diaocha (Chengdu, 2001), pp. 6572

Gamble Sidney, Ting Hsien: A North China Rural Community (Stanford, CA, 1954), pp. 298300

26. Feuerwerker, “Handicraft and Manufactured Cotton Textiles”, pp. 344–345

27. Walker Kathy Le Mons, Chinese Modernity and the Peasant Path: Semicolonialism in the Northern Yangzi Delta (Stanford, CA, 1999)

28. Kraus, Cotton and Cotton Goods, Table V.II (opposite p. 115).

29. Zeyi Peng, Zhongguo jindai shougongye shi ziliao (Beijing, 1957)

30. Zedong Mao, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party”, in Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Beijing, 1967), pp. 305–334

31. Susan S. Bean: “Gandhi and Khadi, the Fabric of Indian Independence”, in Weiner and Schneider, Cloth and Human Experience, pp. 355–376.

32. See Zanasi, Saving the Nation, ch. 2, for a discussion of the misgivings prominent Nationalist leaders had about China's “small peasant economy”.

33. Qiong Luo, Shaan-Gan-Ning bianqu minjian fangzhiye (Yan'an, 1946)

Stranahan Patricia, “Labor Heroines of Yan'an”, Modern China, 9: 2 (1983), pp. 228–254

34. Zhang Zhong, “Fangzhi yu mianhua”, Renmin Ribao, 14 April 1949, p. 1.

35. Shaopeng Song, “The State Discourse on Housework and Housewives in the 1950s in China”, in Mechthild Leutner (ed.), Rethinking China in the 1950s (Berlin, 2007), pp. 4963

36. Zhang Yun, “Guanyu dangqian funü gongzuo wenti de baogao” [Report on Current Questions of Women's Work], Renmin Ribao, 12 January 1953.

37. This is vividly expressed in the popular “Women's Freedom Song”: “The old society is like a bitter well, ten thousand fathoms deep/The common people are pressed to the bottom of the well; women are the lowest rung […]/Land reform has given us a new life, smashing the iron door of feudalism/In the past, women were locked up in King Yama's Hall, now we break the iron chains/Women have become free persons who can take care of the great affairs of the nation/Liberation cannot be for one half only; fully liberated, we participate in production/Let's weed out the Chiang Kai-shek reactionaries, vanguard and rearguard work together/Let's work hard in production and not be idle; let's all put in more effort/Let's build a new China for a million years.”

38. “Wei nongcun funü canjia shengchan kaibi guangkuo de daolu” [Opening a Wide Road for Women's Participation in Production], Renmin Ribao, 11 March 1953; “Zhonghua quanguo minzhu funü lianhehui guanyu dangqian nongcun funü gongzuo de zhishi” [Directive on Rural Women's Work by the All-China Democratic Women's Federation], Renmin Ribao, 31 July 1954.

39. Xingping xian minzhu funü lianhehui guanyu fadong funü canjia chunjie shengchan gongzuo zongjie.

40. Kraus, Cotton and Cotton Goods, p. 159

Chao, Development of Cotton Textile Production, pp. 238–238

Feuerwerker, “Handicraft and Manufactured Cotton Textiles”, p. 369

41. Xicaiwei jihuaju [Planning Bureau of the West China Financial Commission], Guanyu Xibei fangzhiye fazhang yijian [Proposal for the Development of Textile Industry in the North-West], North-Western Military Commission, 1950, p. 4. Chinese output figures are usually given in running meters. Width for machine made cloth varied from 66 to 82 cm.

42. Dangdai Zhongguo de fangzhi gongye bianji weiyuanhui, Dangdai Zhongguo de fangzhi gongye [Textile Industry in Contemporary China] (Beijing, 1984), graphs p. 11, 15; Appendix 3, p. 642.

43. Kraus, Cotton and Cotton Goods, p. 52

Chao, Development of Cotton Textile Production, p. 242

44. Ibid., pp. 279–283.

45. Lardy Nicholas, Agriculture in China's Modern Economic Development (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 123125

46. Chao, Development of Cotton Textile Production, p. 250

47. Lardy, Agriculture in China's Modern Economic Development, p. 158

Chao, Development of Cotton Textile Production, pp. 286

48. Shaanxi Provincial Archives 123:1, # 1259, p. 9.

49. Zhongguo mianhua tongji, pp. 268, 272, 277.

50. Ibid., p. 280.

51. Smil Vaclav, “China's Agricultural Land”, China Quarterly, 158 (1999), pp. 414429

52. Xu Jianqing, “Mianhua tonggou, mianbu tonggou tongxiao zhengce yu shougong mianfangzhiye” [The Policy of Unified Purchase of Cotton and Unified Purchase and Marketing of Cotton Cloth and Handicraft Textile Industries], Dangdai Zhongguo Shi Yanjiu, 2 (2010), p. 4.

53. Xu Jianqing, “Tonggou tongxiao zhidu xia nongmin jiating mianfangzhi chengben shouyi tanxi” [A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Peasant Household Spinning and Weaving under the System of Unified Purchase and Marketing, Zhongguo jingjishi yanjiu, 4 (2010), pp. 79–85.

54. Xu Jianqing, “Zhidu biange yu shougong mianfang zhiye: 1954–1965” [System Transition and Handicraft Cotton Weaving: 1954–1965], Zhongguo jingjishi yanjiu, 4 (2009), pp. 66–75, 73.

55. Idem, “Mianhua tonggou, mianbu tonggou tongxia zhengce yu shougong mian fangzhiye” [The Policy of Unified Purchase of Cotton and Unified Purchase and Marketing of Cotton Cloth and the Manual Cotton Textile Industry], Dangdai Zhongguo shi yanjiu, 4 (2010), pp. 27–34.

56. Idem, “Zhidu biange,” pp. 73–75.

57. I speak Chinese but was accompanied by Chinese research assistants who helped me understand the local dialect. I am grateful for the able assistance of Meng Fanhang, Liu Yuewen, Zhang Kai, and Ma Rongrui. We stayed in three different villages (Gedatou village in Zhouzhi county, Danbei and Zhangli villages in Xingping county); in each village, we rented rooms from local farmers.

58. Vermeer Eduard B., Economic Development in Provincial China: The Central Shaanxi (Cambridge, 1988)

59. Per capita rural household income in 2010 was 5,238 yuan in Zhouzhi and 5,768 yuan in Xingping. The national average in 2010 was 5,919 yuan. All data from China Data Online http://chinadataonline.org.proxy.uchicago.edu/.

60. Vermeer, Economic Development in Provincial China, pp. 324–346

61. Interview Cao Yuqing and Zhao Xijie, Zhouzhi, 17 November 2006.

62. Shaanxi sheng difangzhi bianzou weiyuanhui, p. 46.

63. Interview Yuan Aiying, Xingping, 13 August 2010.

64. Interview Du Fengying, Zhouzhi, 27 November 2006.

65. Interview Du Fengying and Guo Xiuzhen, Zhouzhi, 27 November 2006; interview Wang Xiuzhen and Feng Jinlian, Zhouzhi, 4 September 2008.

66. Hershatter Gail, The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Past (Berkeley, CA, 2011)

67. A bundle (kun) of cotton are 10 jin (5 kg).

68. “One puts on grave clothes only once in a lifetime; the cloth therefore needs to be woven extra fine and the cotton should be a bit thicker”; Interview Peng Shu'e, Zhouzhi, 15 September 2008.

69. Xiaoxian Gao, “ ‘The Silver Flower Contest’: Rural Women in the 1950s and the Gendered Division of Labour”, in Dorothy Ko and Wang Zheng (eds), Translating Feminisms in China (Oxford, 2007), p. 166

70. Men of the same age group contributed 150 labor days per year; Zhonggong Zhouzhi xian weiyuanhui, “Guanyu Beijingzhai nongye shengchan hezuoshe diaocha baogao” (18 September 1955) Shaanxi Provincial Archives, Shaanxi sheng nongcun gongzuobu folder, no. 123.4, file 547, p. 45.

71. Zhonggong Zhouzhi xian weiyuanhui, “Zhouzhi nongcun renmin gongshe zhengshe jieshushi jiben qingkuang diaocha” (25 August 1959) Shaanxi Provincial Archives, Shaanxi sheng nongcun gongzuobu folder, no. 123.4, file 718, p. 23.

72. Manning Kimberley E., “Making a Great Leap Forward? The Politics of Women's Liberation in Maoist China”, Gender & History, 18 (2006), pp. 574593

73. Hershatter Gail, “The Gender of Memory: Rural Chinese Women and the 1950s”, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28 (2002), pp. 4372

Entwistle and Henderson, Re-Drawing Boundaries, pp. 79–96

74. Qian Zhiguang et al., Dangdai Zhongguo de fangzhi gongye (Beijing, 1984), graph on p. 15 of statistical appendix.

75. Zhonggong Shaanxi shengwei, “Guanyu mianbu shixing jihua gongying de zhishi” (26 August 1954) Shaanxi Provincial Archives, Zhonggong Shaanxi shengwei folder, no. 123.4, file 1261, p. 83; Shaanxi sheng difangzhi bianzou weiyuanhui, p. 243.

76. Interview Zhao Xijie and Niu Fengqin, 16 November 2006; Zhao Xuefeng, 9 September 2011. Based on interviews in the Shanghai region, Xu Xinwu arrives at a minimum yearly cloth consumption of 5 square meters. See Xu, Jiangnan tubu shi [History of Handloom Cloth in the Jiangnan Region] (Shanghai, 1992), p. 197.

77. Gao Wangling, “A Study of Chinese Peasant ‘Counter-Action’ ” in Kimberley E. Manning and Felix Wemheuer (eds), Eating Bitterness: New Perspectives on China's Great Leap Forward and Famine (Vancouver, 2011), pp. 272293

78. Yizhi Chen, “When Food Became Scarce: Life and Death in Chinese Villages During the Great Leap Forward,” Journal of the Historical Society, 10 (2010), pp. 117165

79. Interviews Wang Xiuzhen, 1 and 24 November 2006; Jia Yumei, 27 November 2006.

80. Interview Gao Xiulan, Zhouzhi, 10 September 2008.

81. Interview Nian Yuzhen, Zhouzhi, 12 September 2008.

82. Interview Zhao Xijie and Niu Fengqin, Zhouzhi, 4 September 2008.

83. Harrell, “The Changing Meanings of Work in China,” in Entwistle and Henderson, Re-Drawing Boundaries, p. 67

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International Review of Social History
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