When Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party took control of the country in 1949, they promised to change everything. Communism would eliminate “feudalism,” a term particularly identified with the of women, who were imagined to live housebound, male-dominated lives. In the New China, Mao and his cadre announced, a new age of gender equality would dawn, in which all would recognize that “Women hold up half the sky.”
That era has yet to arrive. But as University of California, Santa Cruz historian Gail Hershatter reveals in her remarkable new book, The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past, the early Communist leaders also didn’t really know much about the lives of China’s women, particularly rural women. Drawing on interviews conducted over a ten-year period with dozens of elderly rural women in Shaanxi Province, Hershatter has a much more complicated story to tell about women’s experiences in mid-twentieth-century China.
Read the full Ms. Magazine Blog article.