THI Graduate Profile: Sarah Chang

History Doctoral Student Sarah Chang investigates the lifecycle of the postwar factory in China, and the shift for women workers from the home to paid industrial work during the socialist period.

February 15, 2019

Image from Industrial History Theme Park, Chengdu, by Sarah Chang

Chang is a 2018 UCSC-SSRC DPD fellow. Her fellowship summer research took her to Chengdu, China, where she interviewed retired women workers and visited archives, a local museum, worker residence compounds, and a theme park dedicated to the city’s industrial history. THI spoke with her about what she saw, encountered, and learned on her three-month research visit.

Congratulations on receiving a 2018 Social Science Research Council Dissertation Proposal Development Program fellowship! Your research sounds rich and nuanced. Can you tell us more about it?

My research is concerned with everyday life and labor for women workers in China from the socialist period to the economic reforms. I am interested in how the socialist state tried to transform gender relations by drawing young urban women out of the home and into paid industrial work. As I examine new social relations and identities which emerged as a result of women’s participation in industrial production, I also ask how notions of gender that naturalized women’s free domestic labor in the home were reinforced by the state and factory authorities. Starting in the late 1970s, socialism gradually shifted toward state capitalism, and many state factories closed down. My project addresses how the demise of the socialist factory posed new challenges to women workers’ labor and life and how they sought to defend their own sense of identity and community in the face of a new social order. . . Read the full interview here.