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Other titles in the Asia Pacific Modern series:
The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Past (Asia Pacific Modern)by Gail Hershatter
Synopses & Reviews
"I was swept into the world of Hershatter's Gender of Memory. Each of these oral histories is riveting and astonishing, giving a human — and often, heartbreaking — dimension to history. As this book shows, history is not simply recorded facts, but what is remembered by those who were once silent." and#151;Amy Tan
and#147;Gail Hershatterand#8217;s book transforms our understanding of Chinaand#8217;s Communist revolution. Organizing women and raising their status was a central goal of Communist leaders from the start. But what difference did that commitment make to the course of modern Chinese history? Hershatterand#8217;s answers and#150; framed in the language of her rural informants — are stunning. In her moving and often wrenching interviews with rural women, she comes to understand that womenand#8217;s active support, sacrifice, and engagement ultimately gave the Communist leadership its authority at the household level.and#8221; and#151;Susan Mann, author of The Talented Women of the Zhang Family
"One of the most important works on Chinaand#8217;s much-neglected 1950s, and a very significant contribution to the literature on historical memory and methodology. There really is something for everybody here." and#151;Kenneth Pomeranz, author of The Great Divergence
and#147;This book is in a league of its own: a meticulous, thoughtful and sensitive interrogation of sources about an understudied aspect of China's revolutionary history, a critical exploration of how gender mediates personal recollections of the past, and a beautifully written narrative about women's experiences of China's land reform and collectivisation in the 1950s.and#8221; and#151;Harriet Evans, author of The Subject of Gender: Daughters and Mothers in Urban China
"Hershatter's ethnographically rich and original analysis of time and gendered periodization is revelatory and her powerful account of the early basis for genuine utopianism is utterly convincing." and#151;James C. Scott, author of The Art of Not Being Governed
"This book is an event." and#151;Andrew Barshay, author of The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxian and Modernist Traditions
“China historians have been waiting a long time for this book, and scholars of sexuality and gender who work on other regions of the early modern world—even if they don’t know they have been waiting for it—are going to be mesmerized. There is nothing else like it in print.”—Gail Hershatter, author of The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Past
"What was the meaning of marriage, family, and sexuality for the many impoverished Chinese struggling to survive in the High Qing? In this beautifully researched study, Matthew Sommer patiently reconstructs the logic of difficult and often desperate choices made by men and women whose lives emerge, piecemeal, in the vast court records of the long eighteenth century. His formidable knowledge of and great empathy for his subjects make this work a joy to read. This is an essential study for understanding gender, family, and sexuality in the early modern world."—Paula Findlen, Professor of History, Stanford University
This book is a study of polyandry, wife-selling, and a variety of related practices in China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). By analyzing over 1200 legal cases from local and central court archives, Matthew Sommer explores the functions played by marriage, sex, and reproduction in the survival strategies of the rural poor under conditions of overpopulation, worsening sex ratios, and shrinking farm sizes. Polyandry and wife-selling represented opposite ends of a spectrum of strategies. At one end, polyandry was a means to keep the family together by expanding it. A woman would bring in a second husband in exchange for his help supporting her family. In contrast, wife sale was a means to survive by breaking up a family: a husband would secure an emergency infusion of cash while his wife would escape poverty and secure a fresh start with another man.
Even though Qing law prohibited both practices under the rubric illicit sexual relations,” Sommer shows how magistrates charged with propagating and enforcing a fundamentalist Confucian vision of female chastity tried to cope with their social reality in the face of daunting poverty. This contradiction illuminates both the pragmatism of routine adjudication and the increasingly dysfunctional nature of the dynastic state in the face of mounting social crisis. By casting a spotlight on the rural poor and the experiences of both men and women, Sommer provides an alternative to the standard paradigms of womens history that have long dominated scholarship on gender and sexuality in late imperial China.
About the Author
Gail Hershatter is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of many books, including Dangerous Pleasures: Prostitution and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Shanghai and Women in Chinaand#8217;s Long Twentieth Century, both from UC Press.
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