Refracting Gender in Modern China: New Voices, New Perspectives

Workshop Report


Dates: 17-19thFebruary 2017
Location: SOAS, University of London
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Joan Judge (York University, Canada)

Participating scholars: Dr Jennifer Altehenger (KCL), Prof. Harriet Evans (University of Westminster), Prof. Natascha Gentz (Edinburgh), Prof. Michel Hockx (Notre Dame), Dr Andrea Janku (SOAS), Prof. Jin Jiang (East China Normal University), Dr Weipin Tsai (Royal Holloway), Dr. Harriet Zurndorfer (Leiden University)

Sponsors:  London Confucius Institute, SOAS China Institute, the SOAS Doctoral School, The Soong Ching Ling Foundation Switzerland, the Sino-British Fellowship Trust and the Universities China Committee in London.

Organisers: Jennifer Bond (SOAS), Hiu Man Keung (Edinburgh) and Chang Liu (KCL)


Workshop aims and overview:

The workshop brought together 37 researchers from 10 countries dedicated to humanities research on gender issues in modern China (late Qing – 1960s). Researchers from different fields including history, literature, film, arts, education, translation and religious studies all participated. We hoped to uncover the multiplicity of gender experiences by tracing the genuine experiences articulated by women and men from different age groups, marital status, classes and professions. We aimed to probe the divergence between how gender identities were defined by official state and public media discourses, and conversely, how women and menexperienced these gendered identities, appropriating, adapting and resisting these discourses in their own lives.

Twenty-seven papers were chosen to be included across seven panel sessions. Please find the full workshop program here.

See also an article from The Europe Times (欧洲时报网) reporting on the workshop.


Day 1: Friday 17thFebruary

After a welcome session, and the first panel focusing on Roles in Family and Society, the keynote address was delivered by Prof. Judge (York University, Canada), a leading scholar in the field of Chinese Gender History and the author of several books on gender in early twentieth century China, including Republican Lens (UC Press, 2015).

Titled Visuality and Sexuality in Republican China: Photograph, text and method in the periodical press, Prof. Judge’s talk focused partly on ‘Horizontal Reading’; a methodological approach she employed to analyse her primary source material Funü Shibao. The approach takes into account the visual and textual sources in a magazine or newspaper and also pays attention to the materiality of the document itself. This type of ‘horizontal’ reading approach allows the scholar to pick up on cross-references within the pages of the journal itself and thereby gain a more nuanced and holistic picture of the topic under investigation. As Prof. Judge asserts in her book Republican Lens:

The horizontal method, in contrast, aims to identify the range of materials in a journal, including images, poetry and advertisements in addition to articles, that directly or indirectly addresses a particular topic such as women’s reproductive health. Situating that topic within the ecology of the journal rather than positioning it within a discursive trajectory of the scholars own making, this approach is attentive to the ways ideas resonate and conflict within different cultural registers – linguistic, visual, and literary – and to the interactions amongst these different registers. [1]


Day 2: Saturday 18thFebruary

The second day of the workshop began with two panel sessions, titled Literature and Textual Interpretations and Visual and Material Culture.

After lunch Prof. Michel Hockx (University of Notre Dame, USA) gave a talk entitled: ‘The Life and Work of Gao Jianhua’. His talk focused on the life and work of Gao and the magazine he edited Eyebrow talk, published in Shanghai in the early Republican period. In his paper, Prof. Hockx looked at the cultural production of this journal and challenged May 4th interpretations which dismissed the journal as frivolous and unsuitable for public consumption. His talk was followed by a paper from Prof. Natasha Gentz (University of Edinburgh) on ‘Reflections on early Chinese women journalists and media history’. These talks were followed by a lively question and answer session.

Following were the last two panel sessions of the day : Elites in Politics and Education
and Beliefs and Feminist Theories.


Day 3: Sunday 19thFebruary

The final morning continued with two panels Sex, Body and Sexuality, and Women in Mao’s ChinaAfter lunch Prof. Jiang Jin (East China Normal University) gave a talk entitled:  ‘Women’s Studies in China: The state of the field’. During her talk Prof. Jiang described the development of Women’s studies as an academic discipline in China over the past four decades, and the most recent trends in the field. She also touched on issues of translating certain terms and theoretical constructs from English into Chinese.


Following Prof. Jiang’s talk the room was transformed into a forum for a roundtable discussion, led by the participating scholars. Prof. Judge opened the discussion by reflecting on some of the themes and issues raised during the workshop, including how to integrate theoretical perspectives into our studies. Other issues raised by the participating scholars included how to integrate gender perspectives into mainstream academic disciplines, and what special value a gendered approach can bring to more established disciplines such as history, literature and the study of religions. Comments from scholars were followed by a free flow question and answer session with participating researchers. The discussion focused on archival access and networking in China.

In the second half of the roundtable discussion, we discussed ideas for the future of our newly established network. In particular we explored how we could set up a platform to keep the network going, and to perhaps organise a second conference on this topic in two years’ time.

[1] Joan Judge, Republican Lens, (University of California Press, 2016), p. 40.

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