Launching the China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE)

CHANGE and challenge

The China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE) was launched on our conference in Brussels
On 14-15 May 2018, the inaugural conference of the China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE) was held at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium) in partnership with SOAS, King’s College London and East China Normal University. The event was conceived both as the network’s official public launch and as its first scientific manifestation. Titled ‘Articulating Gender in Modern China: Retro-Prospective Encounters’, the conference brought together researchers from Europe and China whose research focuses on gender issues in modern China from the humanities and social sciences perspective.
Keynote Speaker: Prof. Jin Jiang (East China Normal University)
Participating scholars: Dr Jennifer Altehenger (King’s College London), Dr Stijn Deklerck (KU Leuven), Dr Colette Harris (SOAS), Prof. Vanessa Frangville (ULB), Prof. Peter Jackson (Australia National University), Prof. Katrien Jacobs (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Prof. Françoise Lauwaert (ULB)

Conference overview

Monday 14 May

The conference was officially inaugurated with a short speech from representatives of the partner universities including Dr Jennifer Altehenger (KCL), Dr Colette Harris (SOAS) and Prof. Laurent Licata, the Vice-Rector in charge of Diversity and Gender Policies at ULB. Conference participants were also welcomed by representatives of ULB’s Maison des Sciences Humaines, EASt (ULB’s research centre on North and South East Asia), and Striges (ULB’s interdisciplinary structure on Gender, Equality and Sexuality). The CHANGE network founders Jennifer Bond, Liu Chang and Coraline Jortay also introduced the network, with a short talk on its history, its current projects and future aims. The conference was then opened with the keynote speech from Prof. Jiang Jin (ECNU) on the ‘State of the Field of Gender and Women’s Studies in China.’
After a brief historical overview emphasizing how women’s liberation through the 1950 Marriage Law effectively served as an important  benchmark for modernity and legitimacy for the CCP after the founding of the PRC, Prof. Jiang brushed a panorama of the field dating back to the 1980s when the first generation of western scholars such as Gail Hershatter and Emily Honig started to research gender issues in China after the Cultural Revolution. Prof. Jiang highlighted the cultural and historical background that scholars researching gender in China and the West brought with them to the field. As China emerged from the Cultural Revolution, Chinese scholars of gender, such as Li Xiaojiang 李小江, started to unpick the gendered norms of the previous decades. The 1990s saw a boom of publication, translation and institutional building. Efforts were made to establish women’s studies as an academic discipline within the curriculum of universities in China. This was supported by a host of organisations such as the Ford Foundation. Although these efforts ultimately failed, the beginning of the twenty-first century saw the establishment of research centres dedicated to women’s studies, including the Center for Culture and Gender Studies at ECNU. Prof. Jiang then showed how Chinese scholars had explored strategies to create a Chinese theory in gender studies. Starting from the 1980s, gender issues have also gradually attracted broader public attention in China.
A final remark underlined how women’s studies in Chinese academia had since its foundation in the 1980s lacked a corresponding social movement, which has recently begun to take shape along with the MeToo movement. Zhu Yuhang from ECNU outlined how recent sexual harassment cases in China have also had an impact as students start to rethink gender relations. These recent discussions about gender and sexual harassment in public, particularly on social media, are supposed to align with academics’ continued efforts to establish a field. Nevertheless, the extent to which these recent discussions about gender and sexual harassment in the public realm, particularly via social media will ally with Chinese gender scholars’ continued efforts to find a more central and permanent home for their subject is a question which has yet to be answered.

The afternoon began with a roundtable discussion facilitated by Prof. Françoise Lauwaert (ULB), entitled ‘Methods, Practices and Challenges of Gender Research in China’. Participants included Jiang Jin who works on Shanghai, Katrien Jacobs on Hong Kong, Séagh Kehoe on Tibet and Nepal. Jennifer Altehenger’s research focuses on propaganda, popular culture production and material culture in the PRC, while Colette Harris has been working on masculinities and femininities in Central Asia and Africa. Bringing together scholars working on art, literature, history, anthropology, sociology, politics and film studies, the roundtable discussed different challenges (practical, institutional, fieldwork-related, etc.) and practices of doing gender research in China today, contrasting the differences and similarities depending on different disciplines and places.
Various questions were raised and debated during this lively session, with much engagement from the audience: How does gender become one of the many lenses through which we can analyse our sources? How to use alternative (artistic, performative …) methods to teach students in relation to gender? What are the risks and benefits of social media compared to traditional ethnography for gender-related topics? Does building an academic field of gender studies make one an activist? The session also discussed ethical issues of doing research in China, and the sexual challenges and opportunities that research students are faced with in conducting their fieldwork. These challenges often stem from notions of reciprocity that research entails and the suitability of universities current ethics committees and frameworks for the practicalities of doing gender research in China was also questioned.

The first day of the conference ended in a session titled ‘Gender & Asia in Dialogue’.  The papers complemented each other in their discussion of how magic in fiction and practice has intertwined with ideas about class, gender fluidity and border crossing from historical and modern perspectives in China and southeast Asia. Prof. Peter Jackson (ANU) brought together queer and religious practices in contemporary Thailand in a talk ‘A World Ever More Enchanted: Modernity Makes Magic in 21st Century Southeast Asia’. Françoise Lauwaert (ULB) gave a fascinating paper ‘Crossing the Borders Between Genders and species in Chinese Religious Fiction’.

Tuesday 15 May

On the second day of the conference, the first panel entitled ‘Intervention and Interaction: Individual, Organisation and State’, chaired by Vanessa Frangville (ULB), brought together scholars working on issues of gender, religion, class and ethnicity in China. Panel participants included Zhu Yuhang (East China Normal University), Hollie Gowan (University of Leeds), Kailing Xie (York University) and Séagh Kehoe (University of Nottingham). The panel helped us to draw comparisons about the interactions between individuals and the state in gender negotiations in China both in the past and at present. The question of the relationship between gender, religion and female agency in China was raised in Zhu Yuhang’s and Hollie Gowan’s papers. Hollie Gowan’s talk also provided interesting methodological insights into conducting interviews with women in faith-based organisations in China, giving examples of the type of questions she asked when attempting to unpick women’s understanding of selfhood and identity.

The next two papers highlighted the intersection of ethnicity, gender and class in the feminist movement in contemporary China. Kailing’s Xie’s presentation on China’s well-educated urban daughters highlighted the challenges and paradoxes that this group of privileged middle-class women face in their pursuit of an increasingly unobtainable vision of ideal womanhood as portrayed in state and social media discourses. Séagh Kehoe’s talk discussed the intersectionality of Gender and ethnicity in China and the problem currently facing the middle-class feminist movement in urban China of how to bring non-Han perspectives and experiences of gender into the debate.
The second panel entitled ‘Deciphering Sexuality and Gender: Literary Works, Visual Sources and Social Space’, asked us to shift our perspective to a more grassroots approach, considering how individuals negotiate the heteronormative discourses that permeate state-sponsored discussion of gender identity and sexuality in modern China. The session was chaired by Colette Harris and participants included Florine Leplâtre (INALCO), Katrien Jacobs (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Lucas Monteil (Paris 8 University), and Stijn Deklerck (KU Leuven).
Florine Leplâtre’s paper dissected the types of female activism displayed in two late Qing novels and questioned to what extent the concept of Femo-nationalism can be usefully applied to this type of fiction. Katrien Jacobs’ research into gender and pornography explores the positive ‘after-glow’ felt after viewing pornography and her research encompasses a participatory group based research in Hong Kong. Questions relating to queer pornographies and different cultural influences in pornography across Asia and the West also arose. Lucas Monteil’s research looks at the individual negotiations that male homosexuals in modern China face when negotiating the heteronormative expectations of society about marriage. Stijn Deklerck highlighted the collective strategies of the LGBTQI community in these negotiations and also touched on the relationship between his status as an activist and research on LGBTQI issues in modern China. This promoted a broader discussion which is applicable to all researchers in the field, as well as for CHANGE on how to negotiate these identities as researcher and activist. Both Lucas and Stijn shared visual sources with the group to allow an understanding of the spaces and methods used by the LGBTQI community to articulate their gendered identities in China.

Our workshop came to a close with a talk by Prof. Jiang Jin, entitled ‘Women Playing Men: Same-Sex Relations in Shaoxing Opera in Republican Shanghai’, based on her book Women Playing Men: Yue Opera and Social Change in twentieth-century Shanghai (Washington, 2009). Prof. Jiang explored how female opera stars could, by adopting the dress and characteristics of men, push at the boundaries of what was considered permissible between the sexes in terms of on-stage intimacy as the viewers were aware that both players were female. According to Prof. Jiang, female opera stars playing men’s roles could experiment with new subject positions and strategies for asserting their identities.
We would like to reiterate our thanks to all the participants and sponsors who helped to make this network launch a success, including East China Normal University Center for Culture and Gender Studies, King’s College London History Department, SOAS China Institute and Center for Gender Studies, and especially to Striges, EASt and the Maison des science humaines at ULB for hosting our inaugural conference.
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Inaugural conference of the China Academic Network on Gender

Articulating Gender in Modern China:
Retro-Prospective Encounters

The inaugural conference of the China Academic Network on Gender (CHANGE) will be held at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium) on May 14-15th 2018. The event is conceived both as the network official public launch and as its first scientific manifestation. Titled ‘Articulating gender in modern China: retro-prospective encounters’, the conference will bring together in conversation established scholars and early career researchers from the humanities and social sciences whose research focuses on gender issues in modern China. As a starting point for future collaborations undertaken within the network, its roundtable and research workshops will seek to uncover the main challenges, practices and methods of gender research in China to outline a state of the field we aim to promote. The network will also organise biennial themed conferences at partner universities starting in 2019.

Keynote: Prof. Jin Jiang from East China Normal University.

Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 May 2018
L’Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Monday 14 May
AW.1.125
Building A – Door W – 1st Level
ULB – Campus du Solbosch
Tuesday 15 May
Salle de réception (R.3.105)
MSH – Building R – 3rd Level
ULB – Campus du Solbosch
Free entrance with registration here or by email

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.