The Burden of the Double Question
Angelina Chin, Bound to Emancipate: Working Women and Urban Citizenship in Early Twentieth-Century China and Hong Kong. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 302 pp. $85 (cloth/e-book).
Margaret Kuo, Intolerable Cruelty: Marriage, Law, and Society in Early Twentieth-Century China. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 252 pp. $75 (cloth/e-book).
Back in the early 1980s, when I had the good luck to discover Chinese history, it was possible to read and keep up with everything published in English on the topic of women, family, gender, and sexuality in China. It has been a long time since anyone I know of could make that claim. In the late 1980s the field picked up momentum, and in the 1990s it seemed to expand exponentially. Gail Hershatter’s authoritative 2007 review of the post-1970 Anglophone literature on women in Chinese history, anthropology, politics, and sociology cited approximately 650 books and articles. A rough-and-ready search using those same parameters suggests that, since 2007, the reading list has grown by at least another 50 percent. A better sense of the overall size of Western scholarship on the field can be found in Robin Yates’s 2009 bibliography; it lists 2,500 books, articles, or chapters, and over one hundred dissertations. The range of topics and approaches runs the gamut. Angelina Chin’s and Margaret Kuo’s recently published histories are part of this fabulous profusion and could be connected in any number of ways to the genealogy of scholarship. Given the size of the field, this review will focus on one way in which American and European historiography on women, gender, and the family in the West has shaped our expectations of scholarship on these topics in China...