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5. Local Meanings of Gender and Work in Rural Shaanxi in the 1950s

图书名称:Re-Drawing Boundaries: Work, Households, and Gender in China
图书作者:Barbara Entwisle and Gail E. Henderson    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:2000年

Gail Hershatter

Following the 1949 Communist victory, the Chinese party-state moved rapidly and forcefully to rearrange rural social relations and the categories through which they were understood. One of those categories was gender. Early accounts of land reform, marriage reform, and collectivization emphasized women's active participation in these campaigns and suggested profound discontinuity, even incommensurability, between rural women's lives before and after Liberation.[1] More recent scholarly accounts have introduced a chorus of skeptical footnotes to this vision of thoroughgoing change. They call attention to the party-state's limited conception of gender reform, centered mainly on Engels' dictum that women should be brought into paid labor outside the home; to its tolerance of patrilocal marriage, which kept women in a subordinate role in both their natal and marital villages; to its willingness to downplay or postpone gender equality in the face of local resistance or in deference to other priorities; and to its construction of collectives on the basis of male kin networks.[2]

Most of these accounts have of necessity been based on close examination of the state-run press and other official sources. Even when the authors read such sources with a critical eye, they cannot help but take state policy pronouncements as the main subject. Rural women appear mainly as objects of state attention. As enthusiastic endorsers of particular state interventions (collectivization, the Marriage Law of 1950), they are audible as well, albeit in formulaic and routinized roles. What is far less accessible to the historian is how government policy and local social practice were each understood, implemented, and mutually implicated in the changing gender landscape of the 1950s. What might we learn about the effects of partystate policy, and its permutations and appropriations at the local level, if we placed a doubly marginalized group—rural women—at the center of an inquiry about the 1950s?

Such an inquiry must begin with some very basic questions, the crudeness of which is itself a measure of how little we know about 1950s history. Viewed from the vantage point of a rural community (and recognizing that rural communities varied greatly), how was women's work affected by the state campaigns of the 1950s: land reform, cooperatives, collectivization, and the Great Leap Forward? What sort of work was considered respectable and desirable for women before Liberation, and how did it change during the 1950s? How did change in women's lives come about in rural villages? Who were the main activists, and how prominent were they in local events? What was the role of the Women's Federation? How was local leadership developed? How did changing work roles for women affect the household economy, work in the home, sexuality, marriage, and child rearing? What were the greatest sources of social tension brought about by women's changing roles? How did the way they thought about themselves, their relationship to their family of origin, and their connection to their family of marriage change? How did they compare their lives to those of their mothers and grandmothers? Looking back now on the 1950s, how do they compare the changes in their lives then to the changes that came later? Investigation of these questions requires consultation of the broadest possible range of sources, including regional and local directives for implementing party policy, local records in city and county archives, Women's Federation work reports, and oral history interviews, as well as contemporaneous works of literature, art, and reportage.

The present chapter is a first attempt to address some of these questions, based on documentary research and fieldwork conducted in Xi'an and the rural areas of central Shaanxi (Guanzhong) in the summer of 1996. Guanzhong is the narrow belt of land along the banks of the Wei River that bisects Shaanxi province on a horizontal axis, with the city of Xi'an roughly at its center.[3] Although it abuts the northern part of the province where the Chinese Communist Party made its wartime headquarters, Guanzhong has a very different rural economy from that of northern Shaanxi, and its history in the decades before 1949 was very little affected by revolutionary events in Yan'an (Mao's stronghold after the Long March). Most peasants in Guanzhong learned of the communists only in mid-1949, when the Eighth Route Army (as it was still called locally) marched through their villages. Unlike the mobilization of women under Party direction in Yan'an, change in women's labor in Guanzhong was an event of the 1950s.

This chapter focuses on the story of one woman, Cao Zhuxiang of Wang Family Village,[4] who became a labor model in Weinan district. It confines itself to the early 1950s, up to the time when lower producers' cooperatives (chuji she) were formed in the spring of 1953. In addition to interviews with and written material about Cao herself, I draw on the memories of five women villagers who worked closely with her, two women labor models in other townships, four Women's Federation activists at the county level, and four Women's Federation officials who worked at the provincial level but spent significant time in the 1950s countryside.[5]

The creation of women labor models, these sources suggest, was shaped by a confluence of state policy, overlapping but distinct state agencies, and local circumstance. The state did not so much create a new gendered division of labor as valorize, propagate, and remunerate one that already existed among many poor households in rural Shaanxi. In doing so, state authorities at various levels made use of a group of middle-aged women such as Cao Zhuxiang who were old hands at fieldwork and willing to experiment with new agricultural techniques. These women were not, however, experienced public figures, and state intervention in the form of visiting cadres, agricultural technicians, and Women's Federation officials was crucial in their emergence as recognizable revolutionary icons. In the process, some aspects of their gendered experience were emphasized, but others were ignored or deemphasized by state officials and by the women themselves. Finally, the chapter considers generational difference among rural women, asking what features of early socialist transformation were attractive to the labor models and to the younger women who were trained by them.

GENDERED L ABOR IN CENTR AL SHAANXI

Unmarried women in Guanzhong villages, as in many areas of rural China, were not supposed to be seen outside the household. Cao Zhuxiang, born in 1917, recalls that in her youth, girls were not allowed out except at dusk, when they sometimes gathered in groups to discuss their dowries. Her memories and those of other women who grew up poor, however, also provide an insistent counterpoint to this norm of female seclusion. Cao Zhuxiang recalls that she was kept in the family courtyard most of the time after she turned five and was taught to spin and weave—proper “inside” work for women (chap. 1); yet she also remembers pushing her brother's delivery cart (he delivered flour to the county seat) and cleaning out his flour sacks in search of traces of flour. She remembers working in the fields breaking up soil until she was 11 or 12, and subsequently being kept in the house; yet she also describes getting her first menstrual period at age 14 while she was out in the fields harvesting opium. Yu Yinhua, 14 years younger than Cao, hoed and picked cotton in her natal family, while Bao Cuifeng worked from the age of 12 ginning cotton in a rural workshop. The social imperative that unmarried girls stay hidden was so strong that women remember themselves as shut away at home, but the details of their stories suggest otherwise. If the work of married women is considered as well, the blurring of “inside” and “outside” activities is even more pronounced (see chaps. 1 and 3). “Men till, women weave” was the standard adage describing the gendered division of labor, but it did not encompass the full range of women's work. Cao describes how women would cut and tie the grain at harvest time and work together with men at threshing (men drove the donkey around, women separated the wheat from the chaff). When the harvest was completed, the men of the village would move on to work as transient hired laborers (maike) in other villages farther east, presumably leaving the women to manage all the remaining fieldwork, including the harvest of corn and millet. Women did weave, using either homespun or purchased thread. Far from being an activity that confined them to the home, however, weaving brought them into frequent contact with periodic markets, where they went to sell the cloth for money to pay local taxes. As a young married woman in the 1930s and 1940s, future national labor model Zhang Qiuxiang took up a permanent post at market, where she sold homemade shoes and bought materials for the next pair.

The circumstances under which they married—including tragedy in natal and marital families—ensured that all of these women would continue to perform a range of tasks that exceeded the normative restrictions. Cao Zhuxiang was betrothed and married at 16, shortly after her father died in the cholera epidemic of 1932. The bride-price was 24 da yang dollars. With her father's death her family fortunes had became precarious enough that her meager dowry was paid for entirely with funds she had earned as a young teenager harvesting opium. Her marital family was scarcely more secure: her husband's father was dead, as was his younger brother, and their widows lived with their three unmarried children in a female-headed household with no adult male labor power. Cao's new husband was three years younger than she. Just after her marriage she worked the land with her husband's aunt, assisted by members of her own natal family: her older brother and her nephew. Almost as soon as her husband was old enough to provide adult labor power, he was snatched from the fields by a conscription patrol. After much family intervention he was released and assigned to a job in Weinan for two years, but returned home ill with tuberculosis and a tumor and died in about 1940. His death left Cao a twenty-four-year-old widow with a six-year-old son, a three-year-old daughter, and a sizable medical debt. At that point she decided that she had to learn to farm, and she asked her brother to teach her the complete range of farming skills, including those not usually performed by women: plowing, hoeing, raking, and leveling the land (li, chu, pa, mo).

Cao's widowhood made her family's reliance on her more pronounced than was the case in other households, but her status as a major source of labor power was by no means unique in her village. Wang Baolan, for instance, born in 1928, became a child bride in about 1940. She had a mentally ill mother-in-law who was kept locked in a back room, a father-in-law who gambled compulsively and gave away his own daughter to settle a gambling debt, a sister-in-law who was even younger than Wang herself, and an absent husband who had been paid by a rich peasant to take his place in the army. When she wasn't doing all the housework for this family, Wang provided some of its income by spinning and weaving in the house of Cao Zhuxiang. Bao Cuifeng was another young bride with an absentee husband. She was married in 1948, when her family needed the bride-price money to ransom her father out of the army. Her new family consisted of her husband's disabled uncle, his wife, five of their twelve children, Bao's husband, and three of his younger siblings. Bao's mother-in-law was dead and her father-in-law had been conscripted into the Nationalist (Guomindang) army; her new husband left to work in the county seat and later in Xi'an, not returning until 1957. Although the conscripted father-in-law returned home after 1949, this was also a household in which Bao's labor and that of her husband's aunt were crucial in making ends meet.

Normative patterns for women, then—of female seclusion, of limited work in the fields—were frequently contravened in the daily practice of Guanzhong farming households. What is less clear is whether poor women were stigmatized in their own communities for doing field work or appearing regularly at market.[6] After 1949, material son Cao Zhuxiang as alabor model routinely included statements such as “Her laboring habits were discriminated against in the old society” (Cao Zhuxiang huzhuzu 1952; see also Cao Zhuxiang huzhulianzu 1953).This may be merely post-revolutionary puffery. Such sources never specify the concrete form of that discrimination, and the women themselves never mention it directly in retelling their memories of the period before the revolution. It may be that deviation from the female norm was itself normal in Guanzhong—affecting so many poor households that there was no one left to regard it with opprobrium. What women do recall, with great emotion, is the sense that their labor was linked with family disaster, with hardship, instability, and barely getting by. What there volution did for these women was not so much to remove the stigma of “outside” labor as to change the context and the rewards associated with it.[7]

CAO ZHUXIANG AND THE COOPER ATIVE MOVEMENT

Wang Family Village was liberated in May 1949; in June a propaganda team arrived and informed the villagers that they should elect a village head and a women's chair. When someone recommended Cao Zhuxiang, she was so horrified at the prospect that she fled to her natal home; she remembered how the Guomindang had hounded the previous village head about taxes and other matters. Eventually other villagers persuaded her to return to her marital village and take up the job of women's chair.

The events that led to Cao's subsequent recognition as a labor model began in the spring of 1950. When the Party secretary of the district committee asked Cao about problems in her village, she told him that many households were hard-pressed by a spring grain shortage. He asked her what could be done about it, and she proposed organizing women to spin and weave for money, using cotton she had stored in her own house. The secretary offered her an interest-free loan of 80 yuan to invest in additional raw materials and promised that the supply and marketing co-op (gongxiao she) would buy any cloth the women could produce (Cao Zhuxiang 1996 [see chapter appendix]; for accounts of these events see also Cao Zhuxiang huzhuzu 1952; Cao Zhuxiang mofan 1957; Weinan diqu 1993, 367).

The next morning Cao Zhuxiang set about organizing seven women into a co-op. Each was from a household in which adult male laborers were either utterly lacking or defective in some way. Each of the women had often gone to the market with Cao before Liberation to buy thread or sell cloth, so she knew them all. Tang Yuying was a widow ten years older than Cao whose son had died some years before. Wang Baolan was the former child bride with the mentally ill mother-in-law who already spent much of each day weaving in Cao's home. Han Airong was Cao's relative by marriage; her husband was in intermittent trouble with the law for petty thievery, card playing, and opium smoking. Du Ailian's husband was conscripted before 1949, and after he returned home he proved not very competent; he later jumped into a well and died. Lanhua (a childhood nickname; Cao Zhuxiang cannot remember her formal name) had a crude and bad-tempered husband who was known for beating his own mother, although he did manage to do the farmwork. Tang Zhuzhen had a shiftless husband who sold the family's land (although he later reformed and became a brigade accountant!). Tang Shulian, whom Cao did not name but who was mentioned by two other interviewees as a co-op member, was the aunt of Bao Cuifeng's husband and the virtual head of household, with a disabled husband and twelve children (Bao Cuifeng 1996 [see chapter appendix]). All these women knew how to spin and weave, and many had done so for the market. It was the crucial state intervention of a loan that enabled them to start coop production at a time when cash was short.

The seven women went to a periodic market south of the village, purchased some yarn, set up three looms in Cao's house, and began to work (Weinan diqu 1993, 367). Within a few days they had produced and sold several meters of cloth, using some of the money to buy more yarn. The rest of the profits they gave to whichever household was most in need, a procedure facilitated by their long-standing familiarity with each other's house-hold situations. Eventually everyone got equal shares of the money. The co-op not only made enough to support all of its members, but within a month had earned enough money to purchase eight dou of wheat (a dou was 30–40 jin ) (Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953). As more and more women came to them and asked for advice in setting up cooperatives, Cao returned to the Party secretary and secured additional start-up loans of more than 200 yuan.

By the time of the summer harvest, the group of seven had enlarged to twenty-one and transformed itself into an agricultural mutual aid team, taking charge of harvesting the wheat from 89 mu of land. This freed up six men to work outside the village as hired harvest hands. It also, says one of the labor model documents, “broke the old habit of believing that women could not do farmwork” (Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953), although that belief was already mostly honored in the breach. Having gotten through the spring shortage and the summer busy season, the group disbanded.

The village spent much of the next two years in experiments with mutual aid groups of various types. This was a rocky process of false starts and quarrels. In the spring of 1951, responding to a call from the government (that is, not in a voluntary fashion), many of the villagers organized a labor exchange team, with men in one team and women in another. But the group had no way to reward people differentially according to how hard they worked, and so it broke up before long, with only the core group of seven women continuing to work together. Toward the end of 1951 they tried again, with six small groups of men and six of women. Again there were problems. Some households did not want women working for them, fearing that they would do the job inadequately. When women went to hoe the land, men would also show up to hoe it, and then arguments would break out over who had completed the job and who should get credit for it. Conflicts within families proliferated. In an attempt to overcome these gender wars, Cao reorganized people into eight groups, with households joining as a unit. But labor power and livestock were distributed unevenly among the groups, leading to delays in production. It took until the end of 1952 to put together a stable united mutual aid group of thirty-six households, with Cao as its head (Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953; Cao Zhuxiang huzhuzu 1952).

In spite of these difficulties, however, the various 1952 experiments yielded impressive results in the production of wheat, cotton, and millet, as well as in collecting fertilizer, digging wells, and caring for livestock (Cao Zhuxiang huzhuzu 1952). It was also during this period that Cao was first selected as a county-level labor model (Weinan diqu 1993, 367), and in 1952 she became the second Party member in the entire township (Cao Zhuxiang 1996 [see chapter appendix]). By 1953, the mutual aid group had an elaborate governing structure and was divided into subgroups, each with a head and vice-head and regular procedures for meetings, production planning, labor contests, work point distribution, collective newspaper reading, and criticism/self-criticism. It also made and sold bean curd, in spite of attempts at sabotage by one Du Jingjie who, jealous of the group's superior product, put salt in his own bean curd and sold it as theirs in order to ruin their reputation (Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953; Cao Zhuxiang 1996 [see chapter appendix]).

THE PRODUCTION OF L ABOR HEROINES

Labor models are made, not born, and in the paper trail their careers leave behind we can discern the process of their creation. As with every historical subject, our understanding of labor models is also profoundly limited by the written materials that survive about them, as well as the vagaries of memory and reinterpretation that shape oral history accounts. In official accounts, Cao Zhuxiang's initial reluctance to become the women's chair disappears. Instead, we are told,

her hardworking and upstanding style was discovered by the people's government; she became head of the village women; she was politically transformed (fanshen), was deeply moved, enthusiastic and active about every kind of work; she protected every policy of the Party and government, respected the laws of the government, and took the lead in responding to every government call. (Cao Zhuxiang mofan 1957)

But by her own account, it was not easy for Cao to learn to be a public figure. In 1951, when she was already a veteran mutual-aid team organizer but had not yet joined the Party or achieved model status, she went to her first meeting outside the village, a gathering at the county seat to discuss land reform. She had a difficult time talking to the other conferees, most of whom were men; at mealtimes she would grab a piece of steamed bread and go to her room. Rebuked for her shyness by the male cadre who had first recruited her as a women's chair, she gradually learned to talk to others, particularly after she was chosen as a district labor model and began attending meetings in Xi'an and other places (Cao Zhuxiang 1996 [see chapter appendix]).

Her difficulty in learning to speak in public was not unique. Zhang Qiuxiang, a national labor model from a nearby township, was at first virtually incapable of explaining how she produced her bumper cotton crops in the mid-1950s. Cadres from the Women's Federation spent hours patiently interviewing her and transforming what she said into maxims, then teaching her to recite them until she became a fluent speaker. They were responsible for composing her most famous jingle, which sounds felicitous in Chinese if not in English:
Use dialectics
look at the sky, look at the ground
grow the cotton.
Yunyong bianzheng fa
kantian kandi
wu mianhua.

In this anecdote and others like it we can see glimpses of the arduous process by which labor heroines were produced. (Zhang Quixiang 1996; Women's Federation officials 1996 [see chapter appendix].) It was a process determined not only by the state propaganda apparatus, but by their own efforts to learn new skills and overcome personal terrors, as well as by the painstaking daily work of Women's Federation and other government cadres.

But because of the conventions of public record keeping about labor models, we know the most about the aspects of their daily lives that touched upon national policy. A labor model, the records tell us, was one who consistently made connections between the local production process and the national political situation, whether that meant preparing care packages for the soldiers in Korea or taking the lead in selling cotton to the state (Cao Zhuxiang mofan 1957; Cao Zhuxiang huzhuzu 1952; Weinan xian minzhu 1952; Weinan xian 1962). A labor model worked to develop Party and Youth League members in her organization, to mediate disputes, to take the lead in agricultural experiments with new seeds and techniques, to become literate herself, and to communicate what she read about Party policy to those around her (Cao Zhuxiang huzhuzu 1952; Weinan xian minzhu 1952; Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953; Liu and Luo 1953; Cao Zhuxiang mofan 1957; Weinan xian 1962). A labor model showed determination in the face of local reluctance to collectivize.[8] The actions of labor models that were selected for publicity were those that supported current state priorities: to convince suspicious peasants that joining a mutual aid group was in their economic interest and that they should try new agricultural techniques.

Typically, the narratives about labor models began by describing the establishment of a production group under the leadership of an unusual individual like Cao Zhuxiang, the overcoming of successive waves of difficulties, and the final success, which the narrative would label as an inspiration for others to emulate the actions of the model and her group. This narrative formula was employed even if a happy ending, or even stability, had not (yet) been achieved; overwhelming difficulties were relegated to a section on “remaining problems” near the end of the piece. One 1953 essay, for instance, gave a very detailed account of organizational problems and then concluded that the members of Cao's united mutual aid group were in debt to the co-op and still extremely poor. One member commented plaintively, “I know that the co-op has a future and many benefits. I also hear what Chairman Mao has to say. It is just that when I go home there is nothing to eat” (Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953). This devastating comment barely interrupted the optimistic tone of the piece as a whole, which went on blithely to assert that the government was helping people to develop sideline industries so that they could make more money. The audience for stories about district labor models appears to have been primarily local and rural. Cao Zhuxiang, for instance, was praised in a heavily illustrated 1953 publication that was aimed at village women (Liu and Luo 1953). National labor models such as Zhang Qiuxiang, in contrast, were meant to appeal as well to an audience of urban youth (Gao Xiaoxian 1996 [see chapter appendix]).

It is important to note that female labor models were models precisely because of their pioneering labor, not because they were social pioneers in challenging local standards of virtuous behavior. In fact, many of the women who became labor heroines made deliberate and conscious decisions to conform to normative roles for women. Fu Guifeng, who was recruited as a women's activist and village official near Xianyang in 1949, encountered opposition from her husband, a former hired laborer, when she tried to go out to meetings. Ten years older than his wife, he was convinced by local gossip that she would run off with one of the male cadres who were training her as a local leader. One night in 1950 he became violent:

Once during the land reform, when we were taking and confiscating land (zhengshou moshou), I mobilized women to do a lot of hard work. My husband thought, she isn't home, and he got angry. I was working so hard, and when I got home at night I would stay up spinning on the brick bed (kang). I acted just as always in front of him. He lost his temper. He said, you run around all day and at night you waste lamp oil spinning. He cursed me and wanted to take me to the township head. I wouldn't go. He pulled me hard, and bumped my head against the door threshold. My face swelled up.

But when cadres from the Women's Federation and other government organizations wanted to criticize her husband, Fu Guifeng made a canny political assessment of how this would affect her work:

I wouldn't let them. The old people around him wouldn't accept it. I ran around all day, and he had to watch the children and do the housework. It would hurt the work [if they criticized him]. I explained to them over and over, until the upper-level cadres all got angry with me. They said, if your husband beats you to death we won't do a thing about it. [But] I had to set an example, and a bit of inconvenience didn't matter. I got along well with my mother-in-law and father-in-law, and I had no intention of divorcing my husband (Fu Guifeng 1996 [see chapter appendix]).

Instead, she chose to explain over and over to her husband that she would not divorce him, that she and he were “bitter melons on the same vine” (yitiao kuman shang de kugua).[9]

Cao Zhuxiang's widowhood contributed to her status as a labor model in interesting and contradictory ways. By her own account, when her husband died in about 1940, her brother persuaded her not to remarry because she had two young children and a mother-in-law to care for. In particular, he said, she had to raise her son no matter what—and, he added, her husband's lineage would not push her out precisely because she had a son. Bringing in a new husband (“calling in a son-in-law”) seemed to her impossible; she had watched another family in the village try to do so, and they had faced considerable social embarrassment and opposition. Nor was her decision merely a function of family and village opinion: she felt strongly that she wanted to watch out for her own children and that she didn't want people gossiping about her. Convinced that it was her fate to “eat bitterness” alone, she refused to remarry, even after 1949 when several cadres tried to persuade her otherwise. As a former Women's Federation official shrewdly observes, Cao's honesty, ability to eat bitterness, and desire to raise a son for her husband's patriline were themselves feudal virtues (Women's Federation officials 1996 [see chapter appendix]).

Cao Zhuxiang mofan 1957). Perhaps it is significant that this oddamalgam of praise for widow chastity and female independence was crossed out in the draft essay. One can also speculate that marriage had not offered much to Cao Zhuxiang: a husband who had not yet reached puberty when she married, who was away from home for the few years in which he was a healthy adult, and who returned home to die at the age of 21, leaving her with dependents of several generations. Almost a decade later, at Liberation, Cao was 32, amature woman and an experienced farmer. Her mother-in-law had died, and her children were no longer toddlers and could help with farmwork. Reluctance to begin another marriage at that stage in her life is certainly understandable from many standpoints, especially because notions that might encourage remarriage—such as the expectation that marriage would be a source of sexual or emotional companionship—were no where operative in her home village. Nevertheless, the salient point here is tha ther widow hood and her conventional response to it, far from being questioned, were incorporated seamlessly into her emergence as a labor model—not by afaraway anonymous state apparatus, but by the fellow villagers who wrote up her life as a model for outside consumption.

THE GENDERED ATTRACTIONS OF SOCIALISM

The list of virtues ascribed to men and women chosen as labor models was a long one, but it usually did not make more than passing reference to the gender of the model. Cao Zhuxiang, the accounts tell us, was a woman forced by widowhood to learn fieldwork skills before Liberation, and was thus favorably positioned (as were many men) to become a labor model in agricultural production. She was also a widow who steadfastly refused to remarry so that she could bring up her son properly in her husband's patriline. Her relentlessly proper conduct ensured that no gossip swirled about her door and that no subsequent marriage infringed on her loyalties or her time. In short, the particularities of her history as a woman set up the conditions under which she could become a model; they cleared the ground for modelhood.

But in the official accounts, even those generated at the local level by villagers who knew her well, very seldom is her gender cited in reference to her achievements as a model. She was not a model because she did an exceptional job of juggling child care and fieldwork, or because she explicitly addressed the problems of drawing women into production outside the domestic space. She neither articulated nor overcame the gendered differences in daily responsibilities and social expectations that stubbornly inhered beneath the Party's proclamations of equality between men and women. Or if she did so, it is not the job of labor model stories to tell us about it. Their purpose was to publicize local successes in cotton production, group organization, and (increasingly as the 1950s wore on) political fealty. Even as the move of women into collective production fundamentally altered the position of women within a particular social division of labor, the labor heroine literature—and quite possibly, the labor heroine subject position itself—underplayed that massive change.

When labor heroines of the 1950s recall those days now, one difficulty they mention is the problem of caring for children while meeting the demands of modelhood. After many years of marriage Fu Guifeng, a Women's Federation activist, provincial labor model, and co-op cadre, gave birth to a son in about 1954. The child suffered from meningitis and its aftereffects; she blames his illness on having sent him out to a wet nurse with inferior milk. (This was a common practice among emergent labor models and Women's Federation cadres alike. Fu's daughter, born in 1956, was given to a wet nurse after six days and stayed with her until she was in middle school.) In 1958, Fu went to Beijing for three months of meetings, and two weeks after her departure the son's illness flared up and he died. She was not told of his death. When she returned to the province she went first to Xi'an, where she was hospitalized with a stomach inflammation. At the time she was pregnant and wanted an abortion, and was mystified by the refusal of the hospital authorities to give her one. When she learned that her son had died, she returned to her home village, where she pushed through a waiting crowd of sympathetic villagers, went directly to her house, covered her head with a quilt, and cried for a long time. When she gave birth to another daughter several months later, her husband, still almost deranged with grief, reproached her: “A daughter doesn't support the mother's house; you can't use ashes to build a wall. Ten daughters in flowered clothes are not worth one crippled son. You were such an activist that you snuffed out [literally, ‘cut short'] the incense on my grave” (Fu Guifeng 1996 [see chapter appendix]).

Cao Zhuxiang's child care needs were less acute than those of women with younger children. Her daughter was about eleven and her son was about eight in 1949. By the age of nine her daughter could already cook and tend the livestock, and the children took care of themselves while Cao attended co-op meetings in the evenings. Cao took comfort in the fact that her daughter was able to go to school at age 11, an opportunity Cao had never had. Yet she immediately interrupts her account of her daughter's better life with a tale of her own maternal neglect: “I didn't have time to take care of my daughter when she was in school. Her legs froze one winter when she was crossing the Wei River to get to school” (Cao Zhuxiang 1996 [see chapter appendix]). When her daughter married in 1958, Cao did not attend the simple ceremony because she was away at a meeting in the county seat. On the second day, when local practice required that she send a meal to the newly weds, she was still attending the meeting. On the third day, when the daughter returned to her natal home for the customary visit, she was still at the meeting; at that point relatives called her back so that she could present her new son-in-law with a piece of steamed bread and a few eggs.

The serious, even heartbreaking, family dilemmas of labor heroines punctuate their recollections in the late 1990s; their frequency underscores the utter silence on this subject in the official labor heroine literature. Works published in the 1950s discuss how to organize child care facilities for the busy agricultural season, but no labor heroine is ever described as in need of such assistance in order to perform her historical role. Without subscribing to an essentialist notion of a sacred mother-child bond, or assuming an ahistorical norm of concern about child care, a North American feminist writing almost half a century later is tempted to see that silence as a failure by the state, even a cynical attempt to promote women as models without ever acknowledging the material and emotional costs of their modelhood. The silence could be read, in short, as one step in the Long March of bad faith by which the state touted women as equal to men, and as equally available for heroic labor, by simply pretending that their circumstances were the same as those of men.[10]

But such condemnation, no matter how briefly satisfying, is politically foolish and historically untenable. It ignores the zeal with which labor heroines took on (and still recall without apparent ambivalence) their model status and the honors it brought them, as well as the daily work it entailed. Although after four decades these women confuse details from some of the movements in which they played such leading roles, they are unswerving in their eloquence on this score. Fu Guifeng, the labor model who lost her son, is particularly passionate, albeit in official political language, about the way in which the Party literally brought her into being:

Although my parents gave birth to me, it was the Party that brought me up: Mao and the Women's Federation. … In July 1949, the district (quxiang) sent a cadre to my house. I was at the loom weaving. He pulled me off the loom to go to a meeting. They wanted to select someone who had suffered, who was capable. At the time I had no formal name (guanming); my childhood name was Rongrong. My name, Fu Guifeng, was given to me that day. … From that time, every level of the Women's Federation came looking for me. … Every level of the Party and government consciously trained and educated (peiyang) me. They spent more on me than what it costs to train a university student. (Fu Guifeng 1996 [see chapter appendix])

Cao Zhuxiang is less eloquent but just as clear on what she gained in the early years of collectivization. The new society gave her a way to excel by doing what she had always done—farm work—no longer as a marginal producer, but as a central figure in the village. It made her labor glorious and rewarded her publicly for it, and it gave her an arena in which to develop substantial political skills. She took pride in her growing experience and confidence as a leader. The growth of co-ops also removed the constant threat of economic disaster, which was endured by many peasants but perhaps felt most acutely by female-headed households. In early 1953, when her lower producers' cooperative was founded, Cao felt for the first time the relief of no longer being solely responsible for her own land and livelihood. The Party may have done nothing to acknowledge or relieve women's responsibilities for maintaining and reproducing the household. It did, however, reduce the chance that such households would be obliterated—a possibility that been an unquestioned feature of life prior to the revolution. The revolution succeeded in capturing the loyalty and hard work of its labor heroines because it provided them with basic conditions of existence, as well as possibilities for recognition and glory.

For the younger married women of the village, the rewards of the revolution were less public and more closely entwined with their status as young brides. The changes of the 1950s offered new resources for coping with their liminal status in their husbands' households. Yu Yinhua, who married into Wang Family Village in 1950 at the age of 19, had a childhood and adolescence full of unhappy domestic situations: her mother's death when she was ten, her father's nervous breakdown and suicide five years later, after bandits repeatedly made off with the family's livestock and grain. When she was 18, she was married off by her grandfather, partly because he was afraid that in the social chaos of the late 1940s, an unmarried woman would not be safe in a household unprotected by able-bodied men. A month later her new husband died of heart disease. Nor did her subsequent marriage into Wang Family Village provide her with stability.

What changed Yu's life was Chen Shengmin, a cadre from the Shaanbei revolutionary base area who was living in her marital home. Chen recommended Yu as a mutual aid group leader in 1951, and soon she was elected head of the women's team (xiaodui funü duizhang). Her main duties were organizing women in labor exchange groups for the wheat harvest, establishing a day-care center, and mobilizing women to attend school at night and in the slack season. She threw herself into the task of becoming literate, working through three elementary school textbooks, learning to write the name of everyone in the village so that she could record their work points, pasting copies of the Xibei funü huabao (Northwest women's pictorial) up all over the walls of her house. She joined the Party in 1955, and describes herself as happiest at that time, comfortable with her growing responsibilities as a cadre, sure that she could do anything.

The new social order in the village brought Yu Yinhua another benefit as well, one that she does not recount in her oral history. Village records from 1953 credit Cao Zhuxiang with a successful mediation in Yu's household, holding a meeting to smooth the fractious relations between Yu and her husband's aunt. This intervention reportedly resolved all tensions, leading the husband's uncle to comment happily of Cao, “No wonder she is a labor model. She mediated in my household so well, everyone is peacefully producing” (Cao Zhuxiang huzhu lianzu 1953). One does not have to believe literally in this utterance to note that it was her status as a labor model that enabled Cao to act, that cracked open the authority structure in Yu's new household and enabled a non-kin widow to ease the control of a younger woman by an older one.

For Yu Yinhua and other young brides in the village, the requirement that women labor collectively gave them a sanctioned occasion to see one another. Yu and Bao Cuifeng, who is the same age, remember the early years of the People's Republic as a time of hard work but also easy talk and laughter among young women, who ten years earlier would have been isolated in the homes of their in-laws. Wang Baolan and Li Qingcui, women several years older than the other two, liked the numerous meetings of the co-op period because they provided an opportunity to see other young people, even though the women themselves never spoke publicly in such a meeting. For all of these women, collective labor provided an alternative social universe, a community of peers, that helped them negotiate these difficult early years in their marital village. It is in the unwritten web of relationships formed during that time and now accessible only through memory, as much as in the official documents commemorating women labor models, that the local meanings of gender and work were developed in the 1950s.

APPENDIX

Bao Cuifeng [pseud.]. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Hongxing cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 6 August

Cao Zhuxiang. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Hongxing cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 2–4 August.

Fu Guifeng [pseud.]. 1996. Interview by Gail Hershatter with Ning Huanxia present. Xianyang, Shaanxi, 15 August.

Gao Xiaoxian. 1996. Personal communication. August.

Li Qingcui [pseud.]. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Hongxing cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 5 August.

Wang Baolan [pseud.]. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Hongxing cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 6 August.

Wang Jican, Wang Mingzhe, Huang Shimin, Wang Shuntian, Huang Meiying. 1996. Village briefing, Hongxing cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 6 August.

Women's Federation officials formerly active in Weinan. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Weinan city, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 9 August.

Yu Yinhua [pseud.]. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Hongxing cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi. 4 August.

Zhang Qiuxiang. 1996. Interview by Gao Xiaoxian and Gail Hershatter. Balidian cun, Weinan xian, Shaanxi, 7 August.




NOTES

* Virtually all the research for this chapter was conducted in collaboration with Gao Xiaoxian, Research Director of the Shaanxi Provincial Women's Federation, as part of an ongoing exploration of gender and work in the 1950s. Parts of the analysis were developed in long discussions with Gao Xiaoxian, but the views presented here are my own. The research was funded by grants from the Pacific Rim Research Program of the University of California and by the Luce Foundation. I am grateful to Emily Honig, Lisa Rofel, and Wang Zheng, as well as participants in the October 1996 conference on “Gender, Households, and the Boundaries of Work in Contemporary China,” for comments on an earlier draft.

1. Many scholars eschew the term “Liberation” because it assumes just this kind of thoroughgoing positive transformation. I use it here because it remains part of the language in which Chinese villagers recall and interpret their own past.

2. Space does not permit a thorough and nuanced exposition of these arguments. Some of the most important English-language sources that discuss the 1950s in rural areas are Andors (1983); Croll (1980); Davin (1979); Diamond (1975); K. Johnson (1983); and Stacey (1983). For an assessment of the entire period of collective agriculture with respect to gender equality, see M. Wolf (1985).

3. The most comprehensive treatment of Guanzhong's regional economy in English is Vermeer (1988).

4. Wang Family Village, now part of Red Star Village, was located in what is now Baiyang township, in the western suburbs of Weinan city, at the southwest corner of Weinan District. Weinan city is about 60 kilometers northeast of Xi'an. Wang Family Village was one of nine “natural villages” (ziran cun) that became part of the Red Star Agricultural Producer's Cooperative. The co-op encompassed different villages at different times, making it difficult to estimate the size of the constituent villages. In 1955, the Red Star Advanced Producers' Cooperative (including all nine villages) comprised 224 households according to one source (Weinan diqu 1993, 368) and 294 according to another (Cao Zhuxiang mofan 1957). In 1959 or 1960 Wang Family Village split into north and south villages, and the south village, where Cao Zhuxiang lived, became the second production team (erdui) under the Red Star Production Brigade of the Baiyang Commune (Wang Jican et al. 1996 [see chapter appendix]). Judging from the size of early mutual aid teams centered in the village (see later in chapter), it appears in the 1950s to have consisted of fewer than 40 households.

5. This chapter walks the precarious methodological border between history and anthropology, posing various ethical and practical dilemmas for the author. Historians aim to reveal their sources and establish the unique circumstances of their subjects by fixing them in time and place. Many historians feel a particular obligation to restore the erasure of non-elite women from the historical record, although here again the question of who “gives voice” to whom is a complicated one (see Hershatter 1997, 24–27). Anthropologists, in contrast, protect the anonymity of their sources and establish the unique circumstances and the shared cultural assumptions of their subjects through ethnographic description rather than straight-forward naming. And to this difference in disciplinary practices one must add the uncertainties of conducting fieldwork in rural China, where official approval at one moment (or by one level of authorities) can be succeeded by jittery accusations at the next.

Except where otherwise noted, information presented in this essay is drawn from interviews. Everyone interviewed spoke with the knowledge and approval of local officials. Nevertheless, I have changed the names of everyone mentioned here with the exception of two of the labor models, Cao Zhuxiang and Zhang Qiuxiang. Cao was regionally famous and Zhang was nationally known; numerous published and archival documents, some cited in this essay, attest to their fame, and their interviews supplement and enrich the written record in ways that should not prove problematic for them or their communities. I have given a pseudonym to the third labor model, “Fu Guifeng,” because the family matters she discussed with me are not, to my knowledge, matters of public record, and further discussions with her are necessary if I am to publish her name. 

6. In considering this question of stigma, I do not mean to suggest that women who worked in the fields had nothing to fear. Several women mentioned in their interviews that the social disorder of the 1940s meant that any woman venturing outside the home was in danger of being raped in the fields by local bandits (tufei) or roving soldiers. And women who assumed non-normative work roles before 1949 and in the 1950s did have to guard their reputations as respectable women. As a widow and a fieldworker, Cao Zhuxiang was particularly concerned that no suggestion of sexual impropriety be leveled at her; see later in chapter. The same was also true of some married women who took on prominent roles after 1949, and who did not want their work undermined by suggestions that they were engaged in improper conduct with men (Fu Guifeng 1996). When Bao Cuifeng assumed responsibility for a work group within her mutual aid team in the early 1950s, one of her husband's aunts cursed her and suggested that her children were not her husband's (Bao Cuifeng 1996 [see chapter appendix]). Outside activity, then, did pose various dangers for women, including the danger of a sullied reputation. But it seems by no means automatic that a woman who worked in the fields before 1949 was assumed to be “bad.”

7. Lisa Rofel (1999) argues in her study of Hangzhou silk workers that the normative gendered division of labor in prerevolutionary Hangzhou was figured spatially as “inside” versus “outside” labor, and that women who worked other than in household workshops were stigmatized for having gone “outside” (see also chap. 10). She points out that what was stigmatized here was not the fact of female labor itself, but the place in which it was performed, and that the revolution removed this stigma by reconfiguring the spatial arrangements of labor. For observations about stigmatized woman cotton mill workers in Shanghai and Tianjin, see Honig (1986) and Hershatter (1986) respectively. By suggesting that stigma worked differently in Guanzhong, I am not intending to contravene any of these earlier arguments, but merely to argue that there may be more variations on the “liberatory” process than can be subsumed in a single narrative.

8. This last virtue may well have been an artifact of the model-making process.

9. This little homily should not be mistaken for a happy ending. Fu had a continually stormy relationship with her husband. One Women's Federation official who spent a great deal of time in Fu's home recalls Fu chasing her husband around the kang with a stick, threatening to beat him. Another remembers that Fu's husband accompanied her on most of her visits to labor model meetings, fearing that she would divorce him if he let her out of his sight. For an account of his reproaches after the death of their son in 1958, see later in chapter.

10. For a discussion of this assumption of equality in a later, urban context see Honig and Hershatter (1988, 13–31).

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