The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Pastby: Gail Hershatter
Empty Stools of Rural Village Life in China (Xinhua) from All-China Women’s Federation
UNTIL RECENTLY, "CHINA" BROUGHT TO MIND for most Americans farms, farmers, and the rural countryside, not the factories and mass industrialization we think of today. This view of a more rural China is what also once dominated the most widely read books about the country, from the hardworking impoverished villagers of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth, to the rural rebels of journalist Edgar Snow's Red Star Over China. It's easy to forget about the rural facets of this populous nation in the midst of its freeways and fast trains, skyscrapers and construction sites. This isn't surprising, since China has more urban centers of a million-plus residents than any other country on earth and, for the first time in its history, as many people living in cities as in villages. Last year, Chinese scholars predicted that its rural population would halve by 2030, from today's 900 million to 400 million. Meanwhile, the gap between wealthy urban areas and their poor rural counterparts grows ever wider: 99 percent of China's most impoverished citizens hail from the countryside.
In spite of this trend, rural China continues to define the country's domestic debates and policies on topics like water use, rising food prices, corruption, and social service access. Meanwhile, a domestic body of literature and film — often created at risk to the writers and documentarians involved — is highlighting a growing concern among the country's intellectual and cultural elite for the plight of rural people. Will...