Maoism, Feminism, and the UN Conference on Women: Women's Studies Research in Contemporary China
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Maoism, Feminism, and the UN Conference on Women: Women's Studies Research in Contemporary China Wang Zheng On a September morning at Huairou, the site of the 1995 Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum, over three hundred women from all over the world gathered in an auditorium to listen to the presentations of a group of Chinese women scholars on the topic "Women's Studies in China." This was one of forty-seven panels presented by Chinese women at the NGO Forum. Many participants in the Forum from outside of China, observing Chinese women's activities for the first time, were impressed by what seemed to be an extraordinary amount of women's studies scholarship and activism. Although one of the most significant social phenomena in contemporary China is the development of research on women, the history of women's studies is in fact relatively short and began only with the economic reforms of the early 1980s. Moreover , while the term "women's studies" might have conveyed to participants at the NGO Forum a sense of a common academic enterprise, in fact, women's studies in China has a very different history and content than it does in the United States. Rather than emerging from a feminist movement , women's studies, or research on women (funü yanjiu) in China, has constituted a nation-wide women's movement that is creating new discourses on Chinese women. This essay examines the social and poUtical context of the rise of research on women in contemporary China, attempts to delineate the contours of this movement, and discusses the relationship between the Chinese women's movement and Western feminism. Having played the dual role of participant/observer in the development of research on women in China in the past several years, I wiU present my observations based on interviews with women scholars and activists in China and participation in some projects carried out in China, in addition to my survey of related literature about and documents of the movement. However, I do not claim that this paper represents an "inside view." Although I was born and educated in the People's Republic (PRC), I have spent the last decade engaged in studying U.S. women's history and Western feminism. I therefore view the current women's movement in China from multiple perspectives. © 1997 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 8 No. 4 (Winter) 1997 Wang Zheng 127 Establishing a Chinese Women's Studies—the Initial Stage Women Become an Issue Although many Western feminist scholars have criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for abandoning gender equality in the course of revolution, for many Chinese women who grew up in the People's RepubUc, especially urban women who were beneficiaries of equal educational and employment policies of the Maoist era, the CCP presumption that "Chinese women were Uberated" was a fact beyond questioning. However, this presumption was seriously challenged, for the first time, by the inadvertent effects of the one-child policy. In the early 1980s, cases of female infanticide and abuse of women who gave birth to female infants in the countryside were reported in newspapers nationwide. This was shocking to the Women's Federation (Julian) as well as to most urban educated women, since for them these were tales supposedly relegated to the pre-1949 past—the era prior to Chinese women's liberation. The national Women's Federation immediately launched a campaign to "protect the legal rights of women and children ," which suggested that women's liberation was an unfinished cause that needed more public attention.1 Soon after that, other problems related to urban women attracted more public attention and media coverage. These included divorce (associated with long-term separation or social and spacial mobility of groups of men and women during and after the Cultural Revolution), marriage (a large number of urban educated women were reaching their thirties with dim prospects of marriage, an issue that even caught the attention of the Central Committee of the CCP), women's employment (the urban economic reforms quickly threatened gender equality in the sector of public ownership), femininity (as a critique of the ultra-leftist line that supposedly masculinized Chinese women), prostitution (increasingly prominent...