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Reviews 441 Ping-Chun Hsiung. LivingRooms as Factories: Class, Gender, and the Satellite Factory System in Taiwan. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996. x, 182 pp. Hardcover $44.95, isbn 1-56639-390-6. Paperback $18.95, isbn 1-56639-389-2. Explaining Taiwan's "economic miracle" raises numerous variables and hypotheses . Ping-Chun Hsiung, an anthropologist ofmainland background from Taiwan , focuses on some ofthe darker aspects ofthis development. She argues that "numerous small-scale, family-centered, and export-oriented sub-contracting factories outside the export processing zones . . . have been at the core" ofTaiwan's "economic miracle" (p. 3). She believes that these factories exploit married women through both "the patriarchal order as well as the operation ofcapitalism " (p. 101). To underpin her analysis, Hsiung conducted field research (and actually worked) in satellite factories during 1989-1990. Hsiung argues that her "effort to simultaneously explore class formation, gender inequality, and the interplay ofclass and gender structures" distinguishes her project from other recent studies (p. 20). This reviewer found, however, that the book's ethnographic material often undercuts the author's feminist and Marxist analyses and suggests alternative explanations. Hsiung begins the book with an attempt to place satellite factories at the "core" ofTaiwan's economic development. She argues that "85 percent of Taiwan's manufacturing sector had fewer than thirty workers" (p. 3), but later concedes that such small establishments only accounted for 21 to 27 percent of manufacturing wage workers (p. 29). Clearly, small, flexible, family-centered factories have contributed to Taiwan's economic growth, but the author fails to offer a convincing argument that satellite factories, with their emphasis on married, female employees, have been more important to Taiwan's economic development than larger factories with unmarried female employees and/or industries with predominandy male employees. Hsiung argues: "Over the last twenty years, Taiwan's export-led growth has allowed many men to escape proletarianization by becoming bosses. The same period saw a decrease in the proportion ofwomen employers and an increase in the percentage of unpaid female family workers" (p. 45). What becomes clear, however, is that the unpaid female family workers are wives participating infamily enterprises: "In the satellite factory system, female members of the owners'© 1997 by University families occupy a higher societal status than wage laborers, whether men or ' women." Thus, even though officially "unpaid," ethnographic descriptions ofthe Chinese family suggest that these women gain income as part ofthe family unit. 442 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 Rather than representing a system "in which the patriarchal order is called upon for capitalist production" (p. 96), the satellite factory system appears to be one in which the Chinese family exploits its strengths as a group (rather than as a number of individuals) and as a social system to find niches in the Taiwan and world economies. Other relatives, again relying on the obligations inherent in the Chinese kinship system, work as employees in such factories. Rather than assert that employers and employees have class and gender interests, the author should have asked why such putative interests stimulate very little behavior in contrast to the apparent familial interests which seem to be at the core of the behavior described in the book. In this context, it is not surprising that men have sought wives who could enhance the prospects of their entrepreneurial ventures (pp. 96-97). Instead of class and gender exploitation, I believe a better explanation—more in tune with the book's ethnographic theme—would be one that focuses on the role ofthe family in the satellite factory system. As Hsiung sometimes concedes, the exploitation ofwomen fundamentally lies in the Chinese family system rather than in the capitalist system. A focus on social networks rather tiian hypothesized class would also help explain why both employers and employees often speak of "helping" each other (pp. 131-133), as "helping" in Chinese society is intimately concerned with "utilization."1 Living Rooms as Factories presents some interesting ethnographic data on the organization and control of production in some of Taiwan's satellite factories. But this reviewer constantly found himself questioning the bases of numerous conclusions, including many that emphasize class and gender exploitation. Class...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 441-442
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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