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Reviews 557 Denyse Verschuur-Basse. Chinese Women Speak. Translated from the French by Elizabeth Rauch-Nolan. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1996. xi, 127 pp. Hardcover $49.95, isbn 0-275-95393-9. Paperback $14.95, isbn 0-275-95394-7· Denyse Verschuur-Basse, a French scholar who specializes in the sociology oflabor and the family in Latin America, worked in China from 1985 to 1989 at the invitation of the Academy ofSocial Sciences in Beijing. During that time, she conducted research into the women's movement in China and carried out a series of interviews with women of several generations and varied personal histories. Chinese Women Speak, originally published as Paroles de Femmes Chinoises: La FamilleAutrement (Harmattan, 1993), presents significant excerpts from thirteen of these interviews, bracketed by observations on the historical and recent status ofwomen in China and by the author's perceptions ofher subjects' common themes and concerns. The book appears to be aimed at both scholars and general readers interested in the everyday lives of Chinese women. Scholarly apparatus is minimal, and tiiis betrays the author's limited sinological background. Among the bibliographic omissions are other examples of "Chinese women speaking," most notably Emily Honig and Gail Hershatter's Personal Voices: Chinese Women in the 1980's (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 1988); Maria Jaschok and Suzanne Miers, editors, Chinese Women and Patriarchy: Submission, Servitude, and Escape (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; London and Atiantic Highlands, New Jersey: Zed Books, 1994); and Li Yu-ning, editor, Chinese Women through Chinese Eyes (Armonk and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), any ofwhich would further contextualize Verschuur-Basse's material. Although the latter two books were not available at the time Paroles de Femmes Chinoiseswas published, these and other works might have been usefully included in this English translation's select bibliography. A charge often leveled against feminist scholars is that their work is inaccessible to all but other intellectuals, that the very subjects oftheir research could not fathom the medium through which they themselves are analyzed. VerschuurBasse has made a courageous decision, therefore, to introduce die vast sweep of Chinese women's history in general terms for a general audience and to allow her interviewees to direct the flow of discussion. Unfortunately, the book's introduction ofwomen as "spouses and concubines" in traditional as well as twentieth-© 1997 by University century chinais inadequate byeven arelaxed scholarlystandard. Verschuur-°' ' ' Basse is careful to draw distinctions between urban women and women of the countryside (as well as between Manchus and, seemingly, all other Chinese), but dynastic specificity is too often sacrificed in favor ofa broad and rather vague his- 558 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 torical overview. This misleading tendency is especially irksome when the topics are widow chastity and footbinding, discussion ofwhich demands more rather than less clarity, given their overdetermined position in orientalist discourse. Had time permitted and the original French text been more readily available, I would have liked to compare its prose with that of Chinese Women Speak. The English version is often simplistic and wooden; short, declarative sentences are strung together in a way that retards narrative flow and lessens dramatic impact. There are glaring errors such as the misromanized "ying and yang" (pp. 3, 127) and a reference to the 1949 founding of "the Popular Republic of China" (Appendix , p. 118). Certain of these infelicities are editorial oversights and certain of them are likely attributable to the translator, but I suspect that many of them are traceable to the author, whose lack of sinological expertise results in (a) her seemingly uncritical acceptance ofany misogynistic statement attributed to Confucius and (b) her apparent surprise that all but one of the subjects identified the Cultural Revolution as a signal point in their personal histories "although the question was never raised" in die interview process (p. 97). My advice to colleagues would be to skip the introduction, a scant six pages, and to skim the concluding section—much ofwhich is verbatim reiteration of the content of the interviews, but some of which contains useful statistical data. The heart of Chinese Women Speak is the interview section, and it is in these unstructured , nondirected conversations that insights...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 557-559
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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