- Mit Mut an die Front. Die militärische Beteiligung von Frauen in der kommunistischen Revolution Chinas (1925–1949) by Nicola Spakowski
This book is a meticulous study of women’s contributions to the Communist revolution, seen from the angle of their military participation. It is, thus, designed to add to the body of literature on women and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as well as to military studies of Republican China. As the book is written in German, I will briefly introduce the contents first and add some comments in the end.
The author bases her research on a careful reading of a broad range of Chinese sources, including political directives of the time to reconstruct the normative aspects; working reports that disclose practical aspects and at times difficulties in applying the directives at the grassroots level; journal and newspaper articles, either for the more general discursive field of women and the military or for reports on specific events or people; and finally, memory literature published in [End Page 398] the People’s Republic of China (PRC), mostly by the Women’s Federation, as a (later) voice of the concerned women themselves. This study of sources is done with more general questions in mind, which reflect the author’s double interest in gender history and military history: Is there an intrinsic connection between emancipation and military participation, given the fact that the military is often considered one of the main strongholds of patriarchy? Do women’s chances of military participation vary according to types of war? The author’s answer to both is a “not necessarily,” and it is to validate these contentions empirically that the book is written.
The book is structured chronologically, starting with the National Revolution (1925–1927), followed by the era of the Soviets (1927–1934), the “critical years” (1934–1937), and the War of Anti–Japanese Resistance (1937–1945), and ending with the Civil War (1946–1949). Each chapter first sketches out the main issues and then moves into the details to provide evidence.
In her introduction, Spakowski characterizes her approach as a “social history, modified by discourse theory” (p. 13). Referring to Cabrera (“new history”), Joyce (“post–social history”), and Buschmann/Carl (“history of war experience”), she argues for integrating the concepts of discourse and narrativity into the reconstruction of historical structures, interests, and conflicts that make up her key objects of inquiry. Thus, she aims at a historicized discussion of the question of women and the military in China that broadens the concept of military participation beyond combatant roles to include all sorts of noncombatant functions (sanitation, logistic, etc.), and at a contextualization in terms of changing temporal or spatial contexts. Although in the course of the study several individual examples are provided, the stress is on cohorts of women (of which the definition is not always clear) or, more broadly, women in general as a group (e.g., in the images women were confronted with in societal discourse at a given time or place).
The first phase, the National Revolution (1925–1927), is a special case in some regards: never, Spakowski concludes, had women more space to negotiate their military participation and more varying fields of action. Furthermore, due to the United Front, this phase (together with the one of the War of Resistance) provides one of the rare glimpses in this CCP–focused study of some GMD women and the military. The chapter profiles the phase of 1925–1927, with its close connection between military participation and a feminist agenda, due to the focus on mostly urban young women and their political motivation to join the National Revolution, culminating in the establishment of a women’s team at the military academy in Wuhan to train women for regular army service. It comes, however, as no great surprise that the women, in the end, were hardly assigned to combatant functions in practice.
The second phase, the Soviets (1927–1934), provides...