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  • Gender, Dating and Violence in Urban China by Xiying Wang
  • Manfred Henningsen (bio)
Xiying Wang. Gender, Dating and Violence in Urban China. London and New York: Routledge, 2017. xiv, 223 pp. Hardcover $170.00, isbn 978-0-415-81033-3.

Dr. Xiying Wang, a Professor at Beijing Normal University, received her Ph.D. from the University of Hong Kong with a dissertation on dating violence among young people in Beijing. Her book on Gender, Dating and Violence in Urban China is at its core based on the qualitative research she pursued in the capital of the PRC for her doctoral work. Yet, the book goes well beyond that provocative topic itself. Being informed by a Chinese feminist perspective and [End Page 192] well versed in Western feminist literature, she questions and undermines with her findings a set of assumptions people usually connect with gender relations in China. These assumptions about the persistence of unequal gender relations, which go back to Confucian patriarchal teachings and were basically retained in the Maoist revolution, find themselves under existential attack by Chinese youth in contemporary China.

Unlike other Chinese feminists who grew up in the post-Mao Reform Era during the one-child policy period, did not marry or have children, chose nonacademic careers, and became women’s rights activists, Wang entered academia. Her book and her international conference and paper trail demonstrate that her seemingly settled life hasn’t stopped her from being a participant-observer of an intellectual awakening among young women and men who envision a lifeworld beyond traditional and other social restrictions.

Wang is able to make her readers vividly recognize how dramatic the life circumstances are that the forty-three in-depth interviews she conducted with twenty-nine young women and fourteen young men revealed to her. These conditions are not limited to the emotional tensions of the dating couples alone but include the relationships with parents, housing problems and residence restrictions, class, and, in a few cases, ethnic and racial issues. As much as the young seem to be detached if not unimpressed by the deeply ingrained cultural behavior norms of Chinese society, they frequently encounter barriers that have no cultural meaning attached but nevertheless reinforce in an unintended way these norms. The diminishing hold of family ties on the young becomes countered by the need for financial assistance from parents to cope with the high level of housing costs in Beijing. The state adds to this dilemma of limited individual independence of the young by enforcing a registry system of household residence (hukou). Relations between Beijingers and outsiders (waidiren) are handicapped by the residence requirements that are strictly applied in this growing city of an estimated twenty-five million. The forceful eviction from the city of thousands of job-seeking migrants that had come from all parts of the country in December 2017 underlines one of Wang’s findings about the difficulties native and foreign outsiders face in the city, despite its emerging cosmopolitan character.1 Beijing residents in relationships with outsiders occasionally used their residence privilege as a means to manipulate the other or even terminate the relationship. Yet, in a way, the family and the state recapture control over the young that the old narratives of meaning and obligation do not possess any longer.

One of the striking findings of Wang’s interviews is the fluidity between the various types of violence that are regularly treated separately. Wang challenges four common myths, namely (1) the traditional separation of “physical, psychological, verbal, and sexual violence,” (2) the notion “that only [End Page 193] severe violence counts as violence,” (3) “the dichotomy of ‘abusive men and abused women’,” and (4) the contrast between “romantic love and violence.” She argues that “romantic love and violence sometimes co-exist in violent dating relationships” (p. 6). The author is aware “that gender inequality and sexism have long been deeply embedded in the socio-cultural and political fabric of China” (p. 29) and didn’t change with the Revolution since “equality in the 1950s meant ‘obligation equality’ to the state, as both genders were molded into state persons to suppress family autonomy and individual freedom, while in the home...


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