China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Over China’s long twentieth century, medical, political, and cultural shifts dramatically changed women’s experience with maternity. Medical and public health advances first reduced mortality and more recently fertility rates. Developmental states, both Nationalist and CCP, equated improved maternal health with advance of the nation, and most recently revolutions in birth control and assisted reproduction have continued to challenge the status quo even as one observes continued desire among both state actors and family elders to regulate female sexuality.
This panel seeks to understand women’s situation and action surrounding maternity in modern China. Focusing on lower-class single women in 1940s Shanghai, Liu’s paper discovers the moral stigma and difficulties for them to obtain abortions when the law forbade it. Yet, as Xie’s paper documents, even with legal and accessible abortion services, responsibilisation of women’s pregnancy reflects persistent patriarchal values and the state’s regulatory power over women’s reproductive bodies. Jiao’s paper compares media representations of breastfeeding and wet-nursing in Republican and early Communist China to trace the evolution of an official discourse that merges the languages of health, duty, and rights. By comparing feminists’ demands in China and the US, Su and Zhou’s paper discusses how technology can either objectify or empower women in the context of ever more commercialised healthcare.
Combining historical and sociological perspectives, the four papers reveal that despite fundamental economic, political, and cultural change over the past 100 years, concern with controlling young women’s sexuality remains fundamental to understanding the experiences of pregnancy and maternity.