Development and Urbanization
Drawing on ethnographic and life-history research, this paper analyses shifts in ideological gender divisions of labour in 20th and early 21st century rural China, and shows how they have contributed to the reproduction and strengthening of the exploitation of rural women in what is known in China as the ‘inside’ sphere. Three key transformations are identified. The first, occurring with collectivization in the 1950s, was the marginalization of home-based textile production and the institutionalization of a previously alien understanding of inside work as private family reproduction, as opposed to public production. The second, associated with efforts since the 1980s to cultivate a ‘quality’ population, was an ideological emphasis on motherhood as the core of women’s inside work and their primary role. The third shift, associated with rural labour outmigration from the late 1980s, was the ‘feminisation’ and ‘ageing’ of agriculture, and a shift in its status from ‘outside production’ to ‘inside reproduction.’ Each of these transformations has strengthened the exploitation of rural women in inside work, for while the nature of inside work has changed, it has continued to be devalued and marginalized. Understanding how and why this has happened is important not just because the exploitation of women in inside work is unjust. In addition, it has enabled other forms of unjust exploitation of the rural population, which in turn have formed the crucial underpinnings for China’s modern development.