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Chinese Women and Rural Development

Sixty Years of Change in Lu Village, Yunnan

Laurel Bossen

Rich in historical perspective on women and men in the context of economic development, this ethnography provides a unique window on rural China since the 1930s. Laurel Bossen uses her detailed knowledge to explore theories regarding such momentous changes as the demise of footbinding, the transformation and feminization of farming, the rise of family planning, and the question of missing daughters.
Based on anthropological research conducted during the 1990s in Lu Village and informed by the classic 1930s study of the same village by Fei Xiaotong, China's most famous anthropologist, Chinese Women and Rural Development goes beyond the enduring myths and cardboard images of women as either victims or heroes. Highlighting women's work in a complex farming economy and their choices in marriage and family, the book portrays individuals confronting a variety of changes, ranging from drastic to gradual, in their daily lives. Bossen examines the economic, social, and political practices both upholding and altering the boundaries of gender in the face of shifting state and market forces over time. Throughout, Lu Village women defy stereotypes, yet their stories, rooted in the reality of Yunnan province, express the commonalities and continuities of gender in rural China.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 432Size: 6 x 9 1/4
978-0-7425-1107-1 • Hardback • February 2002 • $130.00 • (£85.00)
978-0-7425-1108-8 • Paperback • January 2002 • $51.00 • (£34.95)
Laurel Bossen is associate professor of anthropology at McGill University.
Chapter 1 Lu Village in Southwest China: Unearthing Gender
Chapter 2 Perspectives in Time
Chapter 3 Trade and Beauty: The Demise of Footbindingin Lu Village
Chapter 4 Gender in Land Tenure, Farming, and Employment
Chapter 5 The Wealth of a Gifted Woman: The Shaman of Lu Village
Chapter 6 Wealth and Poverty, 1930s to 1990s: Paths to Ruin and Fortune
Chapter 7 Marriage, Households, and Gender: Keeping Sons and Daughters
Chapter 8 Demographic Change, Family Planning, and Sex Preference
Chapter 9 Politics and Political Culture
Chapter 10 Unbinding China's Peasants
Chapter 11 List of Maps, Figures, and Tables
Chapter 12 Weighs and Measures
Chapter 13 Glossary
Rich, dense, but eminently readable and consistently fascinating book.

Fresh and insightful. An extremely strong contribution to the literature on both women in China and in rural development more broadly. The author is leading the wave of new ethnography that explores and encompasses a local cultural whole. Specialists will find the book fascinating; students will find it accessible and likable.
Hill Gates, Stanford University

This study constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of women, gender and rural development within and beyond China. Examining 60 years of economic, political and social change in one village in Yunnan province, this book has both depth and breadth.
Elisabeth Croll; China Quarterly

For those interested in rural development in China, Bossen's study will be a welcome addition. It offers fresh observations on the north-south divide in China and fills in some of the material dimensions of gender that have been largely neglected in recent years.
Population and Development Review

There are two aspects of Bossen's methods that are most potent. First, she makes compelling use of Fei's work as a comparative point of historical reference, which provides a sense of context, historical continuity and historical dynamism to her study. Second, Bossen makes space available for storytelling /by /and /about /the women whom she studies, on their own terms....With powerful chapters on footbinding, marriage and households, and sex preference in family planning, this work will be of interest to those studying gender or women's experiences in rural China.
Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Historical perspective figures impressively throughout the book. . . . Bossen's research is made powerful by her dedication of ten years to the research of Lu Village. . . . Such firsthand observations and live reports from the field are both persuasive and highly effective.
B.C. Asian Reviews

[A] finely wrought monograph on gender and economic development. Because of the breadth of Bossen's quantitative and qualitative research, the book could become a classic in its own right…. For anyone interested in gender or rural economy inChina's reform era, Bossen's book will be an invaluable resource. For advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars with broader interests in gender, family, rural development, and the anthropology of work, the volume willalso be rewarding.
American Ethnologist

This book provides a standard by which future ethnographers can assess change and continuity in gender relations throughout China. Laurel Bossen's remarkably sophisticated and holistic analysis makes her book a major contribution to the literature on women in rural China in particular and to the ethnography of China in general.
The China Journal

A broad-gauged survey of village life that remains attuned to local circumstances while exploring changes in women's status in rural China more generally. . . . Bossen's refusal of monocausal explanations is a sobering corrective to many of our habits of explanation, and her attention to detail makes for a rich and stimulating read.
Gail Hershatter, University of California, Santa Cruz; Economic Development and Cultural Change

As Bossen herself points out in her introduction, there is to date a minimal quantity of in-depth anthropological field research on rural women in contemporary China. This volume is therefore a welcome addtition to the field. It adds new and rich material to our reflections on contrasts and continuties between contemporary China and the past. Its observations also suggests rich fields for further enquiry: the closeness of ties between women kinfolk, siblings, and sworn sisters; the weak distinction between sale into marriage and the diverse economic transactions that characterize customary marriage arrangements; the blurred boundaries between voluntary and involuntary migrations for marriage. Through rich historical perspective on continuities and changes in gender practices, it also shows how the complex texture of gendered relations in a rural community does not, and cannot correspond with neat lines of distinction between gender or lesser inequalities across past and present.
Harriet Evans, University of Westminster