Beijing from Below – The challenge of change: Expectations of gender in urban transformation since 1949 in a disadvantaged neighbourhood of central Beijing
Professor Evans will reflect on how the notion of change taking shape through the relationship between urban and gender transformation.
Her discussion focuses on Dashalar, the deprived inner city neighbourhood of Beijing that constitutes the spatial and social site of my study of urban change at the margins, in Beijing from Below. Rather than imagine urban transformation as a series of modes of governance and quantifiable plans and practices enacted on an urban population, whether supportive or resistant, Professor Evans argues, following Doreen Massey, that the physical processes of transformation of space and place are in themselves social and cultural and therefore gendered processes. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine urban transformation or renewal as a set of practices that are not intrinsically social and cultural, inscribed in and mediated by the people who live them.
Professor Evans will develop this argument with particular attention to the gendered positioning of both women and men in Dashalar. From an external analytical perspective, women there were caught in a paradox, on the one hand benefitting from the policies of gender equality (nannü pingdeng) of the decades of the Mao era, while simultaneously upholding reconfigured notions of patriarchy. In conditions of scarcity and precarity, this dual character of their gendered subjectivity shaped their emotional as well as remunerative labour as a form of social and familial care. Their menfolk, by contrast, contributed to the social and familial caring and welfare in part through their attachment to ideas of filial behaviour. For both women and men, an attachment to what we might describe as ‘traditional’ beliefs and practices, reconfigured by and in changing environments, was central to their identification as responsible persons.
Throughout, Professor Evans will reflect on the significance of this ethnographically based ‘micro-study’ for the big questions of historical progress and change, continuity and rupture.
About the speaker:
Harriet Evans is Emeritus Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies (University of Westminster) and Visiting Professor of Anthropology (LSE).
She has written extensively on the politics of gender and sexuality in China, and on political posters and visual culture of the Mao era. Her third monograph, Beijing from Below: Stories of Marginal Lives in the Capital’s Center was published by Duke University Press in 2020. Grassroots Values and Local Cultural Heritage in China, co-edited with Michael Rowlands, and based on a research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was published in 2021 by Lexington Books.
Evans is currently developing a new collective and multidisciplinary project on the shifting cultural legacies of Chinese and Asian migration to Latin America and the Caribbean since the early nineteenth century.