The Role of the State and the Market in Shaping Gender and Power in Rural North China: A Comparative Perspective
Gender and Power in Rural North China
China is a vast and diverse country with a population of over 1.4 billion people. Among them, about 40% live in rural areas, where they face many social, economic, and environmental challenges. Rural life in China has undergone dramatic changes since the late 1970s, when the Chinese government initiated a series of reforms to transform the collectivized and planned economy into a more market-oriented and decentralized one. These reforms have had profound impacts on various aspects of rural society, such as production, consumption, governance, culture, and identity. However, these impacts have not been uniform or neutral; they have been shaped by various factors, such as class, ethnicity, region, age, and gender.
Gender and Power in Rural North China
Gender is a social construct that refers to the roles, norms, expectations, and relations that are associated with being male or female in a given society. Gender influences how people access resources, opportunities, rights, and power in different domains of life. Gender also affects how people experience poverty, inequality, discrimination, violence, and empowerment. Therefore, gender analysis is an important tool for understanding the complexities and dynamics of rural society in China.
The purpose of this article is to examine how gender plays an important role in rural political economy and state power in North China. North China is a region that covers several provinces, such as Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Tianjin, etc. It is a region that has a long history of agricultural civilization, but also faces many challenges of environmental degradation, resource depletion, population pressure, urbanization, migration, etc. It is also a region that has a rich diversity of cultures, ethnicities, religions, languages, etc., but also experiences many conflicts and tensions among different groups. In this article, I will focus on three main aspects of rural life: the household, the economy, and the state. I will analyze how gender relations are shaped by these aspects and how they affect them in turn. I will also discuss some of the challenges and opportunities faced by rural women in North China and how they cope with or overcome them.
The Household as a Central Unit of Rural Life
The household is a basic unit of rural society in China. It consists of a group of people who live together, share resources, and cooperate in production and consumption. The household is also a unit of registration, taxation, and welfare in the state system. The household is often based on kinship ties, such as marriage, parenthood, or siblinghood, but it can also include non-kin members, such as adopted children, foster parents, or hired workers. The household is not a fixed or static entity; it can change over time due to various factors, such as birth, death, marriage, divorce, migration, etc.
Gender relations are an integral part of the household structure and functions in rural China. Traditionally, rural households followed a patriarchal and patrilineal model, where men were the heads and decision-makers of the household and women were subordinate and dependent on men. Women were expected to perform domestic chores, such as cooking, cleaning, childcare, eldercare, etc., while men were responsible for productive activities, such as farming, trading, managing, etc. Women were also expected to follow the norms of filial piety, obedience, chastity, and fertility. Women's status and identity were largely determined by their relationships with men, such as fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, etc.
The reform policies have had significant effects on the household economy and dynamics in rural China. One of the major changes was the decollectivization of agriculture and the revival of household-based farming. This meant that rural households regained control over their land and labor and could decide what to grow and how to sell their products. This also meant that rural households faced more risks and uncertainties in the market and had to adapt to changing demands and opportunities. Another major change was the development of rural industry and commerce, which created new sources of income and employment for rural households. This also meant that rural households had to diversify their economic activities and invest in human and physical capital. A third major change was the increase of rural-urban migration, which enabled many rural households to access better jobs and services in urban areas. This also meant that rural households had to cope with the costs and consequences of migration, such as separation, remittances, education, health care, etc.
These changes have had mixed impacts on rural women's roles and status in the household sphere. On one hand, some rural women have gained more autonomy and agency in the household economy. For example, some rural women have become more involved in agricultural production and management, especially when men migrate to urban areas or engage in non-farm activities. Some rural women have also participated in rural industry and commerce, either as workers or entrepreneurs. Some rural women have also migrated to urban areas or abroad for better jobs or education. These changes have enabled some rural women to earn more income and contribute more to the household welfare. They have also enabled some rural women to acquire more skills and knowledge and expand their social networks.
On the other hand, some rural women have faced more burdens and constraints in the household sphere. For example, some rural women have had to shoulder more domestic responsibilities, such as childcare, eldercare , housework, etc., while also engaging in productive activities, such as farming, working, etc. Some rural women have also faced more discrimination and violence in the household sphere, such as domestic abuse, dowry disputes, son preference, etc. Some rural women have also lost their land rights and social security when they marry out of their natal villages or divorce their husbands. These changes have increased some rural women's workload and stress and reduced their bargaining power and well-being in the household sphere.
Despite these challenges and constraints, some rural women have also found ways to cope with or overcome them in the household sphere. For example, some rural women have formed mutual support groups or networks with other women, such as relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc., to share resources, information, and emotional support. Some rural women have also challenged or renegotiated the gender norms and expectations in the household sphere, such as demanding more respect, equality, and participation from their male counterparts. Some rural women have also sought legal or institutional assistance or protection from the state or civil society organizations when they face violations of their rights or interests in the household sphere.
The Rural Economy and Women's Participation
The rural economy is a complex and dynamic system that encompasses various sectors and activities that provide income and livelihood for rural households. The rural economy includes agriculture, which involves the cultivation of crops and livestock; industry, which involves the production of goods and services; commerce, which involves the exchange of goods and services; and services, which involve the provision of various kinds of assistance or support. The rural economy is influenced by various factors, such as natural resources, market forces, state policies, social relations, cultural values, etc.
Gender relations are an essential part of the rural economy and women's participation in it. Traditionally, rural women were mainly involved in agricultural production and domestic work, while rural men were more engaged in industrial and commercial activities. However, this division of labor was not rigid or fixed; it varied according to different regions, seasons, crops, technologies, etc. Moreover, rural women also participated in various non-agricultural activities, such as handicrafts, trade, services, etc., either as supplementary or alternative sources of income.
The reform policies have had significant effects on the rural economy and women's participation in it. One of the major effects was the diversification and expansion of the rural economy beyond agriculture. This was facilitated by the development of rural industry and commerce, which created new opportunities for rural households to increase their income and employment. Another major effect was the integration and exposure of the rural economy to the market economy. This was enabled by the liberalization of prices and trade, which increased the demand and competition for rural products and services. A third major effect was the globalization and migration of the rural economy. This was driven by the opening up of China to foreign investment and trade, which connected rural areas to global markets and networks.
These effects have had mixed impacts on rural women's roles and status in the rural economy. On one hand, some rural women have benefited from the diversification and expansion of the rural economy. For example, some some rural women have seized the opportunities to work in rural industry and commerce, either as workers or entrepreneurs. Some rural women have also benefited from the integration and exposure to the market economy, which increased their income and consumption choices. Some rural women have also gained from the globalization and migration of the rural economy, which connected them to global markets and networks.
On the other hand, some rural women have faced more costs and risks in the rural economy. For example, some rural women have been marginalized or exploited in rural industry and commerce, where they face low wages, poor working conditions, and limited career prospects. Some rural women have also suffered from the volatility and uncertainty of the market economy, which increased their vulnerability to shocks and crises. Some rural women have also endured the hardships and dangers of migration, such as separation, discrimination, trafficking, etc.
Despite these costs and risks, some rural women have also found ways to cope with or overcome them in the rural economy. For example, some rural women have formed cooperatives or associations to enhance their collective bargaining power and access to resources. Some rural women have also diversified their economic activities to reduce their dependence on a single source of income. Some rural women have also leveraged their social capital and networks to obtain information, support, and protection in their migration destinations.
The State Power and Women's Agency
The state is a powerful actor that defines and regulates rural life through policies, institutions, and discourses. The state sets the rules and norms that govern various aspects of rural society, such as land tenure, taxation, welfare, education, health care, etc. The state also provides or allocates various resources and services that affect rural livelihoods, such as infrastructure, credit, technology, extension, etc. The state also shapes or influences various ideologies and values that affect rural identity and culture, such as nationalism, patriotism, modernization, etc.
Gender relations are an important part of the state power and women's agency in rural China. Historically, the state has played a significant role in promoting or suppressing women's rights and interests in rural areas. For example, during the Mao era (1949-1976), the state implemented various policies and campaigns to liberate women from feudal oppression and mobilize them for socialist construction. These included land reform, marriage reform, family planning, mass education, etc. However, these policies and campaigns also had negative consequences for women's well-being and autonomy. For example, land reform did not grant women equal land rights as men; marriage reform did not eliminate domestic violence or patriarchal authority; family planning imposed coercive measures on women's reproductive choices; mass education did not eradicate gender stereotypes or discrimination.
The reform era (1978-present) has also witnessed various changes in the state's role and attitude towards women's issues in rural areas. On one hand, the state has adopted a more market-oriented and decentralized approach to rural development, which reduced its direct intervention and control over rural society. The state has also ratified various international conventions and agreements that recognize and protect women's rights and interests, such as CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), BPFA (Beijing Platform for Action), etc. The state has also established various laws and regulations that aim to promote gender equality and empowerment in various domains of life.
On the other hand, the the state has also faced various challenges and contradictions in addressing gender issues in rural areas. On one hand, the state has reduced its investment and support for rural public services and social welfare, which increased the burden and vulnerability of rural women. For example, the state has cut down its spending on rural education and health care, which affected rural women's access to quality education and health care. The state has also abolished or weakened some of the institutions and mechanisms that used to promote women's interests and participation, such as the Women's Federation, the All-China Women's Congress, etc. The state has also failed or neglected to enforce some of the laws and regulations that aim to protect women's rights and interests, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, the Law on Rural Land Contracting, etc.
On the other hand, the state has also encountered various forms of resistance and negotiation from rural women. On one hand, some rural women have been affected by state power in terms of their rights, entitlements, and obligations. For example, some rural women have been subjected to state policies and programs that restrict or regulate their reproductive choices, such as family planning, birth control, etc. Some rural women have also been excluded or discriminated by state institutions and systems that grant or allocate resources and services, such as land tenure, social security, etc. Some rural women have also been influenced or constrained by state discourses and values that define or shape their identity and culture, such as modernization, development, etc.
On the other hand, some rural women have also resisted or negotiated with state power in various domains. For example, some rural women have challenged or violated state policies and programs that infringe on their reproductive rights and interests, such as having more children than allowed, seeking illegal abortions, etc. Some rural women have also demanded or claimed state resources and services that they are entitled to or need, such as land rights, social benefits, legal aid, etc. Some rural women have also influenced or challenged state discourses and values that undermine their dignity and autonomy, such as feminism, human rights, environmentalism, etc.
This article has examined how gender plays an important role in rural political economy and state power in North China. It has analyzed how gender relations are shaped by and affect three main aspects of rural life: the household, the economy, and the state. It has also discussed some of the challenges and opportunities faced by rural women in North China and how they cope with or overcome them.
The main findings and arguments of this article are as follows. First, gender is a crucial factor that influences various aspects of rural society in North China. Gender affects how people access resources, opportunities, rights, and power in different domains of life. Gender also affects how people experience poverty, inequality inequality, discrimination, violence, and empowerment in rural areas. Second, gender relations are not static or fixed; they are dynamic and changing in rural society in North China. Gender relations are influenced by various factors, such as natural resources, market forces, state policies, social relations, cultural values, etc. Gender relations also vary according to different regions, seasons, crops, technologies, etc. Third, gender analysis is an important tool for understanding the complexities and dynamics of rural society in North China. Gender analysis can reveal the different roles, needs, interests, and perspectives of rural men and women. Gender analysis can also identify the gaps, challenges, and opportunities for rural men and women. Gender analysis can also suggest the strategies, actions, and solutions for rural men and women.
The significance and implications of this article are as follows. First, this article contributes to the existing literature on rural China by providing a gender perspective on rural political economy and state power. Most of the previous studies on rural China have focused on economic or political aspects of rural development and have neglected or overlooked the gender dimension of rural issues. This article fills this gap by highlighting the role and importance of gender in rural society. Second, this article provides useful insights and recommendations for policy makers and practitioners who work on rural development and gender equality in China. By understanding the gender realities and challenges in rural areas, they can design and implement more effective and inclusive policies and programs that address the specific needs and interests of rural men and women. By promoting the gender empowerment and participation in rural areas, they can enhance the overall economic productivity, social stability, and environmental sustainability of rural society.
Some directions for future research or action on gender issues in rural China are as follows. First, more empirical and comparative studies are needed to examine the gender differences and similarities in various aspects of rural life across different regions and contexts in China. Such studies can provide more nuanced and comprehensive data and evidence on the gender situation and trends in rural areas. Second, more interdisciplinary and participatory approaches are needed to analyze the gender interactions and dynamics in various domains of rural life in China. Such approaches can provide more holistic and integrated perspectives on the gender problems and potentials in rural areas. Third, more collaborative and innovative initiatives are needed to address the gender gaps and challenges in various sectors of rural life in China. Such initiatives can involve various stakeholders, such as government agencies, civil society organizations, academic institutions, private sector actors, etc., to work together to create more gender-responsive and gender-transformative solutions for rural development.
- What is gender analysis and why is it important for rural China? - Gender analysis is a method of examining the roles, norms, expectations, and relations that are associated with being male or female in a given society. It is important for rural China because it can help understand how gender influences various aspects of rural life, such as access to resources, opportunities, rights, and power; experience of poverty, inequality inequality, discrimination, violence, and empowerment; and participation and influence in rural development and governance.
- How did the reform policies change rural life and