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Gendered Resistance: Educated Women in China’s War with Japan

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By Erin Hannon

Dr. Helen Schneider from Virginia Tech came to Roanoke College this past Thursday and gave a lecture entitled Gendered Resistance: Educated Women in China’s War with Japan.

The first half of this lecture was based on Dr. Schneider’s book, Keeping the Nation’s House: Domestic Management and the Making of Modern China, which focuses on the role educated women had in shaping modern China from their work inside the home.

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In the early twentieth century China, women were expected to adhere to strict gender roles and they had few opportunities to advance or gain an education. It was expected that women would handle all of the work inside the home, managing things like cooking, cleaning, and child care. However, around the 1920s, ideology shifted and people began to promote women’s education.

People began to believe that women should be educated so they could be better wives and mothers, and therefore raise better citizens. Even though women were being educated with the purpose of improving their work inside the home, this also opened up doors for women in the professional world. The new generation of girls that needed to be educated needed female teachers, which meant women had the chance to receive a higher education. This was extremely significant because it meant elite women were now finding work outside of the home.

It was at this time that several important women’s organizations emerged. Groups like the Women’s Advisory Council and the New Life movement began to endorse living healthy lifestyles and further promoting women’s role in raising wholesome families.

The next part of Dr. Schneider’s talk focused on her more recent research. She has taken her previous research on women’s roles in China and expanded it to analyze the roles that women played in China’s war with Japan.

During the war, women worked within the gender roles and helped to manage the home front, promote cleanliness, and provide clothing to the Chinese troops. The earlier women’s groups, such as the Women’s Advisory Council, helped to organize and mobilize the many female volunteers. These groups also helped fuel feelings of patriotism and nationalism in order to gain more support for the army.

This lecture is the second of the History Department’s ongoing Brown-Bag Speaker Series, which hosts talks based around the subjects of history, gender, and feminism. The next talk is going to be given by Dr. Jennifer M. Donnally called “Abortion Costs: Race, Welfare, and the Pro-Life Campaign to Cut Abortion Funding”, held Nov. 19.