Gail Hershatter - Professor of History, University of California-Santa Cruz
In the November 2004 issue of the Journal of Asian Studies, Gail Hershatter published a “state of the field” article covering about 500 recent scholarly publications about women in China’s long twentieth century. This paper takes the form of an extended afterthought and a series of suggestions for the study of women in recent Chinese history, made in a spirit of creeping discomfort. Making gender visible and audible cannot be considered a finished project. If we take seriously what we have learned in the past three decades, however, we cannot continue to mine “the gender field” as though it were a space with fixed boundaries. It may be more useful to regard “the field” not as a space but rather as a conjuncture. The emergence, intensity, and complexity of gender as a conjuncture are not fixed; for scholars, these are and must continue to be entangled with the tracing out of other processes of subject formation. This talk is organized around four questions: First, why this explosion of scholarship, why now, and why in the China field? Second, what has this new scholarship illuminated, and what has it possibly caused us to look away from? Third, how can we keep this area of inquiry open, even risking its dissolution, rather than delineating its borders in ways that seal it shut? Fourth, if we were to require a rigorous permeability, or imagine an object of inquiry that emerges, changes, and dissolves over time, what sorts of new questions might we bring into view?