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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making gendered sense of civil society : a study of Chinese intellectual politics in the 1980s and 1990s Manning, Kimberley Phyllis Edith


In recent years considerable debate has taken place among Western scholars as to whether civil society is presently emerging in China. For many of these scholars, any movement away from state control and the assertion of individual autonomy is, for the most part, considered a positive political development and one that will contribute to democratic processes. This paper argues that state-society autonomy may not always be a progressive political force. Indeed, greater social autonomy can result in increased marginalization for different sectors of women in the context of both civil society, as well as democratization. For this reason, it is critical to analyse the connection between civil society and democratization in terms of the gendered implications of both processes. Only then is it possible to judge the extent to which the political transition is a positive political development for both women and men. Specifically, this paper conducts a gendered analysis of the work of critical intellectuals in the 1980s and the work of Beijing women scholar-activists in the 1990s. Employing Joan Scott's understanding of "gender," it is my argument that each layer of political re-definition that the critical intellectuals undertook — political subjectivity, political theory, and activism — points to the emergence of a male, and very masculine, "new public." The assertion of the critical intellectuals autonomy was thus at the expense of others. The women scholar activists, on the other hand, have been simultaneously asserting their autonomy vis-a-vis the state while building close ties with the state-run All China Women's Federation. Not only have the women scholar-activists interacted with a wider range of social groups than their male counterparts, but their view is that the state can, and indeed does, play an important role in upholding the rights of women. Social and economic rights, I would therefore argue, must be emphasized alongside political rights if there is to be any real democracy in China's future.

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