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The women’s movement in China : social movement theories and the Chinese Experience Trinh, Linh Yen

Abstract

The women's movement in China has experienced salient growth and development over the past two decades. Since the introduction of economic reforms in the late 1970s, it had begun the process of moving from being a dependent, state-led entity to becoming a more separate and autonomous one. This paper examines the factors that have transpired within the movement that have given rise to this development. Specifically, three factors will be explored: the shifting emphasis between the concepts of sameness and difference at various times throughout the history of the movement; the issue of agency - the proactive versus reactive nature of the movement; and, the renewed and expanding role of the All-China Women's Federation (a mass organization within the state structure). The social movements approach will be used to analyze these factors. This approach lends itself well to the examination of the complexities that have characterized the transformation of the Chinese women's movement, especially if a synthesis of the various theories within the approach is carried out. The synthesis I will employ in this paper will take the form of a multi-level analysis of the movement's development - in particular: the macro- (the broader environment and structures encountered by women), micro- (the changes occurring within women themselves), and meso- (the participation and action of women) levels. A multi-level approach will not only reveal the peculiarities of the Chinese case of the women's movement, but will also show how the confluence of the various factors at each level has contributed to its increasing independence since the beginning of the Reform era. Ultimately, I would argue that analyzing the Chinese women's movement through the lens of the social movements approach could aptly inform debates and discussions about the prospects and process of change that has been taking place at a rapid pace in modern China.

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