Cotton, Cloth, and Women’s Work in the Chinese Revolution,1949-76
Jacob Eyferth, University of Chicago
Historians of late imperial China have long been aware of the central importance of women’s work, in particular women’s textile work. Women’s work at the spindle and the loom not only clothed the nation but also helped to reproduce a gendered moral order. Historians of twentieth-century China, in contrast, often seem to assume that manual textile work came to an end in 1949, and that the social and material ties that had developed around it no longer mattered after the revolution. This was not so: for the length of a generation, most rural Chinese continued to wear homespun and millions of rural women continued to spin and weave at home. However, female textile work was no longer recognized as the natural counterpart to male farming; in fact, it was no longer recognized as work at all. In this talk, Jacob Eyferth will focus on cotton and cotton cloth to better understand the changing relations of production and exchange that shaped the life and work of rural women.
Jacob Eyferth is a social historian of twentieth-century China interested in the everyday lives of non-elite people, mostly in rural China. His first book, Eating Rice from Bamboo Roots, is an ethnographic history of a community of paper makers in Sichuan. He is currently working on a second book, tentatively titled “Cotton, Gender, and Revolution in Twentieth-Century China.” Eyferth teaches modern Chinese history at the University of Chicago.