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Xiao Xiaoyan – Life Histories and Collective Memory of Deaf People in a Chinese Social Welfare Factory

December 5, 2023 @ 11:30 am 1:00 pm

Speaker: Xiao Xiaoyan, Professor, College of Foreign Languages and Cultures, Xiamen University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24
Discussant: Kathryn Davidson, Professor of Linguistics, Harvard University

This study reports an on-going project attempting  to record life histories of Deaf individuals and construct the collective memory of Deaf workers in Chinese social welfare factories since 1958. After 1949, as part of the reform in social welfare and relief system, the Chinese government established state-owned social welfare factories to provide its disabled citizens with a stable job. The presenter has interviewed Deaf employees who have retired from or are still working for the Beijing Sanlu Factory (北京三露厂), originally the Beijing Carpet Factory for the Deaf and Mute (北京聋哑人地毯厂), one of the very first two welfare factories built in Beijing in 1958 to provide concentrated employment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. While most of the earlier welfare factories in China went bankrupt, Sanlu still survives, after dramatic reforms and restructuring. Over 800 Deaf people have been employed here. Some of the older Deaf workers were hired since 1958 and have witnessed the ups and downs of the factory throughout the earlier decades, while younger employees were outsourced to the Johnson & Johnson-bought Dabao (大宝) Makeup Co. Ltd, the most successful subsidiary and top selling brand of the Sanlu group. Together, life histories and collective memory of these Deaf workers provide a glimpse into the lives of the world’s biggest Deaf population and a unique perspective to showcase China’s larger political, economic and social reform and transformation over six decades.


Harvard-Yenching Institute


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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