Huang Yufu, and Liu Ni. E shidai de nüxing: Zhongwai bijiao yanjiu (Women in the Electronic Era: A Chinese-Foreign Comparative Study). Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2002. 286pp. ISBN 7 – 80149 – 771 – 6 (paperback).

 

This book investigates the influence of new information technology (IT) on women in China in terms of the professional and educational challenges they face in the IT field. The study benefits from the two female authors’ long-term research experience in the field of women’s studies, their working experience in the IT field, combined with Marxist and feminist outlooks on women, which lend them a particular sensitivity to women’s issues in China.

The authors begin their discussion with the premise that the development of IT varies according to country, region, race, class, and gender. The study constitutes a basis for describing the current situation in China within, and in comparison to, an international framework for women in IT; the book finally aims to provide the means for exploring methods that women could employ to improve their future standing in the field of IT.

Both authors are members of the Centre of Documentation and Information at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan wenxian xinxi zhongxin). Huang Yufu obtained her PhD in Japan and has published on women, gender issues, and IT. Liu Ni is an expert on the theory of Western women’s studies.

Their research is mainly based on the results of research study that employed a questionnaire (N=853) and interviews, and to some extent on the study of existing Chinese and English literature and materials found through the internet. The sample of the questionnaire consisted of middle school, high school, and university students (about a third each), as youth comprise the majority of people in China now coming into contact with the new technology. The Chinese interviewees were university students majoring in electronics and computer software, employees from companies in the field of IT, and middle-school computer teachers and their pupils’ parents.

The publication is richly complemented by statistics and tables resulting from the questionnaire, and the appendix offers a brief but annotated list of recommended Chinese publications published between 1999 and 2001 on the development of the internet, e-commerce and women’s studies in the West and in China, as well as an extended list of the titles of foreign publications in English about IT and women published between 1983 and 2001.

The book is divided into seven chapters: The first and second chapter focus on the developments in the field of the new information technology and its corresponding problems in respect to gender, while introducing foreign as well as Chinese research and progress in this field with the purpose of allowing the reader to become familiar with the current state of research in this field. The third and fourth chapter deal with computers games, their function during the gender socialization process in childhood, the existing gender differences in IT education and the importance of proper education measures to ensure the students’ – especially female students’ – self-confidence into computer-related skills. The fifth and sixth chapters discuss the difficulties women face while working in the IT profession due not only to glass ceilings but also to predominantly male gendered activities on the internet. Based on the analysis of the preceding chapters, the seventh chapter proposes ways and means for women, government and society to improve women’s future qualification and standing in the field of IT, starting with the relevant education in childhood.

Overall, Huang Yufu’s and Liu Ni’s book serves as an easy-to-read and clearly organized introduction and overview on gender issues related to information technology. Unfortunately, the Chinese-foreign comparison mentioned in the publication’s title is not explicitly undertaken; while the book implicitly relates China to its international context by mentioning facts on China on the one hand and the international situation on the other, it is left to the reader to combine this information and imagine a systematic comparison. Certainly this book opens the way and leaves room for future scholarship on this emerging field of study.

 

(Carola Krüger, Berlin)