Lin Jiling. Ershi shiji Zhongguo nüxing fazhan shilun (A Discussion of the Historical Development of Women in China during the Twentieth Century). Jinan: Shandong renmin chubanshe, 2001. 288pp. ISBN 7 – 209 – 02836 – 6 (paperback).


This book traces the origins of the concept of equality between men and women, yet focuses principally on its development and expansion during the twentieth century. On the one hand, the book looks at the underlying theoretical framework for gender equality; on the other hand, it describes practical measures taken towards the realization of equality between the sexes in society.

The author’s main hypothesis is that women’s development and women’s liberation respectively are based on the idea of equality between men and women. She concludes that true equality has been finally realized under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, and claims the socialist establishment of public ownership after the founding of the People’s Republic to be one of the most important measures for its realization.

The author of the book, Lin Jiling, is a sociologist and the Vice Dean of the College of Arts at Jinan University. She has published on different subjects related to women and gender issues.

Lin Jiling does not explicitly explain her methodology or approach to research. She mainly uses primary sources like traditional canons on women, and letters or articles of Republican-era Chinese intellectuals discussing ideas on women.

The book is divided into five chapters: The first chapter examines the origins and the development of the concept of gender, starting with a description of long-standing gender-unequal identities and customs in traditional China. Lin Jiling then traces the development of gender identities and the origin of the new ideas about gender equality during the Ming-Qing transition, the influx of influential Western ideas on women’s rights after the First Opium War in the mid-nineteenth century, and the Taiping’s experiments with and implementation of gender-equal laws and regulations.

The second chapter is about the expansion of the idea of equality between men and women at the end of the Qing dynasty, focusing on the time from the Hundred Days’ Reform in 1898 until the beginning of the Republic of China. In particular, the chapter examines changes in the concepts of female virtue and beauty; valuing learned women over uneducated ones and natural feet over bound ones; the emergence of a social group of intellectual women, and the gradual transformation of the institutions of marriage and education. Finally, Lin also mentions the women’s suffrage movement during the Xinhai revolution of 1911.

The third chapter deals with theoretical ideas about, and concrete measures for, women’s liberation during the New Culture Movement. Lin describes intense debates about traditional female gender identity, which underwent sharp criticism by the intellectuals involved in the New Culture Movement and the May Fourth Movement of 1919 respectively. Moreover, these scholars promoted new and alternative paths for women, which suggested concrete educational and law-related steps for their realization. Various women’s magazines were founded to build a platform for discussion and to spread new ideas about gender. At last, Lin points out the early Chinese Marxists’ perspective on women’s problems.

In chapter four, the author investigates the development of the women’s liberation movement during the period of the New Democratic Revolution period. She discusses how equality between men and women was interpreted according to the Chinese Communists’ interpretation of Marx. This includes descriptions of how equality was actually practiced in the Communist-controlled areas or Soviets, how the women there executed supportive roles during the War of Resistance against Japan, and what role Song Qingling played for the women’s movement in the Guomindang-controlled areas.

Chapter five discusses the national policy of equality between men and women in the People’s Republic of China and the subsequent improvement of women’s conditions and the enhancement of women’s status. China established laws safeguarding gender equality for men and women, and also transformed the ideal of a “virtuous wife and good mother” (liangqi xianmu) to expand women’s roles and promote women’s work outside of the home. However, despite such legal and cultural reform, the traditional female ideal continued to influence women’s mentalities, roles, educational opportunities, and attitudes towards giving birth to girls. The chapter then briefly reiterates that concrete measures were taken towards the realization of equality between the sexes.

The publication is supplemented by few but interesting tables, e.g. a list of all the names of women’s schools of all provinces between 1898 and 1910, of all women’s magazines between 1902 and 1912, and of female Chinese students studying in Japan between 1906 and 1911.

Lin Jiling’s publication provides the reader with a good overview of the major developments in the field of ideas as well as on concrete steps taken related to women’s liberation. Unfortunately, she does not explore the period after China’s open-door policies of 1978. In addition to avoiding an assessment of China’s current situation, she also seems to follow the party line closely in all her interpretations.


(Carola Krüger, Berlin)