Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Cultivating Socialist Motherhood and Childhood: Daycares and Preschools in Rural Communes of China (1953-1983)

Fri, March 15, 2019 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118), UT Austin Campus

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Cultivating Socialist Motherhood and Childhood: Daycares and Preschools in Rural Communes of China (1953-1983)

Traditionally, it was mothers or other female family members who raised infants and toddlers in rural China. However, the three decades of agricultural collectivization transformed this norm with the repeated creation, success, and disappearance of various childcare institutions—from bao wawa zu, tuoer suo, and you’er yuan to yuhong ban and xueqian ban—that allowed the commune to participate in the lives of young children. Previous studies have typically viewed these daycares and preschools either from the perspective of education history or as a means of discussing women’s liberation. Both approaches delimitate the subjectivity of children and ignore the experiences, emotions, and mindset attached to these new initiatives.

To remedy this gap, my research considers the history of childcare in each commune to be a crucial element serving the goal of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to intertwine personal lives with a public agenda, in hopes of cultivating a socialist lifestyle during the commune years. The history of childminding in rural China reflected a continuous negotiation between the CCP and peasants on how to balance production and reproduction, create socialist motherhood and childhood, and adjust family relations and social responsibilities. Ultimately, the previously invisible female task of childminding became a visible social responsibility, generating the urgency of preschool education. This value survived the dismantling of the commune system and is still present in modern-day rural China.

*Jing Zhai is a PhD candidate in the history department of UT Austin, where she also serves as the 2018-2019 co-coordinator for Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality. Her research focuses on the provincialization of socialist culture in China from a grassroots perspective. Zhai’s dissertation Experiencing the Commune: Everyday Life in Rural China under Socialism (1956-1984) maintains that everyday experiences became a cord tying individual peasants dispersed in different communes directly to Chinese high politics and abstract communist ideology, transforming the least politicized region into a hyperpolitical entity.

Sponsored by: Center for East Asian Studies

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