Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Workshop: “Cultivating Socialist Motherhood and Childhood: Daycares and Preschools in Rural Communes of China (1953-1983),” by Jing Zhai, University of Texas at Austin (New Work in Progress Series)

Wed, April 29, 2020 | GAR 4.100

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

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.

This paper is a chapter of my dissertation Experiencing the Commune: Everyday Life in Rural
China under Socialism (1956-1984), which investigates the constant effort from the Chinese
Communist Party to transform meaningless daily affairs into meaningful public agendas. I
maintain that everyday experiences became a cord tying individual peasants dispersed in
different communes directly to high politics and abstract communist ideology, transforming the
least politicized region into a hyperpolitical entity.

Jing Zhai is a Ph.D. Candidate in the history department at UT Austin, where she also served 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) investigates the constant effort from the Chinese Communist Party to transform
meaningless daily affairs into meaningful public agendas. Zhai maintains that everyday
experiences became a cord tying individual peasants dispersed in different communes directly to
high politics and abstract communist ideology, transforming the least politicized region into a
hyperpolitical entity.

Responder:
Mary Neuburger
Professor of History
Director, Center for Russia, East European and Eurasian Studies,
Chair, Slavic and Eurasian Studies,
Chair, Provost's Teaching Fellows,
The University of Texas at Austin
https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/history/faculty/maryneu

Chair:
Tiana Wilson
Doctoral Student in the History Department,
Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Historical Studies, and
Coordinator, New Work in Progress Series
University of Texas at Austin
https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/history/graduate/gradstudents/profile.php?id=tw26744

Free and open to the public. Please RSVP to cmeador@austin.utexas.edu to sign-up to attend and receive the pre-circulated paper. Refreshments provided to all who RSVP. The Institute for Historical Studies is committed to sustainable practices and minimizing waste. To that end, we have eliminated all bottled water and encourage attendees to bring their own reusable canteens to fill at our first-floor bottle-refilling station.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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