Faculty Spotlight: Feminist Scholarship in China

group photo of students
Group photo from Feminist Cultural Production Workshop
group photo of students
Group photo from Feminist Cultural Production Workshop

While on sabbatical last year, Professor Wang Zheng (Research Scientist, IRWG) spent 10 months in China, conducting research, planning and attending academic conferences, and pursuing feminist scholarship and knowledge.

For about three decades, Professor Wang has studied the history of feminism in China and worked to promote feminist knowledge production in her home country. She is the founder and co-director of the UM-Fudan Joint Institute for Gender Studies, a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Fudan University in Shanghai. This past academic year, as part of her IRWG-sponsored research, she organized and led two workshops for Chinese students, faculty, and young feminist activists.

Her Women’s History workshop included study of feminist theories, and practices, as well as the history of struggles and strategies of Chinese feminists in the early-mid 20th century. As a historian of Chinese feminism, she considers it crucial not only to trace a “Chinese feminist genealogy” but also to transmit knowledge of feminist foremothers, erased and obscured in the mainstream narratives, to the younger generation of feminists and students. Participants not only gained new knowledge, but also left the workshop feeling inspired, recharged and supported.

women scholars seated at long conference tables facing a speaker

Professor Wang’s second workshop was designed to encourage feminist cultural production. The participants were amateur artists who were creating and producing feminist stage plays – such as “the Chinese version of ‘The Vagina Monologues’” explains Prof. Wang. During this workshop, participants presented theatrical scripts, evaluated each other’s work, and discussed possibilities for production. While promoting feminist knowledge and concepts is difficult to do in digital or online spaces, private social spaces are more accessible, enabling the use of theatre to circulate feminist knowledge and engender cultural transformation.

photo of young artists moving in a group formation

In addition to the workshops, Professor Wang spent time helping faculty members from two universities in Shanghai set up Centers for Gender Studies at their respective institutions. She also conducted interviews and archival research for her current study of socialist cultural production in China.

She finds inspiration and motivation in the young students and activists of China today who are expressing their strong sense of agency in social transformation with tremendous creativity and resilience. “They are so brave. It is a very hard struggle, but they keep fighting in their own innovative ways.”

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