"Gender" Trouble: Feminism in China under the Impact of Western Theory and the Spatialization of Identity

  • Citation: Spakowski, Nicola. "“Gender” Trouble: Feminism in China under the Impact of Western Theory and the Spatialization of Identity." positions: east asia cultures critique 19.1 (2011): 31-54.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • East Asia
    • Chinese feminism
    • ‘Western feminism
    • ’ gender
    • regional feminism

Over the past ten to fifteen years, feminism in China has been marked by three closely related characteristics. The first is the introduction of “Western” feminism with “gender” as the core of theory import. The second is the articulation of the “trouble” this import of Western theory has caused. Chinese feminist texts abound with terms such as trouble, difficulty, and clash, which are used to express worries about the consequences of this new orientation of feminism in China. They prove that the import of Western theory and the transition to “gender” as the basic category of analysis are not the logical and unquestionable developments some authors claim them to be. A third characteristic is the search for an identity for Chinese feminism in a global context. Chinese scholars, under the impact of Western theory, turn to spatial definitions of Chinese feminism vis-Ã -vis international feminism and adopt the notion of the “local” to define their place in the world. This essay highlights the “troubling” effects the import of “gender” has on feminist theory building in China and delineates the various and sometimes conflicting efforts Chinese feminists have made to restabilize feminist theory and identity. These include different translations and definitions of “gender,” diverging outlines of the history of Chinese feminism in a global context, various definitions of the “local,” differing visions of a regional “Asian” feminism, and more complex models that try to integrate conflicting perspectives. These responses demonstrate that contrary to its universalist claims, “gender” is a specific concept that finds support among particular groups of feminists only. This essay also tries to explain why Chinese feminists insist on the “local” as a site of theory building and identity formation even where they have acquired global horizons.

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