Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs: Gender Unity and Gender Equality Among the Lahu of Southwestern China

Columbia University Press

The ideal of "gender equality" seems forever elusive, always tantalizingly over the horizon. Shanshan Du suggests that by shifting our attention away from the various utopian ideals embedded in mainstream feminism, we may be surprised to learn that gender-egalitarian societies do exist. Based on extensive fieldwork, this book explores the Lahu society in Southwest China where practical gender equality has become the byproduct of a potent ideology of gender unity, vividly expressed by the proverb, "chopsticks only work in pairs."
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About the author

Shanshan Du is assistant professor of anthropology at Tulane University and winner of the Elsie Clews Parsons Prize of the American Ethnological Society and the Sylvia Forman Prize of the Association for Feminist Anthropology.
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Additional Information

Columbia University Press
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Published on
Dec 18, 2002
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History / Asia / China
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Anthropology / General
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / General
Social Science / Gender Studies
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Content Protection
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Recent attention to historical, geographic, and class differences in the studies of women and gender in China has expanded our understanding of the diversity and complexity of gendered China. Nevertheless, the ethnic dimension of this subject matter remains largely overlooked, particularly concerning women’s conditions and gender status. Consequently, the patriarchy and its oppression of women among the Han, the ethnic majority in China, are often inaccurately or erroneously associated with the whole gendered heritage of China, epitomized by the infamous traditions of footbinding and female-infanticide. Such academic and popular predisposition belies the fact that gender systems in China span a wide spectrum, ranging from extreme Han patriarchy to Lahu gender-egalitarianism.
The authors contributing to this book have collectively initiated a systematic effort to bridge the gap between understanding the majority Han and ethnic minorities in regard to women and gender in contemporary Chinese societies. By achieving a quantitative balance between articles on the Han majority and those on ethnic minorities, this book transcends the ghettoization of ethnic minorities in the studies of Chinese women and gender. The eleven chapters of this volume are divided into three sections which jointly challenge the traditions and norms of Han patriarchy from various perspectives. The first section focuses on gender traditions among ethnic minorities which compete with the norms of Han patriarchy. The second section emphasizes the impact of radical social transformation on gender systems and practices among both Han and ethnic minorities. The third section underscores socio-cultural diversity and complexity in resistance to Han patriarchal norms from a broad perspective.
This book complements previous scholarship on Chinese women and gender by expanding our investigative lens beyond Han patriarchy and providing images of the multi-ethnic landscape of China. By identifying the Han as an ethnically marked category and by bringing to the forefront the diverse gender systems of ethnic minorities, this book encourages an increasing awareness of, and sensitivity to the cross-cultural diversity of gendered China both in academia and beyond.
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