Women, Gender and Rural Development in China

Women, Gender and Rural Development in China

Edited by Tamara Jacka and Sally Sargeson

This multidisciplinary book explores gender politics in the discourses and practices of development in rural China. The contributors – scholars in political science, anthropology, gender, development and Chinese studies – examine how differently positioned women are shaping rural development, and how development is affecting women’s capabilities and gender power relations.

Introduction: Conceptualizing Women, Gender and Rural Development in China

Tamara Jacka and Sally Sargeson

Subjects: asian studies, asian social policy, development studies, family and gender policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, family and gender policy, social policy in emerging countries


Tamara Jacka and Sally Sargeson Between the 1980s and the first decade of the 21st century, China’s rapid, sustained economic growth brought great benefits to rural citizens. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for example, between 1978 and 2007 the real annual growth rate of rural per capita net income reached 7.1 per cent, and the number of rural people in absolute poverty declined from 250 million to 14.8 million (UNDP 2008: 10–11, 13). Rural life expectancy and literacy rates also improved dramatically. To many observers, these changes constituted nothing less than a ‘developmental miracle’ (So 2003). It was also noted, however, that China’s rapid economic growth had coincided with an increase in the types of rural–urban, regional and social disparities, environmental degradation and unrest that characterized other developing countries. Of particular concern to women’s advocates, some achievements that had been made in previous decades in reducing gender inequalities in rural political representation, income and education were being reversed (Tan Lin 2006; Tan Lin and Bohong Liu 2005). Growing concern about the scale and severity of these issues prompted what has been represented widely as a major re-orientation of approaches to rural development by China’s leadership. In 2003, the incoming Chinese Communist Party regime led by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao committed itself to shifting from a focus on promoting aggregate economic growth, to placing ‘integrated urban–rural development’ at the forefront of state efforts to create an harmonious, ‘people-centred’, ‘well-off ’ society. For development scholars...