Dissertation Abstracts

Embodying the exemplary gender ideal: the lives of China’s privileged daughters

Author: Kailing Xie, joykailingxie@gmail.com
Department: Center for Women's Studies
University: University of York, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Professor Stevi Jackson
Year of completion: 2018
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Gender , China , One Child Policy , Middle Class
Areas of Research: Women in Society , Social Classes and Social Movements , Family Research


Designed as an integral part of China’s national modernisation programme, the One Child Policy was launched simultaneously with the economic reform in 1979. As a result of these policy changes, Chinese people live with tensions between multiple contending or even oppositional ideologies, including the official advocacy of socialist values, the revival of Confucianism and a neoliberal emphasis on individual success. The ideological departure from Mao’s China, has had a mixed impact on women. Those born in the 1980s, the first only child generation, have grown into adulthood during China’s socio-economic transformation and have reached a pivotal time of life, establishing career, marriage and parenthood, now with the possibility of having two children. This thesis explores the lives of well-educated urban Chinese women born in the 1980s, who are largely the beneficiaries of the policy changes of the post-Mao era. Raised to embody the ideals of a modern Chinese nation, their experiences and life trajectories are distinct from those of previous generations. Nevertheless, gender equality has been compromised under the economic reform and by the party-state’s promotion of traditional family values to maintain social stability. By exploring the lives of privileged women, gender inequality is thrown into sharp relief. Based on semi-structured interviews with thirty-one women, and eleven of their male peers, I explore gendered attitudes to and experiences of marriage, reproductive choices, career and aspirations for a good life. In particular, I examine the contradictory effects of neoliberal techniques deployed by an authoritarian regime on these women’s striving for success in urban China. I argue that, paradoxically, these women’s individualistic determination to succeed has led them onto the path of conformity by pursuing exemplary norms which fit into the party-state’s agenda. Those Chinese women who resist normative patterns of life are a minority facing an uphill struggle.