Pun Ngai_Made In China_ch 5

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Unformatted text preview: 132 Made in China incomplete, as “lacking.” Then the rural beings thought and saw themselves as such. There is a process of double displacement at work here. As stated by Huck Gutman: “Deficient reality is transformed into the imaginary and the imaginary is superimposed upon the real in such fashion that the imaginary transforms, takes over, becomes, the real” (1988, 112). Thus the real is not impossible; it is simply more and more artificial (Deleuze and Guattari 1984, 34). Dagongmei, as a new social body, thus contains multiple reactionary forces that work to produce a homogenous sense of self that is neverthe— less fragmentary, fluid, and entangled. Becoming dagongmei is a dual pro— cess of displacement and replacement that produces anxiety, uncertainty, and pain for individuals in their daily struggles, and drives them toward a self-technologizing project, helping to accomplish a hegemonic construct. Selves are not inherently fragmentary but are socially negated and divided in order to give birth to a new subject. The workplace here is not merely a microcosm of the dual society at large, but part of the process of production and reproduction of an increasingly polarized society. It is through the everyday practices of such an environment that the politics of identification by which the production machine could command the microphysics of power over the self were governed. The production machine, in making use of existing social relations, simply reproduced itself as one part of the system at the same time that it built the system. The factory regime itself was not a pyramid of power hierarchies but rather a kaleidoscope of power and hier- archies created by weaving together identities of gender, kin—ethnic ties, and rural—urban disparity. The second hand, minute hand, ticks and ticks in my heart My eyes glisten and glisten with emptiness My heart goes pit-a-pat, pit~a»pat, throbbing all the time I ask myself how much I love you How eager I am to live with you and fly far way My heart’s throbbing up and down, up and down all the time Tomorrow I am going to marry you Tomorrow I am going to marry you Ifthe everyday traffic doesn’t disturb my dream 5 IMAGINING SEX AND GENDER IN THE WORKPLACE (If not at that night the electricity stopped, I discovered my loneliness and emptiness) Tomorrow l am going to marry you Tomorrow I am finally going to marw you If you do not ask me If you do not persuade me If you don’t do it at the right time, you leave my heart throbbing (But at this particular moment, I feel frightened and afraid) —A popular song, “Tomorrow I am going to marry you" 134 Made in China During my stay in the Meteor factory, I could not avoid hearing a popular song that was played every day in the workplace. Sung by a Taiwanese male singer, the song, “Tomorrow I Am Going to Marry You,” expressed well the dagongmei’s yearning for love and sex and their daily struggles between factory work and marriage life. I use this song to open this chapter on the gender identity of Chinese women workers from the subject’s side, and the technology of sex and gender in the factory regime from the side of disci- plinary power. Central to the making of a kaleidoscope of power and hier- archies in the workplace are the gendered subjects who are by no means preset or conventionally registered. Following the last two chapters, if sub— jects, as Foucault (1979) states, are themselves the effects of disciplinary actions—fully embedded in and produced by matrices of power and dis— course~then I seek a feminist critique that questions the notions of sex and gender in postsocialist China at the conjunction of its self—incorporation into global production, and that traces and reveals the political operations that produce and conceal who qualifies as a proper Chinese dagongmei. Constructing women as a coherent and unified identity is a project of power that aims to feminize the labor force in the service of the new interna- tional division of labor. In chapter 4 I stressed that a coherent social body like dagongmei was only a mirage, and that the differences between and within women in the workplace were obvious, especially along lines of class, locality, family, age, and stage of lifecycle. In this chapter I look at how heterogeneous social subjects were constructed as a unified social body in the workplace and how the gender identity of dagongmei/ zai was construed in contrast to the Maoist term gongren, which was an asexual subject. The process of sexualization of dagongmei/zai, as a project of capital, mirrored the process of the desexualization of gongren, which was a project of the Chinese state in the socialist period. Emerging with the reactivation of sexualization as a general process in the transnational period, I will show how the politics of gender identity was contested by workplace disciplinary power and rural family life, both of which were somewhat reactionary forces that the women workers had to live with in their daily lives. As I discuss in chapter 2, the rural patriarchal family and marriage were the primary and reactionary forces within which the lives of women workers were embedded, and the women’s struggles to enact and renegotiate their new gender identity was no doubt delimited by this larger context. In negotiating their modern gendered selves, working in the factory and in the urban area was an escape from the patriarchal family life, to Imagining Sex and Gender 135 which, however, they returned home after experiencing the dictate of disci- plinary power in the factory. The dagongmei dreamed of marriage and of returning home when they tired of wage labor and were suffering from industrial drudgery. In this chapter, I look into this paradox and examine how women workers enacted, contested, and transgressed the tropes of factory and married life. In my work I also noted that the contestation of gender identity was further caught up with urban consumerist desires and a yearning to become a modern “cultured” self, a vital part of the passage to becoming a modern Chinese dagongmei. I explore here how the women workers struggled to be modern selves by participating in an urban consumerist life that entrapped them within, instead of allowed them to transgress, the power of capital. The Dagongmei: Who is not One I was often teased by women workers in the Meteor factory when my fellow worker “Fatso” held my hand as we walked together. “Like a real couple or a pair of mandarin ducks” was the common response to our intimacy. The teasing would never happen when I went outwith other women workers or even went to dine with a male worker. Fatso was a nickname given to Shutong, and it was intended to highlight the male side of her appearance and her personality. With her short hair, Fatso’s round face had big eyes, a straight nose, and a thick—lipped mouth. Stout, energetic, and talkative, the twenty—one—year—old Fatso was famous for her quick disposition and her courage in confronting upper management on the shop floor. In contrast to the other girls’ decorations around their beds, Fatso pinned up pictures of cars and planes instead of flowers, film stars, and singers. She also preferred sportswear to more feminine clothing. I was close to Fatso because we worked on the same production line and because she was much more active than the others in making friends with me. We often walked together to the factory or back to the dormitory, and we had meals together as well. The friendly gossip about our relationship did not irritate Fatso, and sometimes she seemed to enjoy the joking that she could have me as a “girl friend.” I was somewhat educated by our relationship not only because I was Fatso’s “girl friend” but because Fatso’s “perverted” sexual identity dis- rupted, and thus opened up, my ideal construct of dagongmei, an embodied identity of both class and gender. Earlier, in chapter 1, I discussed dagongmei as a class identity, and here I will tease out the intricate processes of gender- ing lived bodies in the workplace. How do we understand dagongmei, a 136 Made in China gendered subject in general, and through Fatso, an individual with conflict— ing identities, in particular? Too often in my work I was perplexed by the complexities and contradictions of gendered identities and sexualized bodies that often were unarticulated and lacking in self-reflexivity. The identity politics of Chinese dagongmei was essentially engendered in their struggles between wage labor and married life, both of which fought to be the primary source of the women’s identities. This contestation of women’s lives generated the inconsistencies, contraventions, and fragmenta— tions that are inherently embedded in the gendering process, construing subjects who are always decentered, unstable, and multiple. Feminist an~ thropology has helped to formulate a notion of the “dividual” self and has argued that both Western and non~Western subjects are often divided, frag— mented, fluid, and multiple (Moore 1994; Strathern 1988, 1991). The category “woman” is inherently decentering and unstable, and designates a field of differences that cannot be totalized or summarized by a descriptive identity. The very term woman, according to Judith Butler and loan Scott (1992, 15— 16), becomes a site ofpermanent openness and resignificability. Gender, sex, and body can be themselves fictive, articulated, and constructed as if all have their own limits and materiality in specific matrices of power and discourse. It is this critique of gender, sex, and body~sometimes called the political anatomy—that provides the greatest insight for my own ethnography of the workplace (Foucault 1978). The biopower of the factory machine is not only interested in molding a general body but also a particular sexed body, a feminine body to fit the factory discipline.‘ In this chapter, I will try to link up the process of political anatomy in the workplace with the process of sexualizing female bodies and registering multiple feminine identities. These entangled processes, nevertheless, have to be understood against a wider history of the Chinese family and work context that provides the terrain on which biopower and identity politics were contested and negotiated, and on which the lives of women were enacted, negotiated, and transformed. Social discourse, consumerist culture, and everyday practices worked together in a rapidly changing Chinese society in which conflicting processes and per verse workings of gendering were enacted on sexualized bodies. Desiring Sexual Subjects In Shenzhen, as well as in other economic development zones, stories about dagongmei in popular magazines such as Shenzhen Ren (Shenzhen people), Nit Bao (Women’s magazine), Dagongnzei (Working daughters), and Wailai— Imagining Sex and Gender 137 gong (Migrant workers) were booming in popularity.2 Tropes, metaphors, episodes, and story plots centered on imaginations and themes such as the struggle of life and death in the modern industrial world, changing attitudes toward sex, love, and marriage, and the desire to become a modern man or woman. These magazines helped create a variety oflively images of dagong— mei. Not without exaggeration and exception, the working daughters were portrayed as sexual subjects who were prepared to leave their villages to look not only for jobs but also for love and men. Often cast in a sad tone, predicated on the difficulties of pursuing “true” love, the stories nevertheless provided a new construction of female subjectivity—one in which dagong- mei were active and bold in seeking love, in contrast to the traditional image of submissive Chinese women. In a column in Shenzhen Ren (Shen, October 1994), titled “Special Economic Zone Cannot Take Care of Dagongmei’s Love,” several short stories appeared, as follows. One Male Line Leader and Ten Line Girls On her first day working on the packaging line, Ping said, “The male line leader is so handsome!” After working for two years in six factories, it was the first time she had met a handsome line leader. Ping’s words threatened the other nine girls on the same line, for the line leader had become the little prince of ten hearts. The line leader was from Guangdong. He had not completed his univer— sity studies but instead had gone offto work. At 5’ 8” tall, he was not too fat and not too thin. He bad light skin, wore glasses, and seemed mature and a little bit shy. His actions were sharp and his words generous; he played no favorites among the ten girls or said anything unnecessary to anyone. For what needed reproach, he reproached all. For what needed concern, he showed concern to all. The ten love seeds sprouted at the same time. Those who were bold wrote love letters and sent gifts to him; those who were timid loved him secretly in their hearts. Among the line girls, a war of love was launched openly, seriously affectng production. The male line leader could not deal with the situation and was forced to leave the factory. Without a word to the line girls, he was gone. One Foreman and Six Working Daughters A foreman, named Lai, could not compete with the other boys in the company because he was short and quiet. From day to night he toiled hard 138 Made in China on production. He was only age twenty—two, but the workers all called him “old boy” or “work maniac.” However, six pretty young women in the workplace all loved him. They had all written love letters to him and waited for his reply. But he never uttered a word, as if nothing had happened. Cing was the prettiest woman in the workplace. Unlike the other women, she was not disappointed by his lack of reply and never stopped writing letters to him. Every day, she was the first one on the shop floor and worked very hard to increase her output in order to attract foreman Lai’s attention. Yet he still made no move. Eventually, Cing was in despair and could not face her foreman. She quit her job and became a salesgirl in a hardware store. However, the foreman often came to the store to buy materials. She quit the job again and wrote to him: she would go somewhere he could not see her. She went to work in a big hotel as a waitress. Unfortunately, there was nowhere she could hide; every Sunday, the foreman went with the boss to have breakfast in the hotel. They met again . . . Cing wrote another letter: “You don’t love me. I can’t see you again. I have to go.” She left town. One Boy Worker and a Woman Supervisor Coming from Guangxi as a boy, it was not easy for little Tao to find a job in a craft factory. He worked as an assistant. He cleaned the shop floor and the toilets, and loaded materials and products. He received a lower wage than anyone else and often felt inferior. However, as the saying goes, a fool has more happiness. He received a love letter from Miss Chan, the famous production supervisor in the factory. Little Tao was throbbing and could not believe it. Yet after a couple of letters from Miss Chan to “invade” him, he finally “surrendered.” They rented a flat and lived together. Miss Chan took the role of bread winner. She paid for all little Tao spent and helped him to send money back home regularly. . . Little Tao could never believe in the “love” he had found. Refusing to take advantages from the woman, he left quietly. His hot and sincere lover was in tears. All of these stories are made up of desiring female subjects who are far more active than men in expressing and pursuing love. If conventional discourses continued to portray women as passive sexual objects waiting Imagining Sex and Gender 139 for men, popular culture favored the image of a modern, young working woman who challenges traditional sexual relations and takes an active role. Young Chinese rural women no longer stayed at home, following their parents’ arrangements or waiting for a matchmaker to decide their fate. Instead, in the magazines they were encouraged to go out: to leave their villages and look for their own love and life. “Your body is your own,” “Hold tight to love,” and “Control your own fate”_all of these hidden messages were conveyed through popular culture and became mottos for modern female life. These liberating messages, on the surface, encouraged challenges to the traditional sense of Chinese women’s lives and their defiance to the patriarchal family. However, at the same time they were manipulated by the hegemonic project of modernity and power to produce laborers for private and transnational capital. The Proliferation of Sex and Sexualized Bodies The feminization of labor use in the industrial export processing zones in Shenzhen, as elsewhere in China and other developing countries, was often linked to a project of renegotiating women’s space and power, as well as to a politics of reimagining sex and gender in general. These larger discourses and politics could provide new elements for subverting conventional norms and values, but also simultaneously leaving women’s agency submerged in the new matrix of power and subjugation. When I look at the contemporary Chinese scene with its shifting images, it is characterized by the proliferation of sex talk, sexual discourse, and consumerized female images (Evans 1997). Signs of sex are everywhere, inviting us into a Baudrillardian (1993) world where female bodies are commodified and fetishized to such an extent that only a mass grave of signs remain. Nudes, erotica, and all kinds of sexy, seduced female bodies, both Western and Chinese, are found in magazines, posters, newspapers, book covers, calendars, and even academic books and periodicals. On every street corner in Shenzhen, as in other Chinese cities, advertisements on the lampposts tell passers—by that some families have secret, local knowledge of an operation to heal sexual diseases. Stories of sex and Violence, uncontrollable sex drives, and sex outside of marriage are voiced in novels, video shows, TV programs, and films. Painting, other visual arts, and avant—garde dance performances all focus on the theme of the “sexualized body.” As Elisabeth Croll, after her experience in numerous field trips to China over the past decades, states: 14o Made in China The Reform period is thus marked by a new interest in the image and presentation of the feminine, focusing first on physical appearance and adornment. This is not surprising given that one of the most important characteristics distinguishing reform from revolution is the new interest in consumption, in consumer goods and in their style, colour, material and brand name, all of which have generated a new phenomenon—consumer desire. . . . The new interest in commodities and lifestyles has brought about a new relation between people and things, so that persons have become classified not so much by their class background or “work” or occupation as previously, as by the possession of objects or their evalua— tion, so that identity has become associated with lifestyle rather than class label. (1995.151) The all-pervasive interest in female bodies in reform China is conjured up by all~powerful consumer desires, whose gazes are not only sexy but further sexualized. The technology of consumption power, in contrast to production power, is not interested in producing disciplined bodies but rather libidinous, lascivious, and lustful female bodies. The calling of femi— nist politics in Chinese society,3 paradoxically, meets with the political ma— neuvers of sex and gender at the very moment when the Chinese female body is highly regulated, twisted, and subsumed by capital and power in the transnational period. The discourse of the Chinese body, presumed docile and gentle, is turned upside down, not only for the use of production power but also for consumption capital. Now the Chinese body has to be Vibrant, sexualized, seductive, and liberated enough to release all forces of libido. Shenzhen nightlife—nightclubs, karaoke, wine bars, and hair salons—has flourished since the mid—19805 and is marked by its extravagant sexual ap— petite, especially for female bodies, Workplaces where women were pre- dominant—such as garment, electronics, and shoe and toy factories—were often called “peach orchards” in popular magazines and stories. The notion of peach orchards imaginatively evoked and signified female places of sex, love, and joy, in spite of the fact that it was a male-oriented if not sexist metaphor of men pursuing erotic objects. While a workplace full of young women might be an orchard of peaches for men, it was definitely not a world of joy and happiness for women, at least not for the women workers at the Meteor factory. Here Foucault (1978, 154) is particularly correct to say the body is never preset but rather “sexed” within a discourse of sex to produce a monotonous modality of sexuality, which is itself an effect of a historically specific organi» Imagining Sex and Gender 141 zation of power, discourse, and pleasure. It is not because one has a body that one has a sex but that one has a particular notion of sex so that one obtains a certain type of body. The modality of the body is of course the effect, but not the origin, of the sex, which is constructed in a specific set of social regulations and power relations. Sex talk was also thriving in the workplace, and my coworkers always warned me not to go to hair salons or hotels, especially small ones, because they were often places for exchanging “illicit” sex. In the factory workers’ eyes, bei mei, the girls of the north, were prostituting bodies whose world was highly differentiated from working bodies, dagongmei.4 Young and beautiful girls from north China (the place they were from was highly emphasized and then degraded), were told to wait in hotels and search for men alone. The phone would ring late at night and ask for “lonely heart” services. In contrast to a pure and productive dagongmei working in the factories, beimei, the term denoting perverted Chinese female bodies, was invested with more abject and yet rebellious meanings. Beimei were younger, fresher, more lush and virginal, and therefore they were more sexually arousing and desirable, easily disrupting the patriarchal order of society. For my coworkers these prostituting bodies were not their “family resemblances,” and even though these beimei were trapped in a situation of oppression worse than dagongmei, the unity of sisterhood was still highly segregated and exclusive. Amidst beimei, in the process of sex trading regional disparity between the north and the south was again produced and reproduced. Sex was not only inscribed with inequalities between male and female but also marked with economic discrimination between north and south. Prostitutes were themselves hierarchically differentiated: those who came from richer areas were worth much more than those from poorer areas. These differences between and within women again spoke of a self—defeating project in argu- ing for a universal category of women. The politics of identity is always the politics of difference. These subjects should be seen as the effects of power and as discursive constructs with their own possibilities, through a process of signification, differentiation, and exclusion (Butler 1990). The “sexy” scenes in open—door China make me wonder if global capital particularly needs sexualized subjects. It seems clear that where private and transnational capital goes there is a proliferation of sex trade and sex dis- courses in towns and cities. Time after time since the early 19905 the central Chinese government has launched antiporn movements in the cities. The official discourse continues to promote a regulatory mode of sexuality, and 142 Made in China according to Harriet Evans (1997, 156), state discourses on sexual issues are largely a response to changing popular beliefs and practices. Although no longer effective, never has the state lost its interest in regulating individual sexual conduct and marital behavior. With deflated and worn-out ideologi— cal apparatus, the failure of the central state to safeguard the “Virginity” of Chinese society is all too plain to see. The local state, however, was far more tolerant, because they saw the sex industry closely linked to local economic development. As one local cadre in a southern Chinese town openly told me: “No sex, no Video shows, no clubs, no hair salons, no restaurants, no hotels, no money!” Sex linked up the entire chain of economic activities, just as corruption facilitated political life in China. No sex, no money. In contem- porary China, discourses on sex—official and civil, and at odds with each another~fight hard to grasp and produce the reality in which the real, although impossible, again becomes more artificial. i Invoking Sexual Subjects It seems that for private and global capital, “sexualizing the subject” is crucial to the creation of the modernity project. The political technology of capital involves a series of maneuvers of hierarchization and division of society, of which sexual difference was one of the major regulatory targets. As noted above, dagongmei stands in contrast to gongren, the nonsexualized subject in Mao’s era, and entails a process of sexualization within laboring bodies. Mei explicitly means a young woman and a sister. The feminization of labor has proceeded rapidly in Shenzhen and in other economic develop~ ment zones, clearly illustrating that basic industrial laborers, especially cheap and unskilled workers, are mostly female. Male workers, dagongzai, are not excluded, but once they are needed they are given different positions in the sexual division of labor in the workplace, as we will see later. Labor is thus no longer taken as an unsexed body but as a gendered subject exhibiting itself more as a “sexual being” than as a “class being” in postsocialist China. Sexualizing laboring bodies in this manner is a project of capital rather than the state. This can be seen if we compare the two social subjects: the gongren of Mao’s period and the dagongmei/zai of today. With gongren, sexual difference was submerged and made redundant in socialist labor relations. Women were introduced into the “world of men,” be it in light, heavy, or military industries. The official rhetoric proclaimed that women could hold up half the sky in socialist China; that they could do whatever men could do. In official regulatory practices sexual difference was diluted Imagining Sex and Gender 143 and made meaningless through propaganda and institutionalized arrange— ments. With the dissolution of socialist practices in general and the bank- ruptcy of state and collective enterprises in particular, the gongren subject was disappearing and the term became an outdated mode of everyday dis— course, especially in south China. The disembodied world of industrial labor was to be sexualized; its sex was not to be veiled but had to be reinvented and regulated. In the Meteor workplace it was not difficult to find that the regulation of a sexed body was fundamental to the control of labor. Given that the work— place was a world of young women who occupied almost all of the seats of the assembly operation, it was always a headache for the upper management, the foremen, and the line leaders, often male, to manage the workers. None of the foremen or line leaders, male or female, assumed that dagongmei were submissive females waiting to be regulated at their will. Complaints about the discipline of dagongmei were frequent when I talked to any supervisor. Indeed, submissiveness, often with an imaginary feminine identity pinned on the workers, needed to be articulated and rearticulated in the everyday language of management to facilitate labor control. Here are a few vignettes used to invoke sexualized bodies that I recorded from management: Shun (foreman of line c): Mei, you’re a girl, how can you speak to me like this? Didn’t your parents teach you how to be a woman? Do you speak to your father like this? Hong (assistant manager): Rough voice, rough qi [energy], don’t you want to marry yourself out? Behave yourself, since you’re still a young girl. Li (foreman of line A): Girl, do you have ears? You never follow exactly what I tell you to do. Where is your heart? Gone with your lover? He—chuan (foreman of line B): Mei, don’t you know you’re a girl? You should treat the work more tenderly. How many times do I have to remind you? He~chuan (foreman ofline B): Look at yourself, like a nanren p0 [butch woman]. Can’t you learn to be like a woman? Such remarks were often heard in the Meteor workplace, particularly when workers’ discipline had to be tightened. What is especially interesting was that in the eyes of management their identity as laborer was less impor- tant than their identity as female. The regulation of gender was invoked when labor control was at stake. The workers were often reminded of their 144 Made in China femaleness: “You are a girl.” As a girl in the process of becoming a woman, one should behave as the culture required: submissive, obedient, indus— trious, tender, and so on. The underlying implications were: “You are a girl, you should be obedient enough to do what the management tells you to do. You are a girl, you should not be defiant to your superior by speaking in a loud voice. You are a girl, you are going to marry someone, serve someone, so you had better train yourself to behave properly. You should take care of the job you do as you one day will take care of your family. As a girl you are going to be a woman, a wife and a mother of men.” The ascription of these feminine attributes to a woman and the regula— tion of a woman’s behavior did not, of course, concern her future life in general. Rather, her future life as a wife and as a mother was deployed for the present technologizing of bodies as docile labor. As Judith Butler (1993, 1) puts it, “sex/ gender” not only functions as a norm but is part of a regulatory practice that produces the bodies it governs, that is, whose regulatory force is made clear as a kind of productive power, the power to produce the bodies it controls. Also of note is that maleness was posited as a degraded opposite in warnings to the workers: “You should not act like a boy, a boy is lazy and troublesome, careless and rough. Otherwise, you can’t marry yourself out.” Maleness was thus articulated as an oppositional and inferior sexual at- tribute that a woman should not have if she wanted to become a good female and thus a good worker. The subject, in Butler’s words, is “constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a con— stitutive outside to the subject, an abject outside, which is, after all, ‘inside’ the subject as its own founding repudiation” (1993, 3). Despite the implication that maleness was supposedly contradictory to dagongmei self~esteem and self—identity, it always seemed that those who possessed the power to speak were free of gender constraints. When He- chuan, our foreman, condemned workers for manly behavior, he seemed to forget that he himself was a man. It was so naturally practiced that nobody could cast any doubt on the legitimate correspondence between being a female and a good worker. Discursive power was not only pervasive, but also elusive. Further, those who held regulatory power tried hard to create anx~ ieties among the targets of their condemnation*they would be shamed if they, as girls, behaved like boys. “Dividuals,” as Marilyn Strathern (1988, 19) states, were often taken as individual wholes, and one could only choose or be forced to choose, either as a female or as a male. Imagining Sex and Gender 145 No internal ambivalence inside the individual is allowed; femaleness and maleness were created as a fundamental binary opposition in human beings. The women workers, however, cared less about being unable to get married than about not living up to the imaginary feminine. They could seldom fight back if their foremen or line leaders attacked their sexuality as being too male. They were induced to fear any evidence of their own gender ambiguity or perversity. Gender thus became a means of discipline and self—discipline, invoked so that they would learn to police themselves. The feminine was not only imagined and inscribed but also self—desired, and its mirroring other was the opposite sex—«male (lrigaray 1977, 25). In this way, dagongmei was never only a subject of power, but an object of one’s own desire. Sexual Division of Labor Femininity was always imagined and linked to performance as a good worker. But women workers in the Meteor plant knew quite well that in the pyramidal hierarchy inside the workplace, the female, not the male, was the inferior sex. While they might not fully understand how their femininity was articulated, imagined, and engineered time and again in everyday disciplin- ary practices, they knew well that the division of labor was rigidly segregated by sex. Out of more than five hundred workers in the workplace, about 75 percent were female. They were predominant on the assembly lines, and were placed in all kinds of work processes: assembling components, screw— ing, air seasoning, soldering, molding, function testing, quality control, and packaging. Above them were men as their foreman, their managers, and their director. Meteor was a world of women, but not for women. No mat— ter how often they were reminded not to be mannish~“don’t behave like a boy”~it was the male who had the power and status, with a higher wage and more benefits. Women workers in the workplace had to live up to the ambivalent realities construed by disciplinary discourses, daily lan— guage, and institutionalized power, which often were inherently split and self-contradictory. The worlds of management and assembly workers were strongly stratified along sexual lines. The management strata were not entirely men but were males and masculinized females. In the eyes of the line women the top level of management was a world of masculinitymcool, deep, and untouchable. Although two managers and three supervisors were female, they were all taken as men or as being “as capable as men." The director, Mr. Zhou, and 146 Made in China Company director (1 male) Manager (2 male, 2 female) Electronic engineer Assistant manager Factory general (6 male) (3 male) (1 male) Electronic technician Supervisor Secretary (8 male) (2 male, 3 female) (1 female) Mechanical technician Foremen Accountant (6 male) (4 male. 8 female) (1 female) Porter Line leader Clerical staff (9 male) (28 female) (12 female) Operator Cook (284 female, 15 male) (1 male, 2 female) Quality controller cleaner (72 female, 4 male) (5 female) Bonder and functional tester (46 female, 6 male) Packer (8 male, 12 female) Stock handler (9 male, 15 female) Figure 6. Gender division of labor in Meteor Electronics Company (from data collected by author in 1996). Imagining Sex and Gender 147 the four managers—Mr. Li of the engineering department, Mr. Wu of the production department, Miss Tang of the quality control department, and Miss Ren of the material stock department—were all from Hong Kong. As in all of the large foreignwowned corporations in China, the most important posts were not given to the mainland Chinese. Mr. Zhou, the founder of Meteor, had a firm and disciplined paternalistic image. He was an untouch— able authoritarian figure in the workplace, especially for the women workers on the production lines. He seldom appeared on the shop floor except when accompanied by representatives of Western businesses touring the company. If he did show up on his own, it meant a serious problem had occurred. Mr. Li, who was over fifty years old, was a Hong Kongeborn professional; he could not speak Mandarin well. In charge of the engineering department, which was full of male university graduates, he was seen in the eyes of the women workers as a somewhat respectable person of expertise and knowl— edge. Mr. Wu, in his early forties, had immigrated to Hong Kong in 1987. He was one of the first generation of university graduates when China resumed university education after the Cultural Revolution. He was hired for the important position of production department manager because of his par— ticular background. According to Mr. Wu, the production department was the largest section of the company and thus its heart. It had more than 350 workers, and managing it well required someone who was not a mainland Chinese but knew how to manage mainland Chinese workers. “The bosses thought I was an expert in Chinese economics and knew how to control the mainland workers’ psychology,” Mr. Wu said to me one day. After graduat— ing from the Economics Department at Nanjing University, he first worked as an accountant in a state—owned enterprise in Nanjing. In 1985 he was promoted to secretary, the highest position in the enterprise. However, he chose to leave China because status and power could no longer satisfy him, and he was looking for a higher living standard in Hong Kong. Miss Tang was employed as the quality control manager, probably be- cause she looked like a man and was sufficiently strong and authoritarian. There was a widespread rumor that she was a lesbian, and nobody could control the gossip about her throughout the workplace. People called her “Mr. Tang” to her face and nanren tau (man head) behind her back. The manager of material stock, Miss Ren, was a stout mother type who had left her husband and son in Hong Kong to work in Shenzhen. As with other Hong Kong staffmembers, she had to stay in Shenzhen during the week and could only go home on Saturday afternoon, whereupon she had to return to Shenzhen very early on Monday morning. Mr. Zhou told me he preferred to 148 Made in China find men from Hong Kong to take up managerial posts in Shenzhen, because men carried less of the family burden. Women, even when they were strong like Miss Ren, still considered their families as their first concern. For production line women in their everyday sexual fantasies, the engi— neering department was the place that conjured up dreams and desires. In the department, all positions~engineers, technicians, work analysts, and machinistswwere occupied by men. These men appeared young, handsome, urbane, and professional, and most important of all they often had urban hukou and hence higher social status. As such, they filled the women’s dreams of escaping rural poverty and moving up the social ladder. Rumors would enthusiastically spread throughout the workplace if an engineer dined with a production line woman, or if they went out together to see a film. But these sexual fantasies were full of ambivalent feelings in the everyday strug- gles when the women had to confront these men as the ones in power and in charge of their daily production. The electronic engineers were the people who designed the operation of the assembly lines and decided how each work process on the line should run. The work analysts studied and deter» mined the time, speed, and pay rate of the line. The technicians and machi— nists would maintain and repair the conveyor belts and all of the machines and tools. Orders and production designs were then sent to the production department, which undertook the actual daily operation of production. Under Mr. Wu, Tin and Shen were the assistant managers in charge of the production lines and the bonding department, respectively. These two men were also university graduates from big cities, with qualifications that the women dared not envy. On the shop floor it was actually Tin and Sheri who held direct control of production and thus the highest authority over the female line operators. It was thus clear that the entire production process was under the control of men, who gave orders and decided the work speed and wages for the women. No one complained about male authority in the workplace because gender issues were subsumed by rural-urban differences and educational level. In the eyes of line women, Tin and Shen were not only male but urban born and highly educated, and as such it seemed difficult to organize any fundamental challenge to male power in the workplace, in spite of the fact that spontaneous and momentary resistances to male authority were frequent in the womens daily lives. The assembly operators, although predominantly female, were not a ho— mogeneous group. They were categorized into three grades: the basic opera— tors concentrated on the job; the second-grade operators were competent in at least three jobs; and the firstcgrade operators knew almost all the jobs and Imagining Sex and Gender 149 could be moved up and down the line as required. Some of the first-grade operators were called “flyers” because they were trained for all of the work processes and could be called up for any position in the event of absence. Most of the time assistant line leaders were chosen from among the ranks of these “flyers,” who were considered capable and experienced and who dared to speak out. “It is difficult to find the right people for leaders among the line girls. Girls are so talkative when they crowd together. But at work, they are so timid and afraid to criticize the others,” Tin tried to explain when I asked why management was dominated by males. Men were not totally excluded from the assembly lines, but over 90 percent of the positions were occupied by women. As usual, assembling tiny electronic components was often considered women’s work because it re quired patience, care, sharp eyes, and nimble fingers. At Meteor the manage— ment emphasized that the reality was that they did not have a totally submis~ sive workforce under control. While upper management would typically imagine women to be more submissive, attentive, dexterous, and thus more reliable than men, the middle-level management, nearer to the actual shop floor, often held different views. Due to the sexual segregation of jobs, the wage system, organized on a hierarchical basis, was also favorable to male workers. Male staff had a more stable form of wage, and the average wage of male workers at Meteor was about 30 percent higher than that of female workers. Furthermore, the uniforms and overalls worn at the factory helped to symbolize and draw the laboring bodies into the world of sexual hierarchies. Men and women, in different work positions, were put in different types and colors of uniforms and overalls. Management by color, understood as a new workplace man- agement practice, signified position, status, and power. Except for the direc- tor, everybody~managers, office staff, shop floor staff, and workers—were asked to be properly uniformed. But there were great differences between those who wore uniforms and those who wore overalls. The male engineers and technicians had to wear white shirts, whereas the male supervisors had blue shirts and the female supervisors blue dress sets. Shirts and dress sets were formally recognized as uniforms, clearly articulating the symbols and representations of power that belonged to the management strata. Despite the fact that the foremen and line leaders might sometimes be considered representatives of management, they nevertheless were dressed in overalls rather than uniforms, although in a different color, yellow, from that of the operators, who were dressed in white and blue. Operators on the quality control lines wore white overalls, 150 Made in China symbolizing a slightly higher status than the production line operators in blue. Uniforms and overalls thus marked the line differentiating between managerial staff and basic workers, male and female, and controller and con~ trolled, and the gender hierarchies were covertly revealed and reproduced in uniforms and overalls. Women, either consciously or unconsciously, came to a realization of themselves as an inferior sex with a degraded body when they put on a pair of blue overalls and worked on the shop floor. Perverted Bodies Dagongmei as an obedient and submissive social body was, in spite of every— thing, merely a hegemonic imaginary: although powerful enough, it was often contradicted in real—life struggles. The technology of power over female bodies was often self—defeating or sometimes even impotent. This impotence of the all—powerful matrix of power and language was, for example, acutely revealed when the factory disciplinary machine repeatedly failed to co~opt Fatso’s sexual identity. Fatso was always a headache for management. She refused to feminize herself, and she openly acted butch. She was quick to air grievances and express her opinions when she saw unreasonable arrange ments or unfairness. But she was loved as well as loathed by our line leader and foreman. She often worked faster than anyone else on the line and thus was able to help the others when their work was piling up. She rarely asked for sick leave; rather, she often helped to take women suffering from menstrual pain or other bodily discomfort to the restroom or the hospital. It was considered inappropriate for male supervisors to touch the female body, especially when the woman was menstruating. Everybody knew Fatso’s im— portant role on our line, and thus the regulation of sex did not work on her. This is not to say that the disciplinary machine completely failed to regulate her behavior, but to do so it needed to resort to other strategies. Although she had to face much gossip and innuendo, Fatso insisted on having her own way: “I don’t mind that people say that I’m mannish. I don’t like girls to be timid, screaming, and fussing all the time.” Fatso liked to make friends with the men rather than the women in the factory, and she often went out with male workers to see films or Videos with violent and heroic plots. Women’s talk at night, the most common entertainment after working, did not particularly attract her because she often thought that women gossiped and murmured too much. Young women in the workplace, on the other hand, accepted her as butch and treated her as a boy. They came to her when they needed help. In this case body, sex, and identity, had no Imagining Sex and Gender 151 one-to—one correspondence; for Fatso, neither body nor sex could provide legitimacy for sexual identity. Her sexual identity was not yet split, but ambivalent and somewhat different.5 A Fight The ideal construct of dagongmei as a docile feminized body was further disrupted and shattered in my mind when one day I witnessed a terrible scene. It was a winter night, windy and cold. At 10:00, after overtime, I went with Fatso back to the dormitory, dragging my exhausted body. Fatso told me she would queue up for hot water for me to bathe, and she told me to have a few minutes of rest in bed. Every night we would struggle over whether or not to bathe, especially on cold nights. If we decided in favor of the bath, we needed to queue up for hot water, sometimes for more than half an hour. At the end of our dorm rooms was a room with a big stove that heated water between ten and twelve at night. Because hot water was pro- vided within limited hours, women frequently helped relatives, fellow vil» lagers, and good friends to wait for hot water. Sometimes one person would bring four or five buckets from the long queue. Needless to say, queue jumping happened from time to time and squabbles and arguments fol— lowed. It was a site of contestation. When we entered the dormitory gate, approaching the stove room, I heard loud noises and surmised it was an argument. Fatso screamed: “They are fighting, they are fighting with each other!” We ran to the spot, where two groups of women were wrestling. In a rage, one woman hit the other woman’s face with great strength; the other woman fought back by pulling her oppo— nent’s hair. As Fatso tried to stop the fighting, she was forcefully pushed away by a thin young woman. I stood still, terribly frightened by the violence. I couldn’t sleep that night, haunted by how it was that these women could engage in such violence. Violence is often believed to be a male attribute; that is, that it belongs only to men and does not happen except among men. But this fierce women’s fight disrupted my thoughts. It seemed silly to ask why these young women could act as brutal and aggressive as boys. It was also senseless to think about “human nature” as such. Forced to live in a harsh and inhuman environment, these women did not know how long they could tolerate such a life. Suspicion, quarreling, and even fighting were ways to release grievances, especially those suppressed for a long time. It was the outside environment that acted on the subject. What was the point if I retreated back to the “inside” of the subject, the “nature” of a human 152 Made in China Figure 7. Women workers in the Meteor plant dormitory queued up for hot water for bathing. (photo by author) being, male or female? Violence is a performance of social relationship, embedded in specific historical and social contexts and often gendered in nature. Yet, it is never sexually prescribed. The fighting women were all dismissed by the factory the next morning, without any investigation of who might be right or wrong. These workers all knew factory discipline and they all knew this fact: they did not behave like girls but rather like unruly boys or animals. Defiant bodies were punished and, again, they were disciplined through the discourse of sex and gender. Women’s Talk For a few nights in the dormitory, talk centered on the women’s fight. After bathing, at about 10:30 P.M., was often a time when women talked. Talking was an important fact oflife after the workday because ofthe ban on speaking while working. Women congregated together based on ethnic—kin lines and, when the time came, chatting everywhere would start. I often heard men complain that when several women came together, you could never stop Imagining Sex and Gender 153 them talking. “Qi zui ba she” (seven mouths and eight tongues), was a Chinese saying about talkative women who were eager to speak out. “Qi zui ba she” was, of course, a term of denigration; its meaning showed overtly the desire and power of men to silence women because women’s talk had long been seen as a threat to both the patriarchal order and the managerial order.“ At night the women gossiped about management; exchanged informa— tion on personnel policies; and discussed who was punished by confronting the factory rules, who succeeded in finding a boyfriend, and who was so disgusting and always flirting with women. They chatted about sex, child— birth, family, and sometimes complained about food. Because I could speak Chaozhou dialect, sometimes I joined in the talk among the Chaozhou women. One time, two Chaozhou women, both over forty, who worked as cooks, were talking with several other women. Lan, a young girl from Chaoe yang asked, “Aunt, do you think the food in our canteen is too poor?” The younger cook instantly replied, “Daughters, I never want you to eat poor rice. But what can I do? I did my best to serve you.” “But aunt, the food is really rotten, not even my family’s pigs would eat it.” Another woman, named Iin, interrupted. “Oh girls, don’t say something bad that will spoil your fortune. You are all young, you all have never swallowed bitterness and gone through hard times. At the time of the famine in the 19605 we all ate wild vegetables and tree leaves.” The older maid spoke in a rather sentimental way, recalling her memories of hard times so as to convince the young women. “Wow, aunt, you are talking about something terrible. But times have changed,” said Tongtong, interrupting the cook. “You are too lucky, and too happy in this generation. You’ve got no sense of women’s bitterness in the past. You now have pretty clothes, earn your own money, and go where you want to go. Who could be like you when we were young? We never dreamed of leaving the family and the village. Women, always kept at home, did all the cooking and chores, waiting to get married and give birth to sons,” the cook continued. All the women chuckled, but the cook felt a bit more at ease and continued to talk about “women’s bitter story.” “You don’t understand women’s lives, do you? You won’t know what bitterness is before you taste it. Mei, there is still a long road ahead of you. In the future, when you think you can marry a husband and enjoy happiness, you will find yourself alone in a man’s family that is not your own, never. Your mother~inelaw will keep a strict eye on you, and even your husband can’t help you. And within two years, if you still can’t lay eggs (give birth to 154 Made in China sons), then you will know what kind of life will follow you. All the gossips in the village will target you . . . Then comes the big stomach, the ten months pain and the extraordinary pain at the moment of delivery. You are all young, you can’t even imagine the pain. It kills you, it kills you, but every woman will go through it. It is women’s destiny, you never know.” “Oh, oh, aunts, your time is past. Nowadays, we can run away from our families and find a job in the factory.” Tongtong showed her optimism. Escaping to the workplace was often seen as an alternative to a coercive married life for the young women. But for the older women, escaping to work in the city was temporary and their gendered role as wife remained unchanged. “You are telling children’s tales. How about when you get older and older? Will the factory still want you? Women’s place is in the family. You don’t believe me, do you?” the older cook said. One of the main plots of the women’s talk in the workplace was the articulation of a subaltern “herstory” of women’s lives-albeit often imag— ined, exaggerated, and victimized—that was narrated to the younger genera- tion through the spoken word (Anagnost 1997). Often excluded by the for— mal and official written records, women's experiences of their own lives were marginalized, trivialized, or simply seen as nonexistent in history. But strip— ping away women’s right to write or to be written could not silence them. It was not true that the subaltern could not speak and that women trapped in a patriarchal order could never express themselves, or, in the words of Shirley Ardner, could only have “a problem without a name” (1975, 10). The issue at stake here is who can hear? Who is willing to listen carefully at the fissures of dominance and power where voices of subalternality can be heard? Female histories in China constitute a long oral tradition that is memorized, imag— ined, and passed on from generation to generation (Croll 1995, 11~12). It was these kinds of women’s stories that helped to construe the worlds of wom— en’s lives and helped women make sense of their own experiences. This women’s talk, a rich cultural capital, provided not only stories, examples, and models but also a lively genealogy, from which women could learn about and negotiate themselves as female subjects. Gossip and Romance One night I was invited to eat soup with a Cantonese group. The women were all from Qingyuan, the poorest rural area in Guangdong Province, and they all worked in the quality control department. During our meal gossip and Imagining Sex and Gender 155 rumor flowed naturally and wildly and, as on many occasions, came to focus on Miss Tang, the manager of quality control, who was from Hong Kong. Qing started gossiping about Miss Tang: “I saw her eating with her girl— friend in the McDonald’s.” “When? Did you see her girlfriend? Is she pretty?” all the other women asked. “Last Sunday. I could only see the side of her face, you know, I dared not enter. I looked from the glass wall. I guess she doesn’t look bad. Very well dressed and thick make—up. Dong told me that one day she saw them walk— ing in the street. Her girlfriend was taller than her,” Qing answered. “But Tang looks quite handsome, doesn’t she?” Bin said. “Wow, somebody is secretly in love with our Tang!” Qing teased, and all the women laughed. Bin responded instantly, “What rubbish are you talking? Will I love a person who is so harsh to us? I think because she treats people so hard and so emotionlessly, that’s why she became abnormal. Can I love a pseudo man, who is in fact a woman? Can I?” We continued to laugh despite Bin’s explanation. A woman named Hua cackled “Why not? She is rich, powerful, and handsome. I bet if she chooses you, we can all get promoted. Please do sacrifice yourself!” “But how can a woman love a woman? I am asking seriously. How can two women have sex? Can they give birth to a baby?” Bin turned her head to me, expecting an answer and trying to divert attention from herself. Unwill— ing to intervene in their talk, I simply said, “They can have sex, but they can’t have a baby that way.” ‘ Qing added, “I saw a magazine one day. It said that in Western countries they have a lot of gays and lesbians who don’t care about social and family pressure and insist on getting married to each other.” “How strange! They can marry. But it’s good for them, isn’t it?” another woman named San said. “But it’s still a pity they can’t give birth to a baby. I think a woman’s life can’t be complete without going through marriage and the delivery of babies,” Bin muttered. “Oh, Bin, your thoughts are a little bit outdated. Today, who will care about the stuff of delivering sons? Happiness is more important!” Qing responded. “Yet finding a good man is still important, isn’t it?” Hua asked. “Oh, I-Iua, you are dating somebody, aren’t you? When are you going to marry him?” Bin asked back. All of us chuckled again and Hua blushed. 156 Made in China “I still have no idea. I don’t want to go back home too early. But last New Year when I was back home, the man’s family had already asked my father. Last month, my boyfriend came to visit me. He tried to convince me to come back home too.” Hua spoke in an embarrassed tone. “What a lucky woman! You must have done a lot of good things in your previous life. By the way, will you have sex before your married life?” Qing teased again, and we all fell into chuckles. Hua instantly flushed and shouted, uI won’t, I won’t!” “My father would beat me to death if he knew I had that relation with a man in the city,” the quiet San murmured. “Oh, I don’t think it is wrong. If I really love a man, I don’t mind,” Qing raised her tone, a naughty expression on her face. “Ah, what a liberated woman!” All the girls turned to laugh at Qing and the joking continued. Gossip, jokes, and laughter centered on the topics of sex and love helped us to cope with the difficult and tedious factory life. Gossip and laughter demonstrated the power of the female workers, however minimal, to tease the patriarchal and capitalist orders. As Paul Willis (1981, 29) puts it, “having a laff” is a way to defeat boredom and fear, to ease the hardship and brutality of life, and thus is a way out of almost anything. “Having a laff” was clearly a weapon of the weak in fighting against the alienation of work and the subsumption of labor to capital. The factory daughters learned that sex— uality was political and something they could decide to manipulate or not. Becoming sexually involved with someone in management, if one were willing, was a possible way to get promotion and gain advantages. Like labor, sexuality was something that belonged to the workers but could be manipu- lated and subsumed into the logic of capital. Sexual relationships between male supervisors and female line workers were not absent in the Meteor workplace, although they were frowned on heavily by all those not involved. Dating and sexual relations were often seen as advantageous and functional, but in the end futile, if not evil. Another focus for gossip was the love affair between Gen, one of the supervisors in the production department, and ling, now the secretary of the department. People kept telling me that ling was only a line worker before she knew Gen, and that she was a nice, humble person before. But now she was completely proud and seldom talked even to her ethnic—kin group. At one point, a worker remarked to me: “You see the thick make—up, nobody is stronger than her. I am sure I won‘t want to learn from her, selling sex in exchange for a higher position.” Imagining Sex and Gender 157 Despite some bias, there were genuine social and cultural reasons for the workers to worry about any love and sexual relations they might have. First, if the man were an urban citizen, his family probably would not accept a woman of rural origin. Second, if both sides came from different provinces, the woman’s family might not approve of the affair either. No family wanted their daughter to marry far away, unless they were really poor. Third, there were many rumors in the workplace that once a woman got pregnant, the man would run away and there would be no hope of finding him. It was an anonymous industrial world, not a communal Village where everybody knew each other. Tragedy came once the man ran away and the woman’s pregnancy was noticed by her company. Losing a job and not daring to go back home, the woman would be left alone to face her misfortune. Most women thought that it was not worth exchanging sex for short-term interest because in the end it could ruin one’s whole life. Gossip and laughter nevertheless were more than a weapon that was deployed to poke fun at the management. Jokes, laughter, and rumors were exactly where the women workers played out their gender subjectivities. Having a laugh was about having their Views and ideas on sex, love, and marriage exchanged and voiced, and therefore helped to suture their female identities. During joking and laughing, women were more capable of artic— ulating their feelings and emotions, albeit conflicting and ambivalent, such as love and hatred, desire and fear, dream and anxiety. For example, there was Bin who thought a woman could not be complete without getting married and giving birth to babies. There was Hua who took marriage as an important life path for women. But there was also Qing who said sex for happiness should be acceptable. Feelings and emotions expressed in the talking and joking were all part of a process of sexualization (Hearn and Parkin 1987). They were how women colluded in playing themselves out as sexualized subjects. Consumerist Desire and the Modern Self If “having a laff” in the workplace was one form of recreation, getting out of the factory premises to have fun was another alternative when time was available. Each month in the Meteor workplace we had a rest day on the Sun— day following payday, and going shopping downtown in Shenzhen was one of the workers’ favorite pastimes on that day. Quite often I would go with the women workers to Dong Fang Market, where a wide array of clothing, handbags, accessories, and beauty products were available. Dong Fang Mar— 158 Made in China ket was a shopping paradise for them, a place where they could look for suitable, alluring, and inexpensive products. Fashion shops, department stores, supermarkets, fast—food stores, and cafes, all owned by local people, were clustered on both sides of the street. These shops exemplified the “vogue from the west” (Xi feng), offering the dagongmei a “taste” of a cos— mopolitan lifestyle and, more important, their self—affirmation as modern gendered subjects (Yan 1997). In their search for “modernity” and in their hopes of improving their lives, the women workers possessed a great con~ suming passion. Their desire to consume was driven by their urgent desire to reduce the disparity between themselves and the city dwellers, as well as to live up to the calling of the modern model of female beauty that was in- creasingly imagined and imaged by the mass media and popular magazines. The transition to being a modern lady, even if only as a matter of ap— pearance, conjured up the dreams and desires of dagongmei as they strived to transform themselves. Deploying a touch of fashion to highlight their appearance was the most common strategy for the women as consuming subjects. In the urban industrial world the lure of consumption produced irresistible consuming desires, even for those who could not afford them. Their not being able to consume was not a problem; what was important was the power of the desiring machine to incite them to dream and to produce promises and further desires. What this promise meant to the young workers became clear to me when I jotted down this note for my field research: “28 March 1996, evening. We still have to work at night. The radio is on. There is no mood for work, we wait and dream. Tomorrow is payday. The girls on our line are talking about where to go and what to buy. While Fatso suggests buying new jeans, Fuhui, a girl sitting in front of me, thinks of buying lipstick. She asks me to suggest some brand names of high quality and reasonable price. I am at sea and wondering.” In the workplace the women workers dreamed of consumption even as they labored, as if the dreaming spurred them on despite their mood. Da— gongmei consuming practices contested the assumption that consumption was an “individualizng project” invested in, by, and for capital. In the workplace, the women shared with equal enthusiasm the satisfaction and frustration of shopping as well as work. Instead of keeping them separated, consumption bound them into a collectivity through their shared dreams and desires to become a new kind of gendered subject. “Dressing up” is perhaps the most common of these practices. Returning to their work— places after a day of shopping, they could not wait to display their trans— formed selves wearing newly purchased T—shirts and jeans. For those who Imagining Sex and Gender 159 had worked in the city for a year or two, the urban environment with its many shops was attractive. In the evenings, they returned to their dormito- ries where they talked excitedly about fashion and make—up and where they could find the best buys. The desire to transform themselves and have a new look was what drew them together. Their change in appearance was pivotal to them in the workplace. As mentioned earlier, the managerial class mocked the dagongmei’s “coarse hands and feet,” an abject subject bearing the stigma of rural backwardness. One could not help but notice how much time they spent on their finger- nails, painting them with shiny colors to make them look more glamorous. Another obsession was with products that promised to whiten their skin, darkened from long exposure to the sun while laboring in the fields back home. One had to be light skinned to be a city dweller, and thus whitening lotions and creams were among their favorite purchases. A new look and a fresh identity were not only desired but could be realized by actively working on their appearance. A rebirth could be achieved through a consumption practice that functioned as a technology of the self. Through this means, they could realize for themselves “a great leap forward” out of rurality. Going Out Shopping One Sunday five Sichuan women, Yue, Ling, Hong, Qin, and Ping, invited me to go out with them. As usual, we went to Dong Fang Market, and I suggested that I treat them in a cafe’ there. From the time we boarded the minibus, and in every fashion shop we went into, I could feel a sense of discrimination against my coworkers. Because they were speaking Mandarin and had strong Village accents, they were told in a very impolite way to hurry up into the bus. Because they were not dressed in modern urban styles, saleswomen in the boutiques showed indifference to my coworkers’ interest in their fashions. The saleswomen did not bother with them even when they asked about prices: their attitudes seemed to say that the dagongmei were too poor to buy their stock. Ping asked me to speak to the saleswomen in Cantonese when we headed for the next shop. I told her, “If you want to buy something, then I’ll help you ask them in Cantonese. If not, I don’t want to speak to them. We should despise them far more than they despise us.” All of the women laughed; it seemed I was more annoyed than they were. Ping comforted me, saying, “You don’t need to be too serious. We are getting used to the local people’s attitude. They think they are richer, don’t they?”7 We shopped in the open market and then went into a supermarket. 16o Made in China Supermarkets have become popular in China in recent years. To show its difference from the local family—owned grocery shops, this supermarket provided a variety of foreign goods and stressed its concern for high—quality foods. It puzzled me that security in the store was as strict as at the factory premises. Four or more security guards stood in front of a gate leading into the store, and we had to leave our handbags at the counter before we walked through the gate. And because we looked like poor rural women, a security guard followed us everywhere we went. But there was a “real” reason to take us as potential thieves; the prices in the supermarket were unreasonably high. One cup of Japanese instant noodles cost 11 yuan, the workers’ salary for one day. We discussed, muttered, and chuckled, but we never bought anything. Ping asked me how much the local people earned that they could afford to buy such expensive stuff. Seeing that the workers felt awkward and out of place in this supermarket with its prohibitively expensive foreign commodities and security guards, I suggested that we go on to the cafe. Surprisingly, this was the first time the Sichuan workers had gone to a cafe’. No one had any idea what to order and the prices of the drinks were unacceptable to them, so they tried to persuade me to leave. But it was too late. A waitress was already standing at our table, looking at us with a strange smile. Yue said, “A coke for 8 yuan!” Hong echoed, “A tea for 10 yuan! For 10 yuan I can make one hundred cups.” Ping whispered, “What is a drink for? Just water. It doesn’t fill your stomach. Should we go?” Feeling embarrassed, I tried to calm them down and then ordered drinks for them. Two coffees, two lemon teas, and two soft drinks. As the waitress left our table I noticed that the people at the other tables all looked at us. I felt I had been unforgivably foolish to put the workers in such an awkward situation. A few minutes later, a waiter brought us one drink. It didn’t look like anything we had ordered. I called back the waiter and he took it to the table in front of us. The man sitting there said loudly in Cantonese, “Their hands have touched the drink. Bring me another one. You don’t know how dirty their hands are, those waisheng mei!” Waisheng mei was an abject term for girls from foreign provinces, that is, outside Guangdong Province. I was angry at his words, and burst out in Cantonese: “What’s wrong with wai— sheng mei. A dog’s eyes always despise a human being!” He didn’t expect my sudden outburst, and so stood up and left the café, still wearing a disdaining look. Perhaps he was thinking of the Chinese proverbs, where a “good” man Imagining Sex and Gender 161 Figure 8. A woman worker in the Meteor plant dormitory writing a letter to her boyfriend. (photo by author) never fights with a woman. We all laughed, and, while drinking, we con— tinued to make jokes about this particular local man. Back at the dormitory, I was not able to fall asleep that night because the disgusting man’s image was haunting my mind. I knew too well that the term waisheng mei carried the double negative of gender and rural—urban differ— ence. But probably my discomfort was in part due to the fact that this was the first time I had shared the same discrimination with my coworkers. Although we enjoyed a victory at that moment, the man’s silence might hide another layer of discrimination toward female subjects. Women were not worth arguing with; that was what the Chinese proverb meant. I headed over to Yue’s bunk and found that she was still awake, writing a letter to her boyfriend, a recruit in the army in Beijing. In her letter she wrote: “It was exciting today. We went out to Dong Fang Market and had a drink in a modern and expensive café. An ugly local guy bullied us but we fought back. . . . Shen, why are we so poor? Why do the local people never treat us as human beings? Now that I’m out in the world, I find myself one hundred times more worthless than in the Village. How do people treat you in Beijing? It’s our country’s capital. People there must be nicer. . . .” In their letters to relatives, the women workers were able to state their 162 Made in China position clearly: Shenzhen was a spectacular city, full of high-rise buildings, theme parks, expensive brand-name boutiques, luxurious hotels, and coffee shops, but it was not a place for them, And no matter how many years they spent there, in the drudgery of labor they would always be recognized as outsiders. The dream of consumerist gratification, of transforming them— selves into modern selves, and their pursuit of modish feminized beauty to disguise their rural identity could only result in reinforcing their class and gender differences. When the subject of production strived to reemerge in the chain of the symbolic world, it was a process of negative hallucination, the “I” of production had to enter a process of identification or subjectifica- tion with the “other” of consumption. However, when the women workers decked themselves out to go shopping, they discovered that they failed to be recognized as the ideal consumers. In this rapidly transforming period old cultural practices; new urban cos— mopolitan models, pressures, and norms from the rural society; and desires and pursuits in a modern yet anonymous industrial world are all mixed up yet work together to invoke new female subjects and sexual bodies. There are no fixed boundaries and stable reference frames, no harbors in which new subjects can take refuge. We can say that Maoist China aimed only at pro- ducing an asexual subject—tongzhi; a unified subject embodied with the same will as the state socialist production. No class, no gender. Reform China, however, within a global project of capital, shows interest in resex- ualizing the subject, most notably a new dagong subject tailored to meet the new international division of labor. In the workplace, while the homoge— neous construct of sexuality seemed the dominant mode, alternative models like Miss Tang, new ideas from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and the West, new experiences of urban life, and all kinds of contradictory ideas and behaviors, are nurtured and contribute to constituting fluid, shifting, and decentered female subjects. While some of the women escaped from their rural families to work in the global factory, thus hoping to elevate themselves to being modern subjects by staying in the city, many of them would soon realize that the toil of factory work was only an alienation from which there was no rescue; some of them even dreamed of marrying out and hoped to return home as an escape from factory work. Women workers in contempo— rary China are induced to live with conflicting feelings, emotions, and sub— jectivities, far from their own making. These Chinese dagongmei, however, were manipulated by capital not Imagining Sex and Gender 163 only to be turned into efficient industrial producers, but they themselves desired to become fetish subjects as elements of the project of subject and of power. As Marx (1954) has said, the production process is an alienating process, in which women and men turn themselves into objects and con~ front themselves as something hostile and alien. In the process of consump- tion, then, women and men strive to redeem their alienation and achieve a sense of satisfaction through consumption. The harder they work, the more they want to spend. The more they desire to spend, the harder they need to work»thereby mirroring the dyadic relationship between production and consumption. The desire to be rid of poverty and to become modern gen— dered subjects is articulated together with the desire to consume commodi~ ties. Young female workers in the factory shared the same passion for pure chasing lipsticks, whitening creams, trendy watches, jeans, and T—shirts, just to name a few items. These objects conjured up new desiring subjects who only were to discover themselves still trapped in a politics of identity and difference. In the next chapter I go on to explore, inbetween fissures of domination and resistance, dream and desire, and hope and anxiety, the journey of transgression for dagongmei in a rapidly changing China. ...
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This note was uploaded on 10/26/2009 for the course ANT 148 taught by Professor Gowoonnoh during the Summer '09 term at UC Davis.

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