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Pun Ngai_Made In China_ch 5

Pun Ngai_Made In China_ch 5 - 132 Made in China incomplete...

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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—198...
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