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Title:While the State Claims the Intimate: Population Control Policy and the Makings of Chinese Modernity
Author(s):Chen, Junjie
Director of Research:Gottlieb, Alma J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Bunzl, Matti; Orta, Andrew; Weller, Robert
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Population Control
Abstract:In this dissertation, I offer an ethnographic account of the human experience of China’s post-socialism and associated globalizing efforts as they are reconfigured in the seemingly intimate space of reproduction. At the heart of the broad socioeconomic transformations that underpin China’s unexpected rise in the global economy lies a project of reforming biomedical practices revolving around reproduction. This intensely personal aspect of the larger modernization project was based upon deployments of specific kinds of scientific numbers, and it has profoundly influenced basic aspects of existence for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Accounting for the notorious one-child policy and its subsequent metamorphoses calls for a localized, ethnographic genealogy of China’s effort at modernization via bioscience in rural areas since the 1970s. Based on 16 months of fieldwork in and around an inter-ethnic (Manchu-Han) village in northeast China, my dissertation explores how a shifting series of discursive constructions of peasants as “backward” subjects has legitimized the state’s sustained biomedical intrusion into reproduction in rural China, and how rural residents’ responses to the state’s intimate intrusion has told a rich story of the makings of the nation’s post-socialist strivings for modernity. In my dissertation, I analyze peasants’ reproductive practices as they intersect with the politics and policies of biomedicine and technology, as well as with those of gender, class, kinship, and ethnic identities. In this work, I treat the state’s population control efforts as emblematic of the nation’s ambition to achieve modernity, and I combine this perspective with anthropological and feminist critiques of modernity and state transformation to write a mini-historiography of post-socialism in rural China. Since the 1970s, China’s population control policy has been shaped by changing images of modernity fashioned by the government. During the early 1970s, China’s population was seen as an unbearable burden impeding modernization. To rapidly achieve its development goals, the Chinese state became increasingly obsessed with controlling population growth and, in 1979, formulated a one-child policy. In promoting this stringent policy, intimate reproductive practices intersected discursively with governmental constructions of “backwardness” (luohou). Villagers—especially women—were depicted by the state as suffused by “backward” ideas, as embodied in their childbearing practices. The one-child policy was entrusted with a mission of changing peasants’ “backward” reproductive ideas and customs. Many villagers resisted this policy, as entrenched patrilineal ideologies virtually required all families to produce a male heir. To make its population policy acceptable to peasants, in the mid-1980s the state began granting a “second chance” to rural women to bear a son—but only if their first births had produced girls. Along with this shift, in the 1990s the state’s model of modernity came increasingly to center on neo-liberal economic development rather than on stringent birth control methods alone, and reproductive policy discourses changed accordingly. “Bear fewer children, become rich quickly” (shaosheng kuaifu) became a pervasive governmental slogan, and improving citizens’ economic standing through smaller family size became the focus of the state. Yet the state continued to depict peasants as “backward,” claiming now that the ideal model of rurality was epitomized by an economic desire for material prosperity—a desire that most “backward” peasants were said insufficiently to possess. Concomitant with this critique, around the new millennium, the Chinese state became preoccupied with constructing an internationally acceptable image of modernity. Central to its eager embrace of global capitalism, the government recently announced that its birth control program would provide rural women with more “high-quality services” for their reproductive health—services now construed as “humane and caring.” Yet along with this seemingly liberal reform, rural people were once again diagnosed as deficient. This time, the “lack” was discursively located in the need for a more “scientific and civilized notion of marriage and childbearing” (kexue wenming de hunyu guannian). Focusing on the structural continuity behind these ostensibly major shifts in population policy, in my dissertation I examine how prolonged discursive constructions of peasants as backward subjects have legitimized population policy in ways I term a “civilizing machine.” At the core of its three-decade-long pursuit of modernity has been a continuing effort by the state to claim the intimate space of reproduction. Reading villagers’ subjective experiences of reproduction against the government’s hegemonic claims in shaping rurality, my dissertation charts how rural citizens think about, talk about, and manage their fertility strategies and habits in the face of the state’s continuing claims on their most intimate practices.
Issue Date:2012-02-01
Genre:Dissertation / Thesis
Rights Information:Copyright by Junjie Chen, 2011
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-02-01
Date Deposited:2011-12

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