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Neoliberalism and the Feminization of Family Survival: The Happiness Project in Four Chinese Villages

Social Production and Reproduction at the Interface of Public and Private Spheres

ISBN: 978-1-78052-874-8, eISBN: 978-1-78052-875-5

ISSN: 1529-2126

Publication date: 20 July 2012

Abstract

Purpose – Informed by Chinese mothers from four villages, the purpose of this chapter is to address the old issue of feminization of family survival, but situated within the landscape of neoliberalism. This study investigates the interplay between Chinese patriarchal values and neoliberal ideas that have shaped the Happiness Project – Action to Aid Impoverished Mothers – an official population control program that has been combined with poverty reduction “Action.”

Methodology – This research began in 2001 in Sichuan Province, Southwest China. Over a period of three years I interviewed 48 women who were participants in the Happiness Project.

Findings – The goal of the Happiness Project is to bring “happiness” to poor mothers through the introduction of microcredit, literacy programs, and the improvement of reproductive health. Three maternal aspects of the Happiness Project, as the study indicates, coincide with three particular patriarchal values. These include an official construction of a good mother image, targeting women's bodies as objects of the state's population control, and reinforcing gender stereotypes through market activity. The findings of this research suggest that feminization of family survival coincided with achieving the goal of the Project. Mothers thus have carried a double burden on behalf of the Chinese state and their families: the goals of declining fertility and increasing family prosperity.

Social implications – Based on this outcome, the study not only calls for reevaluating this “women-only” economic development model, but also calls into question whether bringing Chinese women into public production/market activity is a path to women's emancipation under neoliberalism.

Keywords

Citation

Wang, L. (2012), "Neoliberalism and the Feminization of Family Survival: The Happiness Project in Four Chinese Villages", Texler Segal, M., Ngan-Ling Chow, E. and Demos, V. (Ed.) Social Production and Reproduction at the Interface of Public and Private Spheres (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 16), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 113-137. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1529-2126(2012)0000016009

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited