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The Paradox of Gender among West China Missionary Collectors, 1920-1950

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During the turbulent years between the Chinese nationalist revolution of 1911 and the communist victory of 1949, a group of missionaries lived and worked in West China whose social gospel theologies led to unusual identification with Chinese. Among the regular social actors in their lives were itinerant “curio men” who, amidst the chaos of feuding warlords, gathered up the heirlooms of the deposed Manchurian aristocracy and offered these wares for sale on the quiet and orderly verandahs of the mansions inside the missionary compounds of West China Union University. Although missionary men and women often collected the same types of Chinese antiquities, these became variously specimens, fine arts, commodities and household effects because their collecting practices were framed within different cultural and gendered domains of value. The scientific and connoisseurial male-gendered collecting paradigms often bolstered the anti-imperialist Chinese nationalist modernities of the Republican state. They were therefore paradoxically at odds with female-gendered collecting paradigms that drew in part upon feminist discourses of capitalist consumerism. Coupled with residual ideals of domesticity and philanthropy, these fluid female discourses resonated with emergent Chinese New Woman modernities and inspired missionary women in creative bicultural identity projects. Résumé Durant les années turbulentes entre la révolution chinoise de 1911 et la victoire communiste de 1949, un groupe de missionnaires vécut et travailla en Chine occidentale ; leur théologie du christianisme social les amena à une identification inhabituelle avec la population chinoise. Parmi les acteurs sociaux de leurs vies se trouvaient des « vendeurs de bibelots » itinérants qui, au milieu du chaos résultant des combats entre seigneurs de guerre, réunirent le patrimoine de l’aristocratie manchoue déchue et faisaient le tour des vérandas calmes et ordonnées des maisons dans l’enceinte missionnaires de la West China Union University pour y vendre leurs marchandises. Même si missionnaires hommes et femmes collectionnaient souvent les mêmes types d’antiquités chinoises, le destin de ces biens variait, passant du statut d’échantillon à celui d’objet d’art, de marchandise ou d’objet ménager, parce que les pratiques de collection renvoyaient à des systèmes de valeur différents en fonction de la culture ou du genre. Les paradigmes masculins de collection qui répondaient à des critères scientifiques et d’amateurs éclairés mettaient souvent en avant la modernité nationaliste et anti-impérialiste chinoise de l’état républicain. Ils étaient en conséquence paradoxalement en désaccord avec les paradigmes féminins de collection qui se basaient, eux, en partie sur des discours féministes de consumérisme capitaliste. Associés à des idéaux résiduels de domesticité et de philanthropie, les discours féminins faisaient écho à la modernité émergente de la Nouvelle Femme Chinoise et ils furent une source d’inspiration pour les femmes missionnaires en quête d’un projet identitaire biculturel créatif.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, USA

10.1163/187489412X628118
/content/journals/10.1163/187489412x628118
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/content/journals/10.1163/187489412x628118
2012-01-01
2016-12-09

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