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Eating, Cooking, and Shanghai’s “Less-than-Manly Men”: The Social Consequences of Food Rationing and Economic Reforms

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This study examines some social consequences of food rationing and economic reforms in Shanghai by considering the notion of “Shanghai little men” (a broader translation of which is “Shanghai less-than-manly men”). Male Shanghainese are notorious for doing household labor and being obedient to their wives, which has earned them the nickname Shanghai little men. This study indicates that their grocery shopping and cooking were first inspired by fundamental changes in food distribution and the power structure during the 1950s and 1960s. It treats Shanghai little men as both a special group and a symbol of certain changes in gender roles at home and the redefining of gender norms in the larger society. It examines the shifting discourse concerning Shanghai little men in the era of economic reforms and analyzes a recent popular discourse about “seeking real men” and “being real women.” Finally, it deconstructs the current cultural nostalgia for traditional gender-defined divisions of labor, reflecting a parallel developmen—the “transnational business masculinity” that one sees in China.


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