British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 9 No 1 (2019)

The Naturalisation of Motherhood Within Marriage and its Implications for Chinese Academic Women

Kailing Xie
University of Warwick
British Journal of Chinese Studies Volume 9 Issue 1
Published April 4, 2019
How to Cite
Xie, K. (2019). The Naturalisation of Motherhood Within Marriage and its Implications for Chinese Academic Women. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 9(1), 59 - 84.


As a result of the one-child policy implemented in 1979, daughters born into urban households have benefited from unprecedented educational investment due to the lack of competition from brothers (Fong, 2006). In recent years, a Confucian discourse of filial piety was adopted by the party-state to tackle population risks and counter individualism, which drew on “traditional” notions of gender and generational hierarchy to reinforce the heterosexual family as the main welfare provider (Zheng, 2018; Qi, 2014). The 1980s only-child generation raised under this ideology has now reached the age of marrying, child-raising and establishing a career. This paper investigates how gender affects the career and reproductive choices of China’s well-educated daughters, particularly those working in academia. Drawing on a sub-set of a larger sample, I focus on data from interviews with eight women who currently work in Chinese universities and are at different life stages. I illustrate how, in spite of being at the top of the ivory tower, the gender stereotype that a woman’s primary responsibility is towards her family poses a major obstacle to those who seek career progression. I analyse how the existing socio-political discourse constructs a naturalised female subject that is bound by reproductive norms, and the implication of this for women’s careers.

At time of publication, the journal operated under the old name. When quoting please refer to the citation on the left using British Journal of Chinese Studies. The pdf of the article still reflects the old journal name; issue number and page range are consistent.

  • China,
  • academic women,
  • motherhood,
  • domestic labour,
  • heterosexual marriage
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