WOMEN AS ENUNCIATING SUBJECTS
Who were the women who joined these societies, particularly the lecturers? As lecturers, they must, at some level, have believed in the pedagogy. Like teachers everywhere, they expressed demoralization when few attended their lectures, and were gratified by a large turnout. Many of them were women with much grief in their lives. There were, among many others, those whose children had died young, those locked in loveless marriages, those who sought solace because a younger wife or concubine had been brought in to replace them, and those who were younger wives bullied by older wives and in-laws. Many were devout Buddhists and found the Society to be basically compatible with their Buddhist faith. These were women for whom the Morality Society offered a rationalization or justification of their fate, a means of coping with their difficult lives, and, often, spiritual solace. A woman named Tu declares that hers is the fate (ming) of a stepmother. At first neither the old nor the children treated her well no matter how hard she tried. But she has now come to understand her fate and has resolved her will (lizhi). Whereas earlier she had been addicted to drugs, now she is a vegetarian and feels no need for drugs. Indeed, she has acquired such strength and influence in her household that no one in her household takes drugs. A Mrs. Zhao states simply that earlier she would be sad when people called her "wife number two" (er taitai). Now she has learned to live with her fate (tianming), and she is happy. Mrs. Liu's in-laws got a "little sister" (a concubine) for her who was filial and sisterly, and so she had to learn to be a good elder sister. She decided to make up to her in-laws and husband by performing service to society, which she has done for the past ten years.
But resignation, coping, and solace from grief and mistreatment were not the only meanings that women derived from their participation in the Morality Society. These narratives also reveal various strategies whereby women were able to maneuver the goals of the Society to secure advantage for themselves and for other women. This was hardly easy, because many women must have experienced the interpellative or constituting activity as a form of objectification. Counterrepresentations of the modern, Westernized woman were readily available to these women. Newspapers in Manzhouguo debated the issue of women's liberation, and until 1941 at least, often carried positive images of liberated, Western, and Westernized women. Indeed, it was the often unacknowledged irruption of elements of this discourse of the liberated woman into their own that enabled some of their maneuvers. Yet it is also clear that they accepted the virtue of filiality and even obedience to patriarchs. Most of all, they appeared to derive their inspiration and strength from the spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice—from that space of authenticity carved out by the pedagogy of the Society. For us, the challenge is to see
The first and perhaps most important difference between the discourse of these redemptive societies and the historical Confucian or patrilineal discourse on women was that the rhetoric of confining women to the home in these societies was balanced or countered by a valorization of public or social service. Not only did these societies have an ideology of public service, but they were themselves part of the public sphere. As such, women who participated in them as members, whether as audience or lecturers, were, ipso facto, involved in activities outside the home. Recall that, even in the official articulations of the duty of the Society to create a nested hierarchy of moral obligation linking the individual to the state, the family was not directly linked to the state. This relationship was mediated by the need to fulfill a moral obligation to society. The view of society, or shehui, as a positively evaluated sphere of human—male and female—interaction represented a significant, though not necessarily recognized, departure from earlier historical discourses containing women within the domestic sphere. Mrs. Zhao was one who did recognize the significant difference: "Those of you under the age of forty have had the benefit of a modern education and may work outside the home. Those of us over forty are barely literate and we know little about affairs outside the home. Now this [Morality] society allows us to exchange knowledge: I can go to your home and you to mine; we are not restricted by being rich or poor…. From this it is clear that the future of women is bright. We can come and hear lectures everyday; we can obtain morality: the young can be filial to the old and the old can be kind. I hope my sisters will strive to build the future."
The realm of the social, however, was rife with ambiguity and was emerging as an object of contestation. Even in Mrs. Zhao's comments, which reveal a deeply felt sense of liberation, moral development afforded by the emergence of the social was ultimately brought to bear to restore filiality. While many of the men acknowledged the importance of service to society, they believed that confining women, though not necessarily to the home, was the best possible way for society to develop. Just as the virtuous girls' school was the way to regulate the behavior of girls who were exposed to society, so too, for some of these men, women's participation in the Morality Society was itself an ideal way to control their activities outside the home. The director of the Society, Mr. Feng, had four wives, all of whom, he claimed, were happily involved with the Morality Society, and who regularly ketou (kowtowed) to its teachers. Not everybody in the Society accepted this pattern of containment. Indeed, even among the leadership Wang was prominent in espousing women's education and independence. Girls and women sometimes reacted against efforts at containment. The investigator of a survey of social welfare organizations in Manzhouguo reported an episode at one of the virtuous schools that he witnessed in 1937 in Liaoyuan county.
The investigator, Takizawa Toshihiro, reported that the school and its dormitories were basically well maintained. It derived its income from a wool-weaving
Such reactions to the discursive and institutional efforts to channel women's behavior are less visible in the personal narratives. Nonetheless, the positive evaluation of the realm of the social or public in modern discourse, together with the ambivalence of the leaders (contrast Feng's behavior with Wang's comment on religions denying women), created opportunities that these women seized and utilized to the fullest extent. A Mrs. Bai decided to give up the life of the inner quarters because she realized that the world of women was a very grasping one in which one could not be ethical. By giving lectures in society she can make a living, which permits her to support both her mother and mother-in-law. Thus she can be filial and moral without being dependent upon anyone, neither husband nor children. A recently married woman accepted the foreordained role of the daughter-in-law to be like water: to serve all in the family with devotion—to be filial to her in-laws, help her husband attain a Buddhist nation, be kind to her children—and rid herself of vain desire. At the same time, women can follow the men and devote themselves to social good. Indeed, once one has satisfactorily served the in-laws, it is incumbent in the next phase to serve the world.
Mrs. Chen reveals the significance of public service and the independence that it can bring to women. She emphasizes the utility and value of women in the family and the importance of these qualities in purifying the world and resolving to do good for society. She begins her narrative with an account of how her father-in-law brought her into the household because the education she received from her mother would bring good values into their home. These were the qualities that permitted lishen, the ability to establish oneself. In earlier periods, lishen, to the extent that it referred to women, referred to feminine bodily comportment within the domestic sphere. In a booklet of moral instruction for women that circulated in the late imperial period, lishen is described as a "way of being tranquil [qing] and chaste [zhen]. Tranquillity brings purity [jie] and chastity brings honor [rong]. While walking do not turn back your head; while speaking do not expose your teeth; while sitting, do not move your knees; while standing, do not raise your voice…. When of necessity you have to go out, be sure to veil your face…. Only when you establish your body in such proper and upright ways [lishen duanzheng] can you be a person [fang ke weiren]."
The close connection between personhood and bodily comportment did not disappear during the Republic. Recall the comment of the woman who had
Several points in this personal narrative deserve attention. First, observe the ease with which the meaning of lishen in one context (home) is transferred to another (society), where it may be subversive of the original context. Crucial to this transfer (and subversiveness) is not simply the valorization of social service but the corollary notion of financial autonomy. The notion of liye, often treated in these narratives as a subset of lishen, becomes one of the most important concerns of these women as they seek to establish a material base to enable their role as moral citizens of the Society and the world. Second, note the appropriation of the rhetoric of the Manzhouguo state. Many women were purposeful in their use of state rhetoric and tended to seize any rhetorical openings to advance the condition of women. Finally, there is the conflation of service in the outside world and moral purification of this world. It suggests that participation in the social world is subordinated to ethical and religious goals. These goals occupy the space of authenticity and inner meaning for the individual woman, but it is a space framed by the new patriarchy of the middle class and the state.
The interweaving of these three elements—appropriation of the rhetoric; the act of carving out a space, role, and basis for independent social action; and the employment of this autonomy to achieve the moral and religious goals of the Society—is, adjusting for individual details, a recurring pattern in the women's narratives. Note how Grandmother Cai elides over her unfiliality in an era when universal education has become an unquestioned value: at the age of thirty-three, Grandmother Cai confesses, she defied the wishes of the elders and went off to study. Now she is a grandmother and it is her responsibility to devote herself (jinxin) to the education of her children and grandchildren. She closes with the comment that she is a vegetarian, is deeply religious, and has tried to rid herself of vain desires. Here the value of women's education in wider society, in the modernist rhetoric of the Manzhouguo state as well as in strains within the Morality Society, allows her to justify an earlier act of unfilial behavior. She finesses filiality, however, not only with the superior card of universal education but also with the end play of devotion to spiritual virtues.
The strategy, if it can be called such, is to detach oneself from one kind of pedagogical value but continue to derive meaning from the constitutive representation by emphasizing another of its qualities or values. Thus, while Grandmother Cai concluded her game by leaving the antagonist with the finessed filial card in
The ideal of moral autonomy within lishen is sometimes interpreted in such a radical way that it subverts the very basis of the pedagogy: family values. Thus one Ms. Liu declares that her understanding of lishen includes the philosophy of single living—the merits of remaining unmarried (dushen zhuyi sixiang). We also see a kind of feminist filiality overcoming patriarchy. A Mrs. Liu recalls that her mother was ordered back to her natal home. She and her brother were not permitted to visit her. Later she and her brother devoted themselves to restoring the family and she established a source of livelihood for her mother. This woman goes on to challenge the sages. She says, "The sages ask us to follow the three male figures [sancong] and learn from our husbands. We listen to our husbands, but they do not hear us. My husband eats meat and is not very virtuous, whereas I have only eaten meat once and I am a filial daughter-in-law. Should I not be the one from whom he should learn the Way? But he was formed early, and I am incapable of helping him. Anyway, I am not much concerned about my marriage." Note, however, even in this last episode, the filial link to the mother appears to be the driving sentiment for Mrs. Liu.
Perhaps the episode that best reveals the inseparability of the search for autonomy and the commitment to the moral values of the Society is narrated by the same Mrs. Chen who urged women to take advantage of the job opportunities for them in Manzhouguo. "I was once sent to Beijing to lecture, but my husband followed me and insisted that I return home. Why is it that men can bully women so? I asked the teacher [shanren] if I should return. He replied, ‘You may return. What do you have to fear? All you have to know is whether or not you have the will.’ I returned. In Tianjin I was asked whether I returned of my own will. I nearly wept. I had resolved to return because I remembered that I could not violate my parents' will [ming]. The next time I left, I went away for four years. And so I am what I am today. The important thing is to know your own will [zhi]. It is how and why people make up their minds that is important, not the decision itself. I believe it is important to be filial…. When you have an independent income you are not only, as the teacher says, the iron master [tie caizhu], you become the golden master [jin caizhu]."
But not all the women were as skillful as Mrs. Chen. Mrs. Zhao says that her greatest aspiration is to be a man, so much so that she sometimes forgets that she is a woman. But her nature is that of a woman, her mind is that of a woman, and her body is that of a woman. She needs to remind herself constantly about these constraints. Another woman cites the sages to acknowledge to herself that a woman, in her duty to observe the three obediences, must recognize the limits of her freedom. Mrs. Liu believes that having a woman's heart, she was not filial to her in-laws and did not obey her husband (congf u). Consequently, they brought a "sister" into the household. Now she tries to be a good wife and obeys her husband dutifully. Although they are poor, they are pure inside. Thus we are returned to the pedagogy of authenticity.