Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | China Seminar

Perceptions of China’s Sexual Economy

Wednesday 10 May 2023
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


This presentation focuses on men and women engaged in China’s sexual economy, which is dominated by the exchange between wealthy and politically influential men and unmarried young women who trade their femininity and sexuality for material wealth and financial security from these men.  Drawing on analyses of the popular 2009 television serial, Woju (Dwelling Narrowness), coupled with recent ethnographic studies, the lecture aims to demonstrate how this sexual economy thrives in the competitive and commercial urban landscape of present-day China.  It views gender dynamics within the context of the socioeconomic changes of the past four decades, and investigates how gender inequality became assimilated into both official and popular discourses of Chinese life, thereby facilitating the ascendancy and power of the sexual economy.

About the speaker

Harriet Zurndorfer is an economic and social historian of China, affiliated with the Leiden Institute for Area Studies.  She is the founder and editor of the journal Nan Nü:  Men, Women and Gender in China now celebrating its 25th volume anniversary; she is one of the editors of the four-volume Cambridge World History of Violence (2020), as well as a contributor to the Cambridge Economic History of China (2022).  Dr. Zurndorfer has published more than 250 reviews, book chapters, and research articles that have appeared in a variety of journals, including:  The American Historical Review, Études chinoises, Gender & History, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, International Journal of Asian Studies, International Review of Social History, Journal of  Chinese History, Journal of Early Modern History, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Ming Studies, Past and Present, and T’oung Pao.  Her most recent study  “Human Trafficking and Piracy in Early Modern East Asia:  Maritime Challenges to the Ming Dynasty Economy, 1370-1565” will be published in Comparative Studies in Society and History later this year.

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