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‘You are not Young Anymore!’: Gender, Age and the Politics of Reproduction in Post-reform China

Abstract

Based on in-depth interview data and popular culture texts, the current study has explored the politics of reproduction revolving around women’s age in contemporary China. Conceptualizing reproduction as a site of contestation and politics between different, and often contradictory, sets of discourses and power structures, I pursue a feminist and social constructivist analysis of the politics of reproduction in the lives of a group of urban professional women who are yet to enter motherhood at their late 20s and 30s. I engage with Inhorn’s (2009) concept of ‘disrupted reproduction’ to highlight the politically, morally and emotionally charged contestations in the ‘problematized’ reproductive lives of these women. I unveil how Chinese professional women beyond their ‘reproductive prime’ are discursively constructed as ‘disrupters’, who fail their femininity test tied to a motherhood identity within the family context, challenge the ‘natural’ biological law regulating their reproductive bodies, and face a doomed reproductive future fraught with medical, physical and emotional traumas which ART cannot alleviate. Such a discourse renders invisible the structural causes of problems and challenges professional women face in negotiating parenthood, social norms and selfhood, which systematically put them under pervasive social surveillance and discipline.

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Data Availability

Relevant data and materials are stored in accordance with the NUS-IRB ethics protocols. The author wishes to keep the research data confidential to protect respondents’ individual privacy.

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Acknowledgements

This paper emerges from the conference on ‘Reproduction, Demography and Cultural Anxieties in India and China in the 21st Century’, held at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi in February 2020. I am grateful to the three guest-editors –Professors Anindita Majumdar, Ravinder Kaur and Paro Mishra– and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Xiaorong Gu.

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The fieldwork reported in this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of National University of Singapore (Ref Code: S-18-142).

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Gu, X. ‘You are not Young Anymore!’: Gender, Age and the Politics of Reproduction in Post-reform China. ABR 13, 57–76 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41649-020-00157-9

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Keywords

  • Reproductive disruption
  • Discourse on maternal age
  • Professional women
  • Post-reform China