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Palgrave Macmillan

Embodying Middle Class Gender Aspirations

Perspectives from China’s Privileged Young Women

  • Book
  • © 2021


  • Offers a feminist approach to explore how gender affects the lives of well-educated urban Chinese women born in the 1980s
  • Examines gendered attitudes in China to and experiences of marriage, reproductive choices, career and aspirations for a good life
  • Considers feminist theories on gender and intersectionality

Part of the book series: Gender, Sexualities and Culture in Asia (GSCA)

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


About this book

This book takes a feminist approach to analyse the lives of well-educated urban Chinese women, who were raised to embody the ideals of a modern Chinese nation and are largely the beneficiaries of the policy changes of the post-Mao era. It explores young women’s gendered attitudes to and experiences of marriage, reproductive choices, careers and aspirations for a good life. It sheds light on what keeps mainstream Chinese middle-class women conforming to the current gender regime. It illuminates the contradictory effects of neoliberal techniques deployed by a familial authoritarian regime on these women’s striving for success in urban China, and argues that, paradoxically, women’s individualistic determination to succeed has often led them onto the path of conformity by pursuing exemplary norms which fit into the party-state’s agenda. 


“The book is enormously refreshing and inspiring. … The book allows us to reconsider and revalue the significance of feminist activism, which in today’s world is increasingly contested. Readers can reflect on the issue of gender inequality and realise the relevance of feminism.” (Zeng Lijin, Gender, Place & Culture, August 30, 2021) "Kailing Xie’s book is a must read for anyone who still imagines that improved education and wealth lead inexorably to liberal values of gender equality, as exponents of modernisation theory would have it.  Xie argues that this is far from the case.  Indeed, reading this volume one could be forgiven for asking what happened to the legacy of “gender equality” promoted by China’s socialist transformation? Drawing on interviews with privileged and often highly educated young urban women and some men in Shanghai and Chengdu, Xie explores attitudes to marriage, childbearing, career and aspirations for a good life in a discursive environment dominated by the global circulation of neo-liberal values of individual success, combined in the national context with popular Confucian concepts of family order and gender hierarchy. Embodying Middle Class Gender Aspirations throws into sharp relief a key contradiction of China’s particular brand of a market reform, shaped in recentyears by the rhetoric of Xi’s Chinese Dream. The celebration of a self-authorising, competitive, consumer-oriented and individualistic middle-class subject at the vanguard of China’s state-capitalism simultaneously promotes a new gender and social conformity that far from upholding emancipatory ideals, sustains the family-centered hierarchies of social order and control espoused by the party-state’s agenda. Xie’s book thus adds another chapter to our understanding of how engagement with global capitalism can both promote the fulfilment of individual middle-class aspirations at the same time as it reinforces conservative family and gender values."

— Harriet Evans, Professor Emerita, Chinese Cultural Studies, University of Westminster, Visiting Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, UKProfessor Emerita, Chinese Cultural Studies, University of Westminster, Visiting Professor of Anthropology, London Schoolof Economics and Political Science, UK

"The women born of China's one-child generation were considered the lucky ones-- with no brothers to compete with, they were given unprecedented opportunities to excel at school and at work. But with slumping population growth, a fast-aging society and a female shortage, China's 'lucky generation' of women are now bearing the brunt of the party-state's agenda: facing workplace discrimination and enormous societal pressure to be mothers and caretakers.  Kailing Xie's incisive scholarly analysis of the pressures faced by her generation is necessary reading for anyone interested in the far-reaching consequences of the one-child policy, one of the most radical social experiments in modern history. Xie grew up thinking her life was 'like a honey jar, but discovers 'a pretty fish tank is better suited to describe the lives of China's privileged daughters, including myself: it appears to have no boundaries until you hit the invisible glass walls."

— Mei Fong, the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment?


"Selecting the most private moments of women’s lives, Dr. Xie vividly depicts well-educated urban daughters’ aspirations in striving for success".

— Xiying Wang, Professor, Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University  Author of Gender, Dating and Violence in Urban China 

Authors and Affiliations

  • University of Warwick, Coventry, UK

    Kailing Xie

About the author

Kailing Xie (PhD) is a Teaching Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, UK. She gained her doctorate at the Centre for Women’s Studies, University of York. She was awarded the 2017 Early Career Researcher Prize by the British Association for Chinese Studies for her article ‘Premarital Abortion, What is the Harm? The Responsibilisation of Women’s Pregnancy among China’s “Privileged” Daughters’. Her broader research interests include gender, identity, and nationalism against the backdrop of China’s rise on the global stage. 


Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Embodying Middle Class Gender Aspirations

  • Book Subtitle: Perspectives from China’s Privileged Young Women

  • Authors: Kailing Xie

  • Series Title: Gender, Sexualities and Culture in Asia

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Singapore

  • eBook Packages: Social Sciences, Social Sciences (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2021

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-981-16-1138-4Published: 26 April 2021

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-981-16-1141-4Published: 27 April 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-981-16-1139-1Published: 25 April 2021

  • Series ISSN: 2662-7884

  • Series E-ISSN: 2662-7892

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XIX, 303

  • Number of Illustrations: 1 b/w illustrations, 10 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: Politics and Gender, History of China, Gender Studies

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