Documentary Drama and Social Movement Activism in China by Ceclia Milwertz

15. Sep 2008

Public consciousness raising in which poor girls at a school in Guangxi province or rural women in Hebei province create documentary drama based on their own lives are generally not viewed as politically significant events. However, in the long run the involvement of people in documentary drama activities may turn out to have far-reaching implications for the development of the women’s movement in China. Urban activists in non-governmental organizing are reaching out not only to young students, but also to peasant women to build strategic alliances based on common gender interests. These alliances acknowledge, but also strategically transcend differences such as class, education, and rural-urban location. Like women in other parts of Asia, Chinese activists too are making claims in terms of a strategic universalism based on a shared humanity.


Increasingly, studies of popular organizing and social movement activities in the People’s Republic of China are recognizing the importance of alliances and interaction between activists and the party-state. Rather than viewing the state-society relationship as dichotomous, it is being argued that the heterogeneous nature of both state and society and their multifarious interactions must be acknowledged. It can be argued that political and social reforms are thoroughly alive in China, and that they are based on the two elements of, on the one hand, an increasing number of active citizens who are voicing interests and demands, and, on the other hand, a party-state that is open to change. If we accept the importance of an increasing number of active citizens in moving forward this trend, then it is time to focus more on how the intellectual core of the women’s movement, as well as that of other social movements, interacts not only with the state, but also with the general public.   

Two research projects in the Gender Politics in Asia research theme at NIAS are concerned with these and other aspects of non-governmental organizing within the women’s movement in China.