China and Inner Asia
The Chinese Universities of Hong Kong (Shenzhen), China (People's Republic)
For women in late imperial China, life was centred around the inner chamber before they married. The reformation of women’s education and an increase in the volume of women’s employment in the early Republican period catalysed an influx of single women, adult and unmarried, to the metropolises. They therefore had the chance to live and socialise outside their native homes. The mobility of these single women then challenged the old spatial-moral segregation of the genders between the inner (nei) and the outer (wai). Therefore, housing these women was not only an ordinary demand but reflects the dynamic formation of new gender relations.
This paper inquires into an emergent mode of housing, namely women’s hostels, throughout the 1930s into the 1940s. Drawing on archival documents, the print media, and literary work about three hostels in a span of ten years, it explores from the perspective of space how different social groups—namely Christian women’s organisations, women professionals, leftwing intellectuals, the CCP and the GMD—shaped the social norm for single women’s daily life in the wartime. For charitable or commercial purposes, women’s hostels facilitated women migrants in Shanghai to lead individual single life temporarily outside their parental homes before/without marriage. Meanwhile, in the hostels, single women’s sociality and sexuality were at once accommodated and regulated. Women’s hotels, it argues, provided a stage on which women’s single life outside the family took shape in the contesting visions of singleness, modern womanhood, and social order.