From 1937 to 1949, Beijing was in a state of crisis. The combined forces of Japanese occupation, civil war, runaway inflation, and reformist campaigns and revolutionary efforts wreaked havoc on the city’s economy, upset the political order, and threatened the social and moral fabric as well. Women, especially lower-class women living in Beijing’s tenement neighborhoods, were among those most affected by these upheavals. Delving into testimonies from criminal case files, Zhao Ma explores intimate accounts of lower-class women’s struggles with poverty, deprivation, and marital strife. By uncovering the set of everyday tactics that women devised and utilized in their personal efforts to cope with predatory policies and crushing poverty, this book reveals an urban underworld that was built on an informal economy and conducted primarily through neighborhood networks. Where necessary, women relied on customary practices, hierarchical patterns of household authority, illegitimate relationships, and criminal entrepreneurship to get by. Women’s survival tactics, embedded in and reproduced by their everyday experience, opened possibilities for them to modify the male-dominated city and, more importantly, allowed women to subtly deflect, subvert, and “escape without leaving” powerful forces such as the surveillance state, reformist discourse, and revolutionary politics during and beyond wartime Beijing.
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