Tamara Jacka is Professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, in the College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University. She is a feminist scholar with research interests in gender and rural-urban inequalities, rural-urban migration, and social change in China. She is the author of Rural Women in Urban China: Gender, Migration, and Social Change (ME Sharpe 2006), Women, Gender and Rural Development in China (co-authored with Sally Sargeson, Edward Elgar 2011) and Contemporary China: Society and Social Change (co-authored with Andrew Kipnis and Sally Sargeson, Cambridge University Press 2013). She is currently writing an historical ethnography, examining transformations in everyday practices in a village in the central Chinese province of Henan.
Conventional wisdom holds that China’s modern development has been powered by urban industry and commerce. The agrarian family economy, combining home handcraft production and domestic work with small-scale agriculture, is commonly seen as a remnant of the past. This essay proposes a different understanding of the development trajectory of modern China as being underpinned and enabled by exploitation in the agrarian family economy, especially of rural women.