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Robert Cliver

Apr 27, 2022

Red Silk

Class, Gender, and Revolution in China's Yangzi Delta Silk Industry

Harvard University Press 2020

Red Silk: Class, Gender, and Revolution in China's Yangzi Delta Silk Industry (Harvard UP, 2020) is a history of China's Yangzi Delta silk industry during the wars, crises, and revolutions of the mid-twentieth century. Based on extensive research in Chinese archives and focused on the 1950s, the book compares two very different groups of silk workers and their experiences in the revolution. Male silk weavers in Shanghai factories enjoyed close ties to the Communist party-state and benefited greatly from socialist policies after 1949. In contrast, workers in silk thread mills, or filatures, were mostly young women who lacked powerful organizations or ties to the revolutionary regime. For many filature workers, working conditions changed little after 1949 and politicized production campaigns added a new burden within the brutal and oppressive factory regime in place since the nineteenth century. Both groups of workers and their employers had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Their actions--protests, petitions, bribery, tax evasion--compelled the party-state to adjust its policies, producing new challenges. The results, though initially positive for many, were ultimately disastrous. By the end of the 1950s, there was widespread conflict and deprivation among silk workers and, despite its impressive recovery under Communist rule, the industry faced a crisis worse than war and revolution.

Robert Cliver is Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt. He has published widely on the labor  history of modern China, including in Labor History and Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review.

Ghassan Moazzin is an Assistant Professor at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong. He works on the economic and business history of 19th and 20th century China, with a particular focus on the history of foreign banking, international finance and electricity in modern China. His first book, Foreign Banks and Global Finance in Modern China: Banking on the Chinese Frontier, 1870–1919, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

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Ghassan Moazzin

Ghassan Moazzin is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He works on the economic and business history of 19th and 20th century China. You can find out more about his work on his website. He is also on twitter @ghassanmoazzin.

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