Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills.

Emily Honig examines the different elements that had an impact on labor movements in Shanghai from 1919 to 1941. She explains how earlier research on labor organizations during the time when Republicans ruled the country led to the emergence of new institutions and agencies at the beginning of the book. The labor movements strengthened during this time of expansion, and their membership counts also significantly increased. (Honig, 1992). In her book, Honig makes the case that the contribution of women—particularly those who worked as laborers—to the development of organizations has been underappreciated. In other parts such as Shanghai, there were many women workers than men. The largest industry during this period was the cotton mill and women were the majority laborers. Honig focuses on this industry and other women; they formed foundations and organizations in which they were supposed to look out for each other's welfare. The working conditions in the new urban centers were becoming harsh; the women formed foundations and movements so that they could fight for each other. They developed loyalties towards each other and pledged to the sisterhood. Honig describes the life of the women as terrible; she examines the life of the women in and out of the mills that they were working for (Honig, 1992). She also describes the relationship between the cotton mill owners and the women as a complicated relationship; their relationship was flexible as it depended on many factors. In the plants, women from different religions were segregated into the various groups. The segregation also depended on the various native places where the women came from. Imperialism complicated the division further, for instance, Women from Subei were more likely to take up laborer jobs in the mills that were run by Japanese because they received proper treatment in this mills than in the Chinese owned mills. Other factors that led to the women forming the organization include the Green Gang; this was a kidnapping syndicate that sparked protests. Also, the foreign and domestic capitalists led to the protests by the laborers. In the book, a focus is given to a particular protest in 1949. The protests were violent and were staged by women laborers in one of the major mills in Shanghai, the women in this mill were supported by other workers from other millers. Women in other professions also helped these women who were protesting; this showed how much the women were committed to one another (Honig, 1992). The women had formed associations such as the sisterhood in which they supported each other and protected themselves too. Many changes took place in the 1940s, they made these small groups formed by women to develop into bigger groups, and they even became political-conscious. The groups got empowerment through associations such as the YWCA, the organization offered training to the women through their night training programs. Women got more empowered and enlightened. The book by Honig is well organized, and its presentations are clear. The chapters are well arranged in a way that one can form a picture of the events happening logically. The significant fact that the role of women in building the modest China is overlooked is well thought and brought out in this book. The writer presents all her arguments clearly and in a way that they can be easily understood.


Honig, Emily. Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai cotton mills, 1919-1949. Stanford University Press, 1992.

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