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Title: Cultural politics of the veil : women, the body and neoliberalism in the Chinese Islamic revival
Authors: Gong, Jin
Degree: M.Phil.
Issue Date: 2016
Abstract: The veil, also known as hijab, is a key cultural symbol for Muslim women across the world and embodies one of the major changes in Muslim women's bodily experience, signifying both ethno-religious and gendered visibility of Chinese Muslims. Decades after the abolition of the veil, Muslim women (especially young women) across the country have started to restore such ethno-religious practice by applying Muslim styles from other Islamic conventions. Since 2012, government authorities have launched increasingly explicit campaigns against the veil and the burqua and young men growing their beards long. The Muslim fashion industry has also emerged; young Muslim women have started to consume "fashionable" veils inspired by Turkey, Southeast Asia, and Egypt Muslim fashions. In Muslim populated cities like Kunming, Guangzhou and Yiwu increasing numbers of Muslim women have started to adopt the Turkish and Malaysian style hijab and chador.
Juxtaposing the contested scenes of the veil, this research takes an intersectional perspective of the veil inspired by feminist studies, to understand the veil in forging cultural dominance and agency in a matrix of power involving gender, class, ethnicity, spirituality and global capitalism. Using an ethnographic study of veiling practices in a Hui ethnic minority village of Yunan province, I examine the historical transformation of Muslim women's lived experience in relation to drastic social change over the last few decades. I discuss the issue of the veil and Muslim women in relation to predominant representations and historical transformation within a particular Muslim community. Representations of the veil first appear in three distinct trajectories and epitomize the governance of ethnic differences in contemporary China. This governance relies on privatizing and depoliticizing differences in the name of ethnic harmony, while sustaining the cultural hierarchy that puts ethnic minorities on the less civilized end of social progression. The social transformation of the veil in Nan village challenges the presumptions underpinning representations and women's self-representations of the veil: women's veiling practices are congruent to an unchanging and universal Muslim identity. Mutation of the veil from socialist China to a post-socialist scenario is closely linked to the transfiguration of women's body and labor. Drawing on the disjuncture of two generational cohorts, we can see that the bodily transformation is located in different ways of imagining femininity in different historical contingencies. The shift from "glorifying labor" to "preserving elegance and nobility" signifies the racialization of class relations by deploying discourses of gender essentialism and moral insecurity. The bodily transformation of women is haunted by the specter of class that lurks in the process of racialization. As neoliberalism translates every political or social problem into market terms, it reduces the systematic damage to the subaltern to individual problems with market solutions. In the existential conditions underlined by occult economies and spiritual economics, where religion meets global capitalism, individuals reified in their class positions retreat from the public and revel in the personal and private. The struggles for cultural recognition and economic survival resort to private anxieties and responsibilities for sexuality, morality and family values.
Subjects: Clothing and dress -- Religious aspects -- Islam
Veils -- China.
Veils -- Social aspects.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Pages: 127 pages : color illustrations
Appears in Collections:Thesis

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