- Associate Professor
- University of Chicago
For decades after the 1949 revolution, people in rural China still wore homespun cloth and millions of rural women continued to spend large parts of their waking hours producing cloth and clothing. This is puzzling because the state opposed manual cloth production on the grounds that it was wasteful of labor and raw materials. Moreover, a state monopoly should have ensured that all cotton ended up in the hands of the state. Yet handloom cloth survived, in part because its production was integrated with gender norms and with a gift economy that prescribed ritual exchanges at life cycle events; in part because the existence of interlocking scarcities of grain, cash, cotton, and cloth forced rural people to sell state-issued rations and make cloth from whatever cotton they could find.