Histories of Home
6 December 2011
Helen Schneider (University of Oxford)
Domestic responsibilities: the discipline of home economics in twentieth century China

Chinese traditional style kitchen built in the Qing Dynasty of China , located in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China

The development of home economics education in China in the early twentieth-century was in part a parallel to similar developments in America and the Western world, but also in part an attempt in China to improve standards.  There was an entrenched belief that women were naturally inclined toward homemaking and that home economics study was to supplement and improve the skills Chinese woman already possessed.  Helen Schneider looks at how home economics provide us the opportunity to study gender roles, family, and the organisation of the home in the early twentieth century.  The Chinese example, as of those elsewhere, favoured a push towards making home economics a science focusing on hygiene, food chemistry, house design and time management skills amongst much else.  Practice homes were created to train students where decisions were made as to how western or how Chinese these should be.  For instance electric lights were added (which were less common in China than in America) but chopsticks remained.  The rise of home economics as a discipline fell again as the century progressed and it is now a largely forgotten footnote both in China and the West, yet as Schneider shows us, there is still much that can be learnt from its study. 

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