Scholarship and education

Do women need their own Writers' Association?

Jiang Yun

On 19 April, a Women Writers' Association was established in Shanxi Province. Headed by Jiang Yun (蒋韵), a well-known Shanxi novelist, the stated mission of the association is to expand the influence of Shanxi's women writers.

Not everyone welcomed the new organization.Some mocked it using language borrowed from the fierce debate over Britain's Orange Prize: setting up an award (or in this case, an association) specifically for women writers implies that they can't make it in the mainstream. One unnamed industry figure scoffed, "At any rate, the only two famous women writers in Shanxi are Jiang Yun and Ge Shuiping."

Others saw the association as a possible competitor to the Provincial Writers' Association. Jiang Yun deflected those criticisms:

That's impossible. Our group is more like a literary salon, and most of the time we all just talk about a particular topic. We don't have all the departments that the Writers' Association has. And in fact, our first group of members were all women authors from the Shanxi Provincial Writers' Association, so how could we be competing with them?

Besides, Zhang Ping, vice-governor of Shanxi and vice-chair of the Chinese Writers' Association, spoke favorably of the new association at its launch.

In fact, the current controversy may be rooted more in the workings of bureaucracy than in any statement by Jiang or other Association members. The Beijing News reveals that the Association's previous incarnation was the Shanxi Women Writers Club (联谊会), which was founded in 1985 but was shut down in 2005 after failing to file annual inspection reports with the Department of Civil Affairs. When Jiang Yun applied to restart it, they gave her the choice of calling it a "academic society" (学会) or an "association" (协会); most members preferred the latter.

Jiang told the newspaper that she thinks people may have overlooked the "club" of the 1980s because feminist thought wasn't as widespread as it is now.

Tianjin's Morning Post quotes her on the value of a salon for women writers:

Compared to writers who are men, women have it harder. They do basically the same work as men, but once they return home, they have to take on too many domestic responsibilities. Women need a place to pour out their troubles, and literature is one way of doing so. In this regard, women are closer to literature than men, and exchanges between women writers are a little easier.

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