China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



2012 Feb 28 in The China Beat


Copyright 2012 Elizabeth LaCouture.


In 1940, China’s Nationalist Ministry of Education issued a decree from its wartime capital of Chongqing. At a time when Japan occupied China’s eastern seaboard and the Communists controlled the north, the Ministry called on educators and homemakers to “cultivate children’s happiness.” Doing more with less, teachers and mothers were supposed to make children believe that “even if the food is unsatisfactory, the clothes are inadequate, or the habitation is insufficient… it is still very good” (p. 1). In Keeping the Nation’s House, Helen Schneider explores how Chinese educators and the Chinese state transformed the seemingly frivolous and individualistic bourgeois concept of domestic happiness into a political ideology that promised to save the Chinese nation. Schneider’s methodically researched monograph charts the rise and fall (and rise again) of home economics in twentieth-century China, arguing that home economics became an academic discipline when it introduced new modern and political meanings into the Chinese home. Using women’s magazines, educational debates, and home economics curricula as evidence, Schneider suggests that happy homes in Republican-era China were hygienic, healthful, efficient, and above all, the cornerstone of national salvation.