Global Asia Journal


Zhao Ma


Occasional Paper No. 5

Document Type



This article examines the formation and operation of lower class women’s

social network in the ghettoized courtyard neighborhood in early

twentieth-century Beijing. Drawing evidence from criminal case files, it

argues that courtyard tenements provided a gendered urban space within

which women formed, extended, and maintained a flexible and dynamic

web of durable relationships. Motivated largely by individual

circumstances and objectives, this neighborhood network remained

personalized, individualized, and “ego-centered” The network did not

come into existence for any type of political movements; nor did it entail

wider female solidarity. But the physical geography of the courtyard

tenements and the development of these neighborhood networks offered

lower class women some immediate protections and buffers when they

were under emotional, domestic or economic crisis. This article argues that

these interpersonal relationships forged within a complex urban space was

an important resource for women to rise themselves out of the intense state

control and economic turmoil in the tumultuous decades of reform and