Sewing machines as dowry gifts in the Mao and Deng years (Antonia Finnane, University of Melbourne)

Antonia Finnane

University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

The sewing machine was a milestone in the lives of people in China in the second half of the twentieth century and is a familiar point of reference in memoirs of that time.  Stories about sewing machines appear in autobiographical works, in print or digital form, often in the form of tales of female and/or filial piety, in which the daughter or son pays tribute to the mother.  In the scholarly literature on family formation in late twentieth-century China, the sewing machine often makes a brief appearance in the role of dowry gift. This might be part of the direct dowry, provided by the bride’s family, or indirect dowry, provided by the groom’s family as a betrothal gift but actually meant for the newly married couple.  Based on archival and biographical materials, this paper shows that as a dowry item (direct or indirect), the sewing machine actually makes a rather late appearance in China, but that it figured significantly in family relationships before that time.


Professor Antonia Finnane is an historian of China, with interests in urban society, fashion and gender. She is the author of Speaking of Yangzhou: A Chinese City, 1500-1800 (Harvard University Asia Center 2004) and Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation (Columbia University Press 2008). She is currently writing a book about making clothes in Mao’s China.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd