Cover image for Holding up more than half the sky : Chinese women garment workers in New York city, 1948-92
Holding up more than half the sky : Chinese women garment workers in New York city, 1948-92
Bao, Xiaolan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 330 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD6073.C6 U533 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In 1982, twenty thousand Chinese-American garment workers-mostly women--went on strike in New York's Chinatown and forced every Chinese garment industry employer in the city to sign a union contract. In this pioneering study, Xiaolan Bao penetrates to the heart of Chinese-American society to explain how this militancy and organized protest, seemingly so at odds with traditional Chinese female behavior, came about.Bao conducted more than a hundred interviews, primarily with Chinese immigrant women who were working or had worked in the Chinatown garment shops and garment-related institutions in the city. Blending these poignant, often dramatic personal stories with a detailed history of the garment industry, Chinese immigrant labor, and the Chinese community in New York, Bao shows how the high rate of married women participating in wage-earning labor outside the home profoundly transformed family culture and with it the image and empowerment of Chinese-American women.Bao offers a complex and subtle discussion of the interplay of ethnic and class factors within the garment industry in New York City. She examines the exploitative paternalism, rooted in ethnic social and economic structures, by which operators sustained low wages and marginal working conditions. She also documents the uneasy relationship between the ILGWU and rank-and-file women garment workers whose claim to direct representation was essentially ignored by union leadership. Through the words of the women workers themselves, Bao shows how their changing positions within their families and within the workplace galvanized them to unite and stand up for themselves. Passionately told and prodigiously documented, 3Holding Up More Than Half the Sky is an important contribution to Asian-American history, labor history, and the history of women.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

This study on immigrant Chinese women workers in the New York City garment industry adds to a growing list of good books published in the past decade on immigrant women workers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City, where most of the workers are concentrated. Bao (history, California State Univ., Long Beach) uses her formidable linguistic skills and insider perspective as a female Chinese immigrant who lived with worker families in Chinatown and herself worked briefly as a garment worker to make unique and significant contributions beyond the sweatshop debate and the impact of globalization. First and foremost, she provides a rich, sensitive, and very sympathetic portrait of the women workers from the immediate postwar years to the 1990s. Distilled from over 100 interviews designed to challenge the prevailing stereotype of passivity and unassimilability, the varied voices of several generations of garment workers are poignant, feisty, articulate, and analytical about their objective conditions and expressive about their subjectivities as workers, immigrants, wives, and mothers. The author provides a most detailed and nuanced history of these workers with the union (ILGWU), and argues for a new US labor history that does not privilege class over race/ethnicity and gender. Upper-division undergraduates and above. E. Hu-DeHart University of Colorado at Boulder