With the “consumption turn” in the humanities and the social sciences, a phenomenon evident in English-language scholarship from the 1980s onward, production ceased to command the attention it had once received from historians. A recent (2012) study of the sewing machine in modern Japan by Harvard historian Andrew Gordon demonstrates the effects: what could feasibly have been published under the title “Making Machinists” was instead marketed as “Fabricating Consumers.” What does it mean to talk about consumers in 1950s Japan, a time and place of hard work, thrift, and restraint? For Gordon an important premise was the role of women in the postwar economy. This provides a point of departure from which to explore the ideologies and practices of production and consumption across the Cold War dividing line between “consumerist” and “productionist” regimes in East Asia. The Cold War was a time of sharp differences between the two societies, but also a time of shared preoccupations with productivity and national growth. In their different political contexts, Japanese and Chinese women were acting out many of the same roles.

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