Interview with Margaret Ng

Dublin Core


Interview with Margaret Ng


Women's studies; Women's rights--Cross-cultural studies; Classroom environment; East Asia; Southeast Asia


This is an interview with Dr. Margaret Ng. Dr. Ng is a Professor of History at the College of Wooster. She teaches class about traditional and modern China and focuses on the women, family, the body, and medicine. The interview discusses incorporating feminist pedagogies and power structures in the classroom, as well as non-western sources of feminist structures. Dr. Ng's transnational education from her youth in Singapore, education in Canada, and professorship in the United States provides a wide scope perspectives and many histories and feminisms to consider.


Lang, Abigail
Ng, Margaret






College of Wooster Libraries; Queer and Feminist Pedagogy Workshop, funded by the Hewlett-Melon Foundation


Presented with Permission from Maragret Ng

In Copyright










College of Wooster; McGill University; China; Singapore; Japan; South-East Asia

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Lang, Abigail


Margaret Ng


College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio


[00:00:00] Abigail Lang: Hello, this is Abby Lang. I am a History and WGSS double major. Today is September 13th, 2018 and I am here with Dr. Margaret Ng from the College of Wooster. So, our first question today is what is your primary area of study and how do you incorporate a feminist or queer approach into your teaching?

[00:00:24] Margaret Ng: Hello, thank you Abby and thank you for inviting me to do this interview. So, my primary area of research is geographically East Asia and more specifically China. [I am a historian of medicine.] The medical texts I study were distributed all over East Asia, especially to Japan and Korea and South-East Asia. My focus is on the history of obstetrics. [Childbirth] concerns not only women physically, but also involves families. [Obstetrics is called chanke in Chinese and gynecology is fuke.] Both chanke and fuke are my areas of study. And the other question which is also very big (laughs) is… how do I incorporate feminist or queer pedagogy in my teaching?

[00:01:38] AL: Yes.

[00:01:38] MN: I usually try to define feminist [pedagogy]. Queer [pedagogy] I don’t define. When I do incorporate it in my teaching, it is usually in the context of a class on sex, sexualities and gender, and the range of bodies and identities you can have in China’s very long history.
[I start with the androgynous body found in the Chinese classic, Huandi neijing suwen (Inner Classics of the Yellow Emperor) from early China, then I continue with introducing bodies with more yin and were classified as having yin qualities, feminine in association, etc. These yin bodies often had yin parts, they could be identified as female. The opposite is true for yang bodies or bodies with more yang qualities. There were many throughout history with all that range of yin-yang qualities. A person could have yin parts, i.e. a vagina, but have an abundance of yang qualities and behave as a yang person or a man.]

Chinese history is so long and examples from its history is very wide ranging. This allows me to apply [the idea of feminist pedagogy (i.e. the center of women or yin qualities)] and use the same type of terminology in my teaching. However, the closer I get to… periods when there is interaction with European or North American feminist ideology, [the more interesting it becomes.] I try not to read back into history and assume that some of these terms would have the same salience, but I see these terms as very important in helping me ask difficult questions about the past. When I do apply feminist pedagogy, I don’t always explicitly tell my students, especially in the survey class that we have [Traditional Chinese History], but in my class on body and medicine I’m very explicit... By explicit, I would actually name the theorist and their theories. I would also challenge certain norms that I know exist today that didn’t exist then. So, it’s on multiple levels that I’m applying it.

[00:03:45] AL: Alright, who or what were some of your biggest influence in these feminist or queer pedagogies? So, things like teachers or mentors, books, life experiences, or even people within your field that influence these pedagogies.

[00:04:01] MN: In terms of scholarship, like you I was introduced to some of these early feminist theorists like Judith Butler very early on in my career as a master’s student at McGill. In my undergraduate classes, [my exposure was through literary scholars in my English Literature classes (Canadian women writers like Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Susanna Moodie, Catherine Parr Traill, and American writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker). I did not react positive to second wave feminism, and was drawn more to the third wave.] Most of the feminist theories I studied in graduate school were academic [and I found it hard to apply to my daily life.] It’s really over the course of my… life working in different parts of the world, having worked in Singapore and Japan, where ideas of gender and identities [are] radically different from the West, [and my own experience as a woman coming up against patriarchy where I learn to question and apply the theories. My time at Wooster has allowed me to] formulate my own sense of what it means to be a feminist scholar or to talk about such topics. Working alongside women with strong ideas of feminism and women’s rights have played a very big role in how I redefine myself as a feminist scholar.

[My journey towards a strong sense of women’s position in society started earlier.] I went to a Catholic Convent for twelve years in Singapore. It was an all-girls school, bilingual in English and Chinese. My teachers were nuns [or sisters] and they were just amazing. For example, when I was in primary 6 which is around twelve years old, during hymn singing practices, my teacher Sister Patricia introduced to me songs by Madonna’s “Papa don’t Preach,” “La Ista Bonita” and the group Abba. At that time I didn’t realize those were pop music from the West. [In Singapore at that time, coming from a Chinese-Teochew speaking family, I was listening mostly to Chinese music, and in school we were educated in English. I would subsequently realize that Sister Patricia had introduced] popular music from the US and that Madonna was very subversive, especially in the Catholic church. [Sister Patricia was a Catholic nun who was introducing subversive popular music that opposed or critiqued the church.] Therefore, I would say that women in my life have all been very strong and I tend to want to be around strong women too. I would like to qualify that being strong doesn’t make you a feminist of course. I am therefore drawn to women who are strong, but also very intentionally are trying to challenge established systems that limit the role of women. That has been crucial for me.

[00:07:04] AL: Alright, when was a time where you saw queer or feminist pedagogy having positive influence or work well in the classroom?

[00:07:14] MG: I think that… there has to be a culture in the institution… for that to happen. I recall teaching at McGill University in a history class. I was an adjunct [teaching one course, Modern Chinese History.] I invited somebody to give a talk on Chinese women, and in the talk, the speaker interrogated common stereotypes [and categories of women and gender norms applied to Chinese women.] A student got very upset and came up to me and said, ‘Well, you know, if my parents knew that I was paying good money to study about women and feminism, they’d be very upset’ I was so shocked and mad. I did not know what to do. I’ve never had that experience here. Here, I’ve been able to bring in all types of scholarship that I think is suitable. And I think the culture of an institution is extremely important in engendering and enabling feminist and queer pedagogy or methods of teaching.

[00:08:30] AL: Is there any practices that in particular you bring into the classroom or- I recall the other day during class, you were talking about- to us about power structures in the classroom and how you’re the one that stands in the front and we all just kind of pay attention and all our focus is on you and that reminds me, we’ve been reading a book by bell hooks, her book on feminist pedagogy [Teaching to Transgress] and she talks a lot about that, about power structures in the classroom and about creating more of a community of the classroom. And like this power of education and Paulo Freire. Do you- Are you familiar with any of that or is that something you keep in mind usually in the classroom?

[00:09:20] MN: Right, power is such an interesting word, right? Because I think when I mentioned it in class I also mentioned that while it seems as if I have power, I actually don’t have as much power as it looks. I was thinking about Foucault [and his ideas on] how power is so diffused and its multilayered, [and that was a moment where I wanted to highlight that point.] I’m actually very conscious about power dynamics in classrooms, and I grapple with who gets to speak, the power of certain voices over those who are quiet or silenced. And I can see that in our class. Some individuals are very used to having certain attention and it’s a power play sometimes where they want the professor’s attention [or for the professor to affirm that positions.] I’m very conscious not to deny that, but more importantly to redistribute that power that students would have. Especially students who are not very proactive in trying to carve out a space to speak. Although I do sometimes ask students who are very quiet or who don’t usually speak up, I try to be respectful because I think some people just do not want to speak in public. I have to respect that. I’m constantly trying to move back and forth to gain that equilibrium. In fact [my] power is totally useless in this context of trying to create a conducive environment in the classroom to learn [and students have a lot more say] and I’m very aware of it.

[00:11:06] AL: Alright, and you spoke a little bit about this at your previous institution but, what kind of challenges do you think professors face when bringing feminist or queer pedagogy into the classroom? So, things like implementing the techniques or even the classroom dynamic or even more institutional side like hiring or reviews, tenure.

[00:11:33] MN: Those are big questions. (both laugh) So, let’s start with the classroom. I think… the problem would be that I think here at the College especially, students who are taking my classes, they are very aware of my position or my positionality as a scholar who will introduce [non-Western or non-Eurocentric ideas.] I am very invested in introducing multiple perspectives especially those of women, and not just of women, of men and women who have taken on certain identities throughout history that doesn’t conform to the norm or the standards. And added to that is this idea of colonized people, [and the need to provide a space for their voice.] I’m a Southeast Asian. I speak English because I’m a colonial subject. And that I need to be able to move back and forth in these multiple worlds. The intersectionality of multiple things [dominate how I see my work as a teacher of history.] I need to choose what I want to emphasize, which is diverse perspectives and sometimes subversive notions. And I think that students are not always attuned or open to that, because there’s a certain level of urgency about what a feminist agenda might be or a queer agenda might be today, [I do sense some opposition.] But I’m a historian so I’m looking at the past, [that provides more distance from today. At the College of Wooster,] it has so far been pretty welcoming and conducive [to the type of teaching I do.] I’m very intentional when I want to do something that introduces some feminist or queer content, [or how to introduce it in a way that will engage students who are otherwise antagonistic towards these ideas.] In terms of tenure in a higher educational institution, I think the institution is very, very patriarchal. This patriarchy is not only male focused, but women sustain the patriarchy. I think that as long as we don’t have a diverse set of leaders and leadership examples, we’re always going to be stuck in this certain kind of a rut about thinking what good scholarship is, what kind of public speaking is acceptable and I think it’s still very, very conservative in many places. But at the same time, I see myself implicated in it. I don’t beat myself over it, but I know that I’m a part of the problem and I try not to be. [I know that I need to transform and change.]

[00:14:50]AL: And speaking about this workshop what motivated you to participate in the workshop and what do you hope to get out of it?

[00:14:58] MN: I’ve cross-listed several of my classes with WGSS. These are my classes on Medicine, the history of the Body and [an upper-level class] on the Body and Nation. The content that I introduce is very important in getting students to think very differently [about how we see or treat the body. We interrogate how different types of bodies and experiences engender different types of relationships]. and how these are implicated with state powers. However, I don’t explicitly use some of the language that I know is used in WGSS classes, so I wanted to learn from my colleagues. I think that Chinese feminist and queer scholarship or Taiwanese, Japanese. [Feminist agendas and history are all very interesting and have a lot to offer.] These are however very complicated, and are implicated in language, translation practices, and in geopolitics. [The issues about how women and women’s history and roles in societies continue to be sources of tension in East Asia today.]

[00:16:22] AL: And finally, is there anything that we have not talked about yet that you would like to bring up?

[00:16:29] MN: (laughs) I think that you know I don’t... No, I don’t have anything. You know, I’m a clean, open slate now and I’m waiting just looking forward to the workshop so that I can learn, yeah. Thank you, and I really appreciate your commitment and your enthusiasm, because this is what makes my work meaningful actually, to see you, you know, and the next generation doing it. Thank you.

[00:17:00] AL: Alright, thank you.





Lang, Abigail and Ng, Margaret, “Interview with Margaret Ng,” WGSS at Wooster: Past, Present, and Future , accessed July 22, 2024,