The Lives of Rural and Urban Chinese Women Under State-Capitalism
Mao Zedong once said that "women hold up half the sky". The full equality of women was a major proponent of Mao's state capitalistic mission. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power during the beginning of the turbulent year of 1949. Mao wanted to create a country without oppression where women were equal and fully participated in all spheres of society. The struggle against the oppression would involve eliminating the double consciousness that women faced. First, China would have to eleviate the oppression women shared with the men of their class and second, the oppression that occurred within their communities and families. The CCP believed that to mobilize women to participate fully in the political and military struggle would improve the country as a whole.
Previous to the revolution,
the situation of women was oppressive. In traditional Chinese society,
everything was formed around the family. Women were expected to have blind
obedience to the men of the household and were often uneducated. Locked
in the domestic sphere, women were isolated from the social and economic
politics of China. This isolation contributed to the idea of women's inferiority.
Confucius believed that "men who worked with their brains were superior
to those who worked with their hands." (Yao, 155) Under feudalism,
women were required to work in the home while also working in the field.
Women's work was transformed into wealth for their husbands and the feudal
lord. Under this system, women were utterly dependent on men, whether
they were their fathers, husbands or sons. This dependency created a societal
attitude which condoned violence against women and the dis-valuation of
women who bore daughters.
In the urban sector, the government initially failed to provide adequate employment opportunities for women. The employment of women fluctuated with the political and economic uncertainty of the CCP. During the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) the government set up communes, street industries, and industrial management which required mass participation from men and women. These industries boomed which allowed many women to enter into the light industry workforce. The government also encouraged women to open up their own small businesses in their neighborhoods as well as in their homes. Women were given nearly equal wages to men in the factories as well as allowed special benefits specific to the needs of women such as child care and part-time work. The entrepreneurship of these women and the government initiatives employed over 180,000 women in Beijing alone.