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 rural sector, women were not only the targets of liberation but also an instrument for achieving it. In 1950, the Land Reform Act was established to improve the economic conditions of the peasant workers through land redistribution. The CCP believed that by giving the farmers more access to viable and fertile land, the productivity of those workers would improve. These reforms were also intended to break up the landowning monopoly which was established through feudalism. Mao believed that most of the oppression that women faced could be linked to the political authority of the landlord. Therefore, the breakdown of the economic relations would then enact a breakdown of the social relations between the sexes. The Land Reform Act gave women the chance to own property and have equal rights to work on the land. This control over the land capital extended to the household where women were seen as self-supporting contributors of the family which changed their role tremendously. The Marriage Law allowed women the right to reassess their marriage agreements. Under the law, men and women were allowed to divorce out of arranged and unarranged marriages. Yet, the act had to be re-accessed in late 1952 when political influences saw the law as a threat to the traditional family. The CCP stopped their direct influence in marital affairs and became mediators between the spouses. The law was eventually terminated in 1953 because of mounting pressures.

 

 

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.

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