Even since the dramatic post-1949 changes in China regarding the role of women, China has remained paternalistic in it’s attitudes and social
reality. The land reform, which was intended to create a more balanced
economic force in marriage, was the beginning of governmental efforts to
pacify women, with no real social effect. Communist China needed to address the woman question. Since women wanted more equality, and equality is doled out from the hands of those in power,capitalism was examined. The economic issues of repressed Chinese women
were focused on the Land Act and the Marriage Act of 1950. The Land reform
succeeded in eliminating the extended family’s material basis and hence,
its potential for posing as a political threat to the regime. Small-plots
were redistributed to each family member regardless of age or sex; and land
reform provisions stipulated that property would be equally divided in the
case of divorce. Nonetheless, their husbands effectively controlled land
allotted to women. Patriarchal familial relationships in the Confucian
tradition seemed to remain intact.
The Marriage Law of 1950 legalized marriage, denounced patriarchal
authority in the household and granted both sexes equal rights to file for
divorce. The second and most prominent element of the strategy was
integrating women into economic development. Women’s employment was viewed
as a prerequisite for emancipation from bourgeois structures as embodied in
the patriarchal family. Furthermore, at the core of the CCP’s strategy for
political consolidation was economic reconstruction and rural development.
The full participation of women was not only an ideological imperative but
a pragmatic one. Third, the All-China Women’s Federation (W.F.) was
established by the CCP to mobilize women for economic development and
social reform. Women did succeed in gaining materialisticly.
However, culture dictates whether these governmental attempts can be
successful and China has proven that they were only panaceas for the real
issue. Materialistic approaches could not shadow the issue of the view in
Chinese society of the role of women. In the struggle for equality, China
did not go to the women to find what they believed to be the most effective
answer to the issue. The paternalistic powers gave women what they thought
they needed for an equalizer, not understanding the need for
self-affirmation and independence.
The issue the women rallied under was that men were answering the woman
question. Women’s organizations were not allowed their voice, which became
an ironic and frustrating endorsement to the pathetic state of women in
The One-Family, One-Child policy launched in 1979 has turned reproduction
into an area of direct state intervention. The new regime under Deng made
the neo-Malthusian observation that the economic gains from reform were
barely sufficient to accommodate a population of one billion, given the
natural population growth rate of 1.26 percent, much less provide a base
for advanced industrial development. The One-Family, One-Child campaigns
have therefore targeted women to limit their childbearing as a patriotic
The family planning policy is implemented by local units of the W.F.,
barefoot doctors and health workers who are mainly women. Each family is
visited individually by members of the local family planning committee.
After the first child, women are awarded a one-child certificate that
entitles them to a number of privileges. Standard regulations concerning
the type of birth control method employed require IUDs after one child,
sterilization after the second one and abortion for unapproved pregnancies.
The policy rests on a coercive system of sanctions and rewards. Economic
sanctions include: payment of an excess child levy as compensation to the
state for the cost of another child to the country; reduction in the
family’s grain ration (or higher prices) for producing a surplus child;
limitations on additional land for private plots and the right to
collective grain in times of flood and drought; and ineligibility for
promotion for four years, demotion, or reduction in wages (Anders,52).
Moreover, the offending couple has to bear all expenses for medical care
and education of excess children, and extra children have the lowest
priority in admission to kindergarten, school and medical institutions.
In contrast, one-child families are entitled to many privileges including
monthly or annual cash subsidies for health or welfare until the child
reaches fourteen years of age; and additional private plots from the
commune. Single children are entitled to free education, health services,
and priority in admission to nurseries, schools and hospitals. Parents
receive an additional subsidy to their old age pension (Croll,89).
The basis for the issue is ironical again. Population growth is generally
the result of a well functioning society. Improved medicine and nutrition
has sustained a higher life expectancy. Internal peace in China has also
contributed to the individuals living longer. Since Communism rests on the
doling out of commodities and benefits based on the number in a household,
the structure of the government itself encouraged population growth.
The rural resurgence produced the natural effect of having more children to
help with the work and produce more. Lack of space in Urban area’s induced
pressure on couples not to have more children. A satisfying compromise was
never reached between the two mitigating factors of urban and rural family
needs. Thus, an ineffective initiative was implemented.
Due to the ineffectiveness of the law, compliance became a problem,
especially in the rural areas. Women were looked to for the solution to
the problem. Forced sterilization and abortions were becoming commonplace
in the regions where pressure was put on the officials to take action.
Threats of violence and the loss of assets of a family were gorilla tactics
used on the offenders of non-compliance.
The self-esteem of Chinese women and girls was all but crushed with being
looked at as worthless, since boys were highly valued in single family
homes. Girls were to be for the use of others. In attempts to save money,
girls were kept away from school and provided cheap domestic labor instead.
It is obvious to see the cultural battle that women in China have before
them. The demands of rural agricultural labor undermine the one-child law
and create conflict on many levels in both rural and urban China.
While it is easy to belabor the oppression of women in China, one must look
to the monumental strides that a Communist nation was able to take in the
last 50 years. An unparalleled determination rested in the Communists goal
for answering the woman question. The strides that were taken
economically have contributed to the betterment of many Chinese women.
Communist China’s intentions were to provide women with economic
equalization which shook the foundation of Chinese society. The
male-dominated household was being challenged to recognize the legitimate
other half. Remembering that girls were considered useless, brings to
light the true strides that have advanced Chinese society in the form of
The intra-familial relations have not evolved along the lines of
recognition of the individuality and authenticity of women. For example,
the barbaric practice of foot binding, which rendered a woman powerless to
be an economic contributor. And even beyond that, the twist in idealizing
something so demeaning to women demonstrated that China was not ready to
release their cultural bonds on women. Arranged marriages offered nothing
for women in as far as emotional release. The more estranged a husband and
wife were, the more beneficial for the husbands mother. Wealthy husbands
were allowed concubines while the poor men merely had affairs.
This is not meant to imply that the state and the household are monolithic
agents in an overdetermined system of patriarchy. Although male-domination
persists, socialist ideology raised the consciousness of women to the
existence of their subordinate social valuation. Women did not receive as
many work points as men for comparable labor in the agricultural commune.
Women were encouraged to contribute more to farm work so that men could
pursue more important forms of production. Women were recruited for
political activities but then expected to fulfill their domestic
responsibilities and serve the patriarchal interests of the state. In each
case there were women who attempted to challenge the privileged status of
men. But then there were also women enlisted by the party-state to reorient
the terms of equality under socialism. In an ironic recognition of the
intersubjective synergy between the patriarchal state and household,
Zhongguo Fun (Women of China) wrote the following in response to the
resistance of rural women cadres to housework:
Family and state are interdependent and interrelated. For this reason, in
China home work and social labor are mutually geared together, and home
work is just a part of social labor and plays an important part in
socialist construction….If a woman can integrate what little she can do
into the great cause of socialist construction and if she has the ideal of
working for the happiness of future generations, she would be a noble
person, a woman of benefit to the masses, a woman of communist
Women in China must still adhere to the traditional roles set about by
their culture. The Communist Revolution provided the examination of the
roles of women in China and implemented important steps toward the
recognition of their legitimacy. Rightly so, Chinese feminists are not
satisfied with their place in society and campaign for a new and better
understanding of the value of women in society.