Revolution Postponed: Women in Contemporary China

Revolution Postponed: Women in Contemporary China

Revolution Postponed: Women in Contemporary China

Revolution Postponed: Women in Contemporary China

Synopsis

The Communist revolution promised Chinese women an end to thousands of years of subjugation, an equality with men in all matters legal, political, social, and economic. This book examines the extent to which this promise has been kept. Based on nearly a year of field research and interviews with over 300 women in six widely separated rural and urban areas, it gives us a vivid picture of Chinese women today - their day-to-day lives, their views of the present, and their hopes for the future. To date nothing approximating equality has been achieved: in working conditions, in pay, in educational opportunity. In the cities, and to a lesser extent in the countryside, women are better off than in pre-revolutionary China. But nowhere except in the rhetoric of the regime are they equal to men. Nor does the immediate future look much brighter, given the continuing social constraints, the government's controversial family limitation program, and the nature of the new economic policies introduced in 1980. So far as possible, the women interviewed are allowed to speak for themselves. Some take refuge behind government slogans, some are shy or wary, but a surprising number are quick to give their own opinions despite an ever-present government cadre. These opinions, combined with the author's astute observations on their local and national context, add up to a wholly new perspective on an all too familiar problem.

Excerpt

In 1980-81 I had the opportunity to talk to a good many women in the People's Republic of China (PRC). They told me about the things that occupy their daily lives, their hopes for the future, their perspective on the present. My younger informants were aware that their world was different from that of their mothers, but only the older women who had lived in both worlds could tell me just how different those worlds were. We cannot fully comprehend one world without a sense of the one that preceded it, so in this first chapter I will try to describe the old days as my oldest informants remembered them, as the handful of ethnographies and missionary accounts describe them, and as they have been described to me over the years by the Chinese of Taiwan. The second half of the chapter also provides background of a more recent sort and a few steps removed from the everyday existence of the average farmwife. The changes in women's lives that the rest of this book will document came about not through gradual evolution but through the political, social, and economic upheaval of a revolution. Since part of that revolution was ostensibly to liberate women from their past oppression, we must take a look also at some of the conditions that led up to the revolution and some of the policies that grew out of it. But first, the old days and "eating bitterness."

The birth of a daughter in traditional China was a disappointment; the birth of a second daughter brought grief and perhaps death to the infant; the birth of a third daughter was a tragedy for which the mother was most assuredly blamed. Daughters were goods on which one lost money. They could contribute little or nothing to their natal families in the way of enhancing their status, increasing their wealth, or providing for their care in their . . .

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