Keys to Women's Liberation in Communist China: An Historical Overview

By Zhou, Jinghao | Journal of International Women's Studies, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Keys to Women's Liberation in Communist China: An Historical Overview


Zhou, Jinghao, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Has the Communist Party of China (CPC) fully liberated Chinese women? Is the leadership of the CPC the key to Chinese women's liberation in the twenty-first century? The CPC has tried to convince the Chinese people and international society to believe that the answer is positive. Having examined the status of Chinese women from an historical perspective, the author has reached the conclusion that women's problems in present-day China are not only serious but also structural. It is impossible for Chinese women to fully enjoy women's rights within the current communist system. The future of women's liberation largely depends on women's own efforts combined with the process of China's modernization and the urgent need for democratization.

Key Words: Chinese Women, Women in Communist China, Chinese feminism

Introduction

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has persistently declared that the CPC is the sole savior of Chinese women's liberation, and that Chinese women will not achieve a full liberation without the leadership of the CPC. This article rebuts the party's fantasies and attempts to address the following questions: Have Chinese women fully enjoyed women's rights in communist China? Is it possible for Chinese women to be fully emancipated within the framework of the communist system? This author has viewed women's liberation as part of China's modernization and democratization, and reached the conclusion that a full liberation of Chinese women does not rely on the party's salvation, but on Chinese women's own efforts and China's democratization. The keys to the liberation of Chinese women are to nurture Chinese women's self-consciousness, increase their participation in productive activities, perfection of the legislative system, development of independent women's organizations, and enhancement of women's educational level.

Chinese Women in Pre-communist Era

China is one of the oldest countries in the world, known as a Confucian society. The basic characteristic of pre-communist society was that the highly centralized political system and patriarchal system worked together. Although in the old society, both Chinese men and women were deeply oppressed by the "Three Mountains," i.e., feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism, and imperialism, Chinese women were at the lowest level of the society. The four powers of the society--the authority of the clan, the authority of the divine, the authority of the husband, and the authority of political power--sustained the social structure. Unarguably, Chinese women suffered the most from the male-dominated culture, prejudicial legal system, inhuman ethical code, and patriarchal social structure, which reinforced men's political power, physical power, and psychological power over Chinese women. For more than 2,000 years, the double chains--footbinding and inhuman ethical codes--confined Chinese women to the domestic sphere. Before marriage, women as daughters were the property of their parents; after marriage, women as wives were subject to the authority of their husbands; and after their husbands died, women as widows were required to obey their sons or mothers-in-law. Traditional ethical codes, such as the Four Virtues--proper speech, modest manner, diligent work, and filial piety--were social shackles to prohibit strictly Chinese women from social activities, and furthermore, required Chinese women to be good daughters, good wives, and good mothers-in-law. All rights, such as property rights, divorce rights, work rights, educational rights, and political rights, were actually Chinese men's rights. Chinese women even had no right to marry the person they loved, or to divorce. In a Chinese saying, if you marry a chicken, you must stay with the chicken; if you marry a dog, you must obey the dog. (2) Chinese women only played a very marginal role before the Revolution of 1911, (3) because they were "eternally oppressed, powerless, passive, and silent. …

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