China: Social & Cultural Changes 1949-76


Changing Status of Women

  • Before 1949: Daughters not considered worth celebrating, victims of infanticide
  • Arranged marriages common, some expected to accept husbands concubines 
  • Subject to three obediences 
  • Not provided with educational opportunities, 1930s 1% women over 7 had basic literacy skill, compared to 30% of men
  • Foot binding 
  • 1950s Marriage Law
  • Women "hold up half the sky"
  • Arranged marriages and Dowries banned
  • Divorce by the wife was legal (1.4million in 1953)
  • Caused violence from cadres due to loss of 'financial investment'  

Impact of collectivisation: Property rights became irrelevant

  • Women forced to work on land, whilst doing domestic chores 
  • Had to leave children in Kindergartens (90% children got sick)
  • Work points system meant women suffered in canteens 
  • **** was common, expectant women forced to work through pregnancy 
1 of 8

The Nature and Extent of Change

The Women's Association, dedicated to encouraging political activism among women.

Official membership of 76million gave women a voice

By 1966-76 marriages of 16-17y/o had dropped to 0.8%

1929-49 only 38% of rural girls finished primary school

By 1959 100% did, by 1978 45% of pupils were girls.

PLA began to recruit women and promote them

Speak Bitterness, gave women an opportunity to publically declare an opinion 

Maoist propaganda challenged traditional gender roles 

Traditional practices continued in remote area (Foot binding)

Party Cadres did not enforce the new marriage laws. 

2 of 8

Educational Reform

  • Education China 1949:
  • 45.2% of males and 2.2% women received any education 
  • Males attended on average 4 years, women 3 years
  • 80% of the population illiterate 
  • Elitist attitudes reduced access. 
  • 1949-57: number of primary educated changed from 26million to 64million
  • Literacy rate 64% by 1964 
  • Winter schools (attendance of 42million 1951-52)
  • University attendance quadrupled, 117k to 441k 
  • A new form of language introduced Pinyin 1955, one unified language 
  • Education system remained elitist
  • Only 6.4% of the budget on education in 1952
  • Winter Schools Ineffective due to gap in terms
  • CR schools closed, 130mil received no formal education 
  • Teachers became victims of revolutionary violence 
  • After Red Guards disbanded, many did not return to education 
3 of 8

Health Care

  • Health Care was almost non-existent.
  • Immune systems easily succumbed to epidemic disease.
  • The Barefoot doctors, paramedics trained intensely for 6months, then sent back to villages
  • Helped educate peasants in hygiene 
  • by 1973 over a million had been trained. 


  • CCP launched Patriotic Health Movements, sent party members to the countryside to promote hygiene. Human waste fertilizer discouraged
  • Villages mobilised to drain swamps (bred Maleria)
  • Smallpox, cholera, plague, practically eliminated
  • By 1957 life expectancy had raised by 21 years (to 57)


  • Uneven healthcare provision between rural and urban areas
  • GLF, terrible impact of famine negated health benefits
  • Doctors attacked in anti's campaign. Denounced during CR
4 of 8

Cultural Change 1

  • Land reform ended traditional festivals e.g. Lantern Festival & New Year's
  • Reunification Campaign, devastated culture of Tibet & Xianjing (Lamaism & Islam)
  • Confucian and Ancestor worship condemned
  • Communes allowed this control to increase

August 1966 Four Olds Campaign (ON CR FLASHCARDS)

The Role of Jiang Qing:

  • In 1966 Mao appointed Jiang Qing as head of the CCRG 
  • Censorship of music, theatre, art.
  • She believed she had right to re-write performances 
  • Only 8 official Opera's allowed
  • 1969, member of Politburo
  • "Mao's dog... Whoever Mao asked her to bite, she bit". 
5 of 8

Cultural Change 2

Revolutionary art & Culture

  • Foreign works banned
  • All plays glorified communism
  • 'Make it revolutionary or ban it'
  • 'Taking tiger mountain by storm'
  • 'The East is Red'
  • Countryside peasants had never heard of the CR (to prevent disruption of production)
  • Mao believed Culture was a tool by which societies could be controlled
6 of 8

Religion 1

Religion was a form of feudal superstition, Marx called religion an 'opiate'

  • Buddhism: Most Buddhists in Tibet, Lamaism.  Underpinned national identity
  • Reunification Campain 1950s, Buddhist monasteries attacked 
  • Monks sent to Laogai's
  • During GLF, temples confiscated for grain storage
  • By the end of CR few temples remained 
  • Confucianism: Promoted family and kinship values
  • During CR many memorials in Qufu destroyed 
  • Anti-Confucian campaign made Confucianism a symbol for backwards thinking
  • 1973 Confucianism compared to Lin Biao
  • New Year Festival & Ancestor Worship: represented 'old china'
  • Dissuaded people from returning to ancestors grave's
  • Qingming festival replaced w/ National Memorial Day (celebrated communist heroes)
  • Not entirely successful as demonstrated by public support for Zhou Enlai 
7 of 8

Religion 2


  • Protestant and Catholic Churches targetted
  • Christianity representative of western ideas
  • CCP created 'Patriotic Church'
  • Missionaries forced out or imprisoned 
  • Catholic school attacked, Vatican refused to accept 'Patriotic Church'
  • 1951 3,222 missionaries by 1953 there were 364


  • Muslims targetted, mainly in Xinjiang 
  • A rival belief to Communism. 
  • Resented powers of Mullahs
  • PLA invaded Xinjiang in October 1949 during reunification campaign
  • Resistors sent to Laogai
  • During CR mosques shut down, Religous leaders tortured.
  • Govt forced to be more accepting of Islam after strong resistance  
8 of 8




so helpul, thanks!!!

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all China in the 20th century resources »