Theme 4 - Social and cultural changes, 1949-76


To what extent did the status of women change between 1949 and 1976?

  • Women had little rights - expected to be obedient etc.
  • Communists promised the freedom of women
  • Communists wanted to destroy family as social unit - followed confucius and was bourgeoisie

Foot binding

  • Breaking toes of young girls and folding to make smaller - seen as attractive
  • Officially banned in 1911, but still in practice
  • Communists banned it - ended quicker

The marriage law, 1950

  • Changed from contractual agreement to a freely entered individual process
  • Mao hated arranged marriage - refused his own
  • Mao wanted freedom of women and recognised value as half the population
  • Main clauses:
    • Arranged marriages outlawed
    • People forced to marry could divorce
    • All marriages and divorces registered with government
    • Divorce easier on equal terms
    • Women could retain property when married
    • Concubinage and polygamy outlawed
  • Communists tackled issue quicly with propoganda etc. - shows importance
  • However traditional attitudes hard to change, especially in muslim regions - shown by second campaign in 1953

The impact of collectivisation on women's lives

  • 1950 Agarian Reform Law - women could own property. Quickly reversed in collectivisation
  • Communes in theory good for women: canteens, kindergartens, laundries etc. freed them
  • However, facilities rarely provided or good standard
  • Hard labour put women at disadvantage - earned less work points
  • No consideration for pregnancy or menstration
  • Women suffered in famine - earned less food and had to feed children. Drove them to prostitution. Divorces higher and some wives sold

Women and the family

  • Communist wanted to destroy family values - seen as confucian.
  • Comunes supposed to reduce women's roles as family raisers
  • Changes to sudden - women disorientated
  • Children and elderly suffered most in famine - extra mouths to feed
  • After famine, men tried to claim back sold wives. Caused chaos for Party
  • Family considered one of 'four olds' - parents attacked in Cultural Revolution
  • Teenagers seperated from families after Cultural Revolution disrupted the family - hard to integrate back in
  • Party needed to restrict population growth (though Mao liked mass mobilisation)
  • 1962 - contraceptives made available
  • 1971 - campaign by Mao to reduce family sizes - family planning

The nature and extent of change

  • Arranged marriages decreased sharply - people divorced in unhappy marriages
  • Authority of parents replaced with head of work units
  • Female employment increased sharply in 5-year plans - however piecework meant they earnt less
  • Hard to move up hierachy, dominated by men
  • Still not many women in higher education
  • Women expected to fill male roles - not allowed to do their own thing
  • Cultural Revolution bad for women - attacks on family and gender issues not important
  • Had to do violent things

The problem of changing traditional views, especially in the countryside

  • Most resistance in rural areas, especially western Muslim areas
  • Cadres used propoganda in these areas
  • All-China Women's Federation trained male cadres
  • However, still strong male resistance
  • Women not treated equally in agricultural work - heavy labour meant less work points
  • Party keen to change, but hard to…


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