Mao Zedong (1927) writes in his ‘Report on an Investigation of the Hunan Peasant Movement.’ about the position of Chinese women. "A man in China is usually subjected to the domination of three systems of authority: (1) the state system (political authority), ranging from the national, provincial and county government down to that of the township; (2) the den system (clan authority), ranging from the central ancestral temple and its branch temples down to the head of the household; and (3) the supernatural system (religious authority), … As for women, in addition to being dominated by these three systems of authority, they are also dominated by the men (the authority of the husband)." The CCP committed itself at the second Congress in 1922 to women’s liberation as an integral part of the revolution. Later on, during the Japanese war, the position of women is still linked to the ‘four systems’ of authority. In our view, mobilising women to participate in the war is the basic task of the current women’s movement. However, if we are to increase women’s enthusiasm for participating in the war and want to enable them to participate spontaneously and self-consciously, then we have no option but to take appropriate steps to remove their feudal fetters, raise their social position, protect their personal interests and improve their lives.42 Mao Zedong articulates in his
in the first edition of "Women of new China" ("Women of China" first appeared in Yan’an on June 1, 1939), the guiding principle that the emancipation of women has to meet. "Unite and take part in production and political activity to improve the economic and political status of women." This preface is in line with the CC decision taken on December 28, 1948, about women work in the rural areas in the “liberated” regions. "The orientation of women’s work in the liberated areas should still be based on mobilizing and organizing women for an active part in production."
July 20, 1949 Mao Zedong preface in Women of New China
The CCP sees itself as the first political party with commitment to women's development. The party hereby ignores previous attempts of the GMD government to improve the position of women. On May 5, 1932, the GMD enacts a family law, which recognizes the equality of husband and wife. However, the law considers the husband as head of the family and he has the right to decide on parental responsibilities. The GMD takes the emancipation of the women as an important political issue, because it wants to break the loyalty to the family and strengthen the loyalty to the government. In reality, the GMD government makes little effort to implement the law and she relies on a natural development.
Both men and women do not have free choice in marriage partner, this is certainly the case in rural areas. Here the (financial) status of the family is decisive. The patriarch of the family takes the decision. Sons continued to live with their parents after marriage in an arrangement that benefited the entire extended family through a sharing of political, economic, and social resources. Before 1949, bigamy, child marriage, concubines, killing of baby girls, and human trafficking occur throughout the country. The in-laws frequently treat the new wife as a house "slave". After the fall of the empire, members of the middle and higher classes in the big cities are able to escape from prearranged marriages.
The new Marriage law of the CCP has to put an end to the misogynistic practice. "…the compilation of the law took about eighteen months, 'with constant re-examination, discussion and revision. Most of the provisions were said to have been revised thirty to forty times, representing the integration of opinions of various circles, among them the All-China Democratic Women's Federation, the People's Supreme Court, and the Ministry of Justice." The first 2 articles of this law, promulgated on May 1 1950, state the law objectives of the New-Democratic marriage system, which is based on the free choice of partners, monogamy, equal rights for both sexes, and protection of the lawful interests of women and children.
Article 2 states "Bigamy, concubinage, child betrothal, interference with the remarriage of widows, and the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriages, shall be prohibited." In practice, article 1 was not valid for everyone "Party and youth League members were expected to report their developing romantic interests to these organizations. If they wanted to marry someone from former wealthy classes or someone with a questionable personal history, they would be strongly discouraged, although not absolutely forbidden, from doing so." See also
This law, like the GMD law has the characteristics of a family law and not a marriage law. “First, the state established itself as the primary and direct controller of marriage and family matters. Second, it aimed to eliminate senior male dominance and authority in marriage and family affairs in traditional Chinese society, and, along with it, forced marriage, gender inequality, matrimony and child marriage, or other forms of what the Chinese called “feudalistic” practices, and to promote freedom in marriage choice, monogamy, gender equality, and state protection of the legal rights and obligations of the parties to marriage and family relations."
A marriage is forbidden with a person who is impotent caused by physical circumstances, or who has venereal disease or who is mentally ill (article 5) the control on the marriage is described in article 6. The newlyweds have to register in person to control the age of the partners and voluntariness of the marriage. If partners do not register, the wedding is not legal. This article is meant to diminish the role of family and friends and to enhance the role of the state. Control over society therefore, was at the heart of marriage registration. In the beginning, this rule of registration is not widely uphold . "… although unregistered marriages are illegal, such marital relations may be acknowledged and persons in such relations may have their marriage legalized at any time when they register… The fact that China's new Marriage Law recognizes the formality of, marriage from dual standpoints -registration and social fact- can be considered a realistic approach in that this makes it possible for the Government to intercede against old feudalistic marriage practices not only by means of the registration system but also in other spheres, and also to extend legal protection to the women and their offspring." Registration of marriages in the cities was often not seen as a major bureaucratic task. "From an administrative perspective the situation in rural China was likely worse. Reports often mentioned that marriage registration got lost in a sea of other, more politically pressing, tasks. Unlike legal scholars who would speak of registration’s role in maintaining the “health of the nation,” this causal assertion was entirely lost upon rural officials."
Articles 8 and 9 of this law define that both husband and wife seek after the welfare of the household and the construction of the new society. "The Party hoped to ameliorate fears about the disruptive potential of marriage reform by promising peasants that the fruits of a successful marriage remained the same, and that the new-style family was even more reproductively and agriculturally fecund than the old." Hershatter (2019) writes one important feature of rural marriage was not addressed by the Marriage Law: "... patrilocality, in which daughters moved out of their natal homes at marriage and into the homes of their husbands, usually in a different village. … (The CCP) could (not) possibly have challenged patrilocality as a feature of “feudal” marriage, so embedded was it in rural life. But the failure to take it up had consequences: the persistence of patrilocal marriage has continued to limit women’s access to political power and has generated widespread preference for sons…"
and cultural performances have been deployed to make this law known by the masses.
illustrated versions of the marriage law
Widows have a right to remarry. Article 2 of the marriage law
Glosser (2003) describes an extreme form of meetings "… public divorce trials in which the trial itself, as well as the executions, took place before a large crowd that the government had assembled to watch the law in action. In 1951, the Beijing Municipal Marriage Office held 211 public trials. Most of the men on trial had killed their wives while beating them. The guilty were often executed. At the Shanghai Hengfeng Cotton Mill, 1,800 people were gathered together to watch the trial of men accused of raping, abusing, or seducing women. The guilty received two to four years in prison or labor camps." Various forms of popular culture are adopted and adapted in supporting the marriage reform campaign.
The administration intensely supports local cadres, who have to overcome much resistance in the countryside and often themselves are not convinced of the purpose of the law. "…the Marriage Law campaign frequently occurred in the midst of revolutionary changes in the countryside, particularly Land Reform. In many cases the language of land reform as well as its methods and selection of “targets” broke loose from the confines of that campaign and spilled into the implementation of the Marriage Law, resulting in full-blown blending;…" One year after the implementation of the marriage law, resistance appears to be big. On September 26, 1951, the minister of Justice
announced the start of an extensive investigation into the application of the Marriage Law. Shi Liang visited grassroots governments and courts to assess the law's implementation. One of the results of this investigation is "The system of judgement and work style have to be revised: the cadres must handle marital cases positively. They should not only await people to appeal, but should actively support women's rights and carry out the task of educating the masses." Many party cadres wanted to postpone the law by presenting it first to the "masses". Mao Zedong was opposed, "…after its promulgation it is right, without doubt, that the broad masses of the people should be roused to express their opinion through discussion. However, the idea of temporarily postponing its operation cannot be accepted." Cong (2016) notices "As a political campaign executed on a large scale and in a short time span, the Marriage Law became a project that was pushed from the top, often leaving little room for local adjustment, flexibility, or assimilation." On February 1, 1953, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai announces the start of an enforcement campaign to eliminate the still existing feudal thoughts and behavior regarding marriage. 18 days later, he instructs the party cadres. This crusade differs in character from the 1950 campaign. The harmonious aspect of family is more emphasized and the fast implementation is delayed because of the disturbance of the existing social order. The class struggle plays a major role in the implementation of the Land reform law but a very minor role in the execution of the marriage law. This campaign did not run in minority regions and areas where the land reform is still not finished.
Shi Liang (1900-1985) a lawyer and minister of Justice (1949-1959)
Another aspect of the propaganda focusses on the danger of sexual activities of women outside the marriage. "Sex is no longer a private, personal matter; love is no longer an individual affair. The marriage relationship is neither a biological union nor a psychological unity, but a grim necessity, historically and materially conditioned."
The party itself is not a forerunner in women emancipation. In the 7th CC (1945), only 2 delegates of the total of 77 are female. In the 8th CC (1956), there are only 8 female delegates. The total number exists of 170 members. Only 12% of the elected delegates of the NPC (1954) are female and the delegates to the CPPCC (1949) only 10% are female.
In the first 4 years of the new regime, there is an absolute ban on abortion, contraception, and sterilization. As Mao Zedong stated: "It is a very good thing that China has a big population. Even if China's population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the solution is production. The absurd argument of Western bourgeois economists like Malthus that increases in food cannot keep pace with increases in population was not only thoroughly refuted in theory by Marxists long ago, but has also been completely exploded by the realities in the Soviet Union and the Liberated Areas of China after their revolutions."
When the figures of the 1953
are known, the ministry of public health lifts the ban on contraception. On December 27, 1954, Liu Shaoqi convenes a special conference on birth control. "In January and February 1955 a newly instated ad hoc commission, comprising representatives of the ministries of health, light industry, commerce and foreign trade, as well as the Women’s Federation, took up the study of concrete measures for birth control. Its recommendations were endorsed by the Party’s Central Committee in an internal directive of March 1955. The Central Committee acknowledged a growing demand for contraceptives among urban cadres and workers, and linked birth control to the economic well-being of the country."
SU legislation has clearly influenced the text of Article 8 and 9 of the Marriage Law. This influence can be noted in the registration of the marriage; conditions of marriage regarding kinship, rights and duties of the couple and the conditions of divorce.
This SU influence can also be noted in the periodical “Women of China”. This magazine makes propaganda to enlighten the Chinese women about the life and work of the Russian women. An entire generation of women in China benefited from this Soviet influence not only in their way of thinking, but also in the way they lived their lives. Dong (2004) notices that after 1953 women participated in increasing numbers in both national and internal sport competitions. Popular sports are basketball, volleyball, athletics, swimming, gymnastics, cycling. She states: "The starting point for female elite sport was virtually the same as for males. There was no obvious gap in the number of sports available to men and women. This was in striking contrast to America and other western nations, where men were involved in elite sport much earlier."
In 1954, the tone of the issues in the magazine changes and the role of the woman as housewife and mother is explicitly displayed. "The housewife was shown as contributing to society through her husband and family by acting as a sort of (unpaid) service worker for those who participated in production.' This change of status in 1954 is not without a struggle, especially women who have been active in the military and political work have major problems to adapt to this change. "A relatively high proportion of the Hainan fighting force was women, and they were ordered to return to their homes and start families. This was hard to take, especially considering the selfproclaimed progressive New Democracy of the Communist regime in Beijing. The fighting women of Hainan protested the order to go from being Communist spies, soldiers, and field doctors one day, to housewives and wet-nurses the next."
The urban housewife's mission becomes the pursuit for
cooperation with the neighborhoods; perform household work in a hygienic way; to raise the children with reason and not with violence; to stimulate children and husband to work hard and to study; and finally to study herself. The rural women have an additional task, they have to work hard. The reason for this change in policy is the high rate of unemployment in the cities. The status of the working woman in the propaganda is high, but in reality she has the burden of 2 jobs, because keeping the household is an exclusive task of the woman. The situation for the rural women is different. "In July 1954, the All-China Women’s Federation issued the ‘Instructions on Work with Peasant Women’, which stated: ‘currently the key task of working with peasant women is to further educate and organise peasant women to warmly support and take an active part in the great production movement with the mutual aid teams and cooperatives as the central force’.25" Husband and wife have the rights in possession and management of the properties of the family (article 10 of the marriage law). This article reflects the Land reform law which states that everyone, regardless of gender and age, is entitled to land.
5 good things (wu hao);
Poster 1957. 5 good things (wu hao)
Most CCP cadres have a rural background, an area where ‘feudal’ thought about women still had the strongest influence. The "3 bonds of obdience" for women were still solidly felt, they were obeying father when young, obeying husband when married, and obeying adult son when husband died. Although the CCP preached equal rights in the hearts of most men, women should be subordinate to men. The Daoist philosophical doctrine of the yin-yang (阴-阳) dualism still prevailed. Yang is generally associated with positivity, energy, heat, life, light, strength, activity, and masculinity; whereas yin is associated with negativity, stasis, coldness, death, darkness, weakness, passivity, and femininity. Women should be housebound, cook, clean, and weave. Men should be farming and fighting.
Huang (2006) notices "Nowhere was the mediation ideology applied more persistently and vigorously than in contested divorces: the goal of court action was to minimize the incidence of divorce through aggressively implemented “mediated reconciliations” (tiaojie hehao), ... The stated rationale was that marriages would not be taken as lightly in “socialist China” as in the capitalist West. Divorce would be and should be much harder to obtain, despite the justice system’s emphasis on freedom of marriage and divorce and on gender equality." See
, the leader for the ACFDW, the mediation is required to protect the position of the wife. Most divorces are in the rural areas and not in the cities. Partly provoked by rural cadres, who were sent to the cities and are attracted to beautiful urban women. "In fact, the predilection for well-educated and urbane young women was so strong that in the Civil War period, some male cadres saw the Communists' final occupation of the urban areas as a chance for them to grab modern women." There is also another reason for these ‘rural’ divorces. The rural cadres are completely occupied in their Land reform work and are often from home. The mothers in law are in no position to interfere because they can be accused of having feudal characteristics. Diamant (2000b) states townspeople are less inclined to go to court because they fear loss of face and the aversion for the involvement of legal researchers. The official number of divorces is in 1950: 186.000, 1951: 409.000, and 396.000 in the first 6 months of 1952. The number of divorce cases in the courts reaches more than 1,170,000 nationwide in the single year of 1953. During 1950-1953 each year, 70.000 to 80.000 Chinese women and men (mostly women) committed suicide or were killed because of the lack of freedom in marriage.
Deng Yingchao (1904-1992) chairperson of the Women's Federation (1949-1978)
but in some cities the brothels close in 1952 (Xi’an, Qingdao, and Wuhan). In Shanghai, there are still brothels until 1958. "In October 1949, the number of brothels in Shanghai was 525; by the end of 1950 it was 156 and by the end of the Campaign to Suppress counterrevolutionaries in November 1951 it was seventy-two. Similar tactics in Tianjin were successful in reducing the number of brothels by 213 by January 1950."
Prostitutes are seen as both agents and victims of a broader social disorder. The prostitutes are sent to little detention center to be re-educated. They are put under medical supervision and have to learn a profession in order to support themselves and are organized into study sessions, of which the most important goal was to instill a sense of class consciousness. After their release, they are still under supervision.
, the minister of public security, states: "Beijing is one of the very first cities to carry out reeducation. We have gained a great deal of experience through the processes of interning and dealing with the reeducatees, material preparation, and the like. We must summarize all of these facts ... so that cities currently undergoing the takeover process and those about to do so can absorb lessons from that experience and carry out their work more effectively." Ruan (2010) notices: "And most prostitutes, even after they have been “reformed,” were sent to farms and remote provinces, except for those claimed by family and sent home....In reality, they were branded with the scarlet letter forever. They will live the rest of their lives never shedding that label, making it extremely difficult to be re-assimilated into social life." The thought reformers have to make a clear distinction in the nature, causes, and resolution of each type of resistance. See
Luo Ruiqing (1906-1978) Minister of Public Security (1949-1959)
Indulgence in love and sex was seen as perilous individualism. In 1949, the General Administration of Press and Publication published the indictment of The Self-Control of Sexual Urges, it stated: "… the state has long since promulgated the Marriage Law, bringing them enormous happiness. Thus mere sexual desire is not the most important problem for young people living during the era of Mao Zedong. If they need to know physiological and hygienic information, there are a large number of scientific…books already published. (sexually tinted) Books like this are not necessary today, and their content is unsuitable."
Kang (2016) remarks "The CCP’s feminist initiatives suffered great setbacks after 1927, after the Nationalist Party’s bloody purge drove the Communists out of urban centers. Within the CCP, the patriarchal gender hierarchy marginalized female activists, and the male leadership gradually shifted party priority from gender inequality to class oppression." Kang (2016). Page 520
The first regulation of divorce dates back to the 1931 Jiangxi Soviet’s Marriage Regulations of the Chinese Soviet Republic. It states in article 9: “Freedom of divorce is established. Whenever both the man and the woman agree to divorce, the divorce shall have immediate effect. When one party, either the man or the woman, is determined to claim a divorce, it shall have immediate effect” Cited in Huang (2005). Page 175.
Cong (2016) states "In Liu (Shaoqi)’s instructions, he argued that the existing marriage regulations in various revolutionary base areas were not unified and powerful enough in combatting feudalism. He suggested that the 1934 Soviet Marriage Law represented a firm stand against feudalism and should be used as the basis for drafting a new law. 8 The term underlying the principle of marriage reverted to ziyou (freedom instead of zhi zhu 'act for oneself'), and the policy became more radical." Cong (2016). Page 247
Lee (2011) points out "Class identity is the ultimate fount of all emotions; it leaves one with no choice but to love fellow class members and hate those in the antagonist classes. A peasant cannot love a landlord, and a worker cannot love a capitalist; between them there is only hatred. As a Southern Daily (Nanfang Ribao) article declares: “Real love cannot exist between a feudalistic and progressive person.” 2 The “feudal” and the “progressive” are locked in a world-historical struggle the outcome of which is predetermined by the Marxist law of history." Lee (2011). Pages 149-150.
A letter from the Ministry of Justice answers the question about marriges between Chinese cadre and a foreigner: "The principle when dealing with the problem of marriages between Chinese and foreign cadres is: army cadres and foreign office cadres are absolutely not allowed to marry foreign cadres; in general, marriages between cadres and foreign cadres must not be in contravention of the provisions of the Chinese Marriage Law. If the foreign cadres’country has already established diplomatic relations with China, attention must also be paid to the law of the foreign cadres’ own country. In the letter on the part of Yang Shu-heng is mentioned that a Chinese lecturer requests to marry a Japanese nurse; in accordance with the principle related above we recognize: if their marriage is not in contravention of the Marriage Law of the Chinese People's Republic it can be allowed." Cited in Cohen (1974). Page 667
"For a collective wedding after 1949, at least two—though usually more—couples joined in a ceremony, during which they received and signed their wedding certificates. After the ceremony, friends and family would gather for some tea and sweets. Such weddings were said to curtail excessive feasts, exorbitant dowries, and wasteful expenditures—all remnants of the ‘‘old society’’ (旧社会jiu shehui) in which weddings symbolized financial transactions between two families, not a free marriage of two individuals.2 Yet, although collective weddings seemed the ideal ceremony for the People’s Republic, the central government refrained from imposing unifying regulations. The PRC Marriage Law, which came into force in May 1950, made no mention of weddings. They were a local matter for lower-level people’s governments and people to address." Altehenger (2015). Page 49
Diamant (2001b) states "By the late 1950s in rural China, numerous reports noted that peasants often did not bother to register their marriages, and the state had all but given up persuading them to undergo physical exams, which was one of the main rationales for marriage registration in the first place.26 In urban areas, reports also indicated widespread violation of registration requirements, particularly among the working classes. Much of the reason for this failure lies in the state itself—many officials were just as confused by this sudden intrusion into the private sphere as ordinary citizens,..." Diamant (2001b). Page 452
Glosser (2003). "Theoretically speaking, marriage and land reform were ideologically compatible because both sought to undermine traditional power relationships. The Party also believed that women would have to have land of their own, and thus a means to support themselves, if the Marriage Law and divorce laws were to have any effect. 7 Nevertheless, cadres on the ground understood that marriage reform discouraged male peasant support for CCP reforms and might offset the wealth-creating possibilities that land reform offered. (…) Cadres were also wary of weakening land reform efforts by creating gender divisions within the lower peasant classes." Glosser (2003). Page 169
26-09-1951 Zhou Enlai "Effectively implement the marriage law to protect women's legal rights"
See RMRB 01-02-1953 "Vigorously prepare to launch a mass movement to implement the Marriage Law."" In the same edition "Facts in many parts of the country show that the implementation of the marriage law is extremely uneven"
"Some of these groups (the local government leadership and cadres) even openly resisted the Marriage Law by upholding traditional customs and interfering with individual marriage freedoms. As the result of such maladministration, the practice of arranged marriage was still popular, women were still constantly oppressed and abused, and related suicide and homicide cases were still common." 70,000 to 80,000 women had “been murdered or forced into suicide” annually since 1950. Directive of the Government Administration Council of the Central People’s Government on the Implementation of the Marriage Law], February, 1, 1953 cited in Xu (2011). Page 206
Glosser (2003) states the CCP "...condemned as individualistic, petit bourgeois, or capitalist those ideals of love and marriage that prevented individuals from fulfilling their duties to the new socialist state and society. Glosser (2003). Page 175.
See also Du (2017). Pages 55-94
Sun (2011) studies the influence of posters and remarks "Drawn in distinctive colors, these poster women appeared strong yet feminine and beamed with pride and self-confidence. Implicit in the visual presentation is the definition of a kind of “new woman,” one who embraced her dual roles as a nurturing mother as well as a hard-working participant in the socialist movement. Needless to say, in actual reality women found it rather daunting to cope with the power dynamic between family and state..." Sun (2011). Page 128
The instructions of Hukou inspection officers in 1950 state: "If a woman is at home cooking and doing housework, does this count as having an occupation? What should it say on the household registration form? Answer: It doesn't count as an occupation. Leave the [relevant] box in the household registration form empty." See Graminius (2017). Page 4
"...the Marriage Law had particular effects on transnational marriages. By giving women the right to sue for divorce if they had been abandoned for more than three years, the Law tapped into a chronic source of tension within transnational families: the frequent phenomenon of prolonged male absences and anxieties over the sexual and economic behaviour of absent spouses. ... local authorities ... announced that wives whose overseas husbands had not returned to China in the last three years could sue for divorce." Peterson (2007). Page 30.
Chan (2013) concludes "Although Party cadres implementing the Marriage Law in 1953 first portrayed qiaofu ((women of overseas husbands) as oppressed figures, the Party-state soon withdrew its commitment to liberating them from transnational marriages. The desire for overseas Chinese support for the new Chinese state, as well as the focus on building productive families to raise national production, eventually caused marriage reform to backfire. It led state officials to downplay conflicts between qiaofu and overseas Chinese that they had helped instigate at the beginning." Chan (2013). Page 465
Evans (2002) notes "During the first three decades after 1949, there were only two significant moments when women’s domestic and marital positions were explained in terms of gender rather than class. During the 1950–53 period, when extensive efforts were made to publicize the radical potential for women of the Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China, domestic discrimination against women was repeatedly condemned, albeit as an aspect of continuing feudal practices." Evans (2002). Page 354
Henriot (1995) notes "In November 1951, a press report noted that several brothel-keepers had been arrested and executed during the campaign against counter-revolutionaries.39 The persistence of active clandestine prostitution contradicts the reassurance of the authorities on the reduction in the number of brothels." Henriot (1995). Page 474
01-05-1950 The Marriage law