Socialist China and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation 1949-1976

Amit Bhattacharyya

Professor of History,

Jadavpur University,

Kolkata, INDIA

From the year 2016 onwards the revolutionary Communists, democrats and progressive people throughout the world have started celebrating the Fiftieth Year of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution(GPCR) in China. This revolution was one of the most important phases in the long history of revolutionary activism in the political career of Mao Tse-tung. It acted as a beacon light to the great majority of the people, to the revolutionary, progressive and democratic people in many parts of the world. To put it very briefly, this Cultural Revolution resolved the problem of how to prevent a capitalist restoration in a socialist society—a problem that the Bolshevik Revolution could not do. It is not enough to change the economic foundation; what is necessary is to change the superstructure too. The GPCR aimed at bringing each and every sphere of the cultural superstructure in conformity with the country’s socialist economic base by arousing the vast toiling masses against the entrenched capitalist-roaders, it was a continuation of the historic Great Debate and marked a new stage in the development of the Chinese revolution. This revolution has been criticized by opponents as a ‘left deviation’, sometimes condemned as ‘ten years of madness’. The reality is that the last years in the life of Mao were the years when he made the greatest creative contribution, saw farthest and delved most deeply into the dialectics of human and social development. In fact, Mao had the insight and courage to expose the ongoing, antagonistic class struggle at the very core of the Communist Party in the course of socialist construction. In course of participation in revolutionary practice, Mao not only contributed to the theory of Marxism-Leninism, but also to human civilization as a whole. 

Today, I am going to talk on “Socialist China and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation 1949-1976”. In the previous stage of the New Democratic Revolution, the struggle for the transformation in the status of women was closely connected with the struggle of the people of China against the feudal system and imperialist control. Their long struggle for self-assertion within family and society, against patriarchy, for women’s suffrage, for the free choice of partners and divorce and for property rights drew sustenance from the CPC-led struggle for social transformation. Despite their spontaneous participation in social revolution, the distinct identity of the women’s movement did not merge with the mainstream revolutionary political movement. The CPC always encouraged the women’s movement for their own rights as changes in their social status were a precondition for broad social change. In the new society too, the policy of the CPC did not always conform to the level of women’s consciousness—a limitation caused mainly by the patriarchal attitude of the male members of the party. In a similar way, in socialist China, women’s struggle for liberation proceeded along a zigzag course marked by cooperation and opposition.

The phase immediately following the 1949-Revolution has been described by Mao as the last stage of the New Democratic Revolution and the first stage of the Socialist Revolution. One of the most important steps in that stage was the enactment of the Marriage Law of 1st May, 1950. This Marriage Law was the culmination of the revolutionary struggles and enactments of the revolutionary government in the 1930s and the 1940s. The general principles is explained in Article 1: “The arbitrary and compulsory feudal marriage system, which is based on the superiority of men over women, and which ignores the interests of children is abolished. The ‘New Democratic Marriage System’ based on free choice of partners, on monogamy, on equal rights of both sexes and on protection of the lawful interests of women and children shall be put into effect”1. A new generation had appeared in the new society, in which individuals themselves could choose their life partners and there was no apparent reason to fight for property among them. However, despite the gradual transformation in the economic foundation, it was not that easy to bring about transformation in the realm of superstructure, in the world of thoughts. The struggle against patriarchy could never come to an end with the accomplishment of the Revolution of 1949. The birthmarks of the old society cannot disappear all at once. Conscious efforts are essential to bring that about. There lies the significance of the Cultural Revolution. In the new society the need was felt to make women free from the eternal drudgeries of housekeeping and child care and by so doing to make them part and parcel of social production and to play a role in the development of new Socialist culture.

What is important to point out is that during the period of socialist construction, the Communist Party adopted policies according to the objective reality that are not always in conformity with the general principles of women’s liberation. Let us now take them up in turn.

Cult of the Housewife’: Mid-1950s

In the period immediately following the 1949 Revolution, a number of writings eulogizing women workers were being published in periodicals, books and reports. Women engaged as workers in such industries as textiles, coal, steel-smelting, tailoring, engine-driving etc. were projected as models to admire and emulate. However, as Delia Davin2 observes, from the mid-1950s, there was a distinct change in the tone of such literature. Since then, articles eulogizing the role of women not as workers, but as housewives started to appear with increasing frequency. Woman’s role as a home-maker, wife and mother received unprecedented attention. In the new approach the woman was shown as contributing to society through her husband and family by acting as a sort of unpaid service worker for those in the family who participated in production. The new idea was that by helping ensure family stability she was in fact participating in productive work. An Australian woman journalist who visited China in the mid-1950s was surprised to find that the wife in a family, in trying to keep her domineering husband happy at home, always shopped before each meal so that he could have really fresh vegetables to eat. Even the series of fashion and beauty features which appeared in Women in China in 1955 can be seen as part of the same movement to feminize women to a reactionary domestic model3.

There was a slight change in this conservative policy in 1956 when there was a tide in urban industries and construction work. A number of articles on women’s participation in industries came out in magazines and books. However, that phase was short-lived. When cooperatives were formed in the rural areas, many people left for the cities in search of employment, thereby leading to unemployment in the cities. By the beginning of 1958, the situation became so alarming that at least indirect pressure was brought upon working women in the urban areas to retire from their jobs. Lenin held that women should be made free from the eternal drudgeries of housekeeping and child care. Mao emphasized that women should be attached to productive labour and made to be economically independent. The new policy was totally at variance with what Lenin and Mao championed.

In fact, during the 1950s, one of the major problems in China was the lack of job opportunity for women. That was the time for the rebuilding of the war-torn economy, employment opportunity was very meagre, the number of urban population was much more than the availability of jobs. To add to these, the emphasis put on the development of heavy industry rather than on agriculture and light industry because of the reliance on the Soviet model of development at that stage also put a brake on the opening of jobs to women in industries. The policy of the government towards women was dependent on the number of jobs available at that time. Such a conservative policy was in force in 1955 also. The question that naturally arises is: why should only women, and not men, be victims of a situation that arises due to lack of employment opportunities which are not of their making?

Great Leap Forward (1958-59)

This policy was abandoned during all-round economic development of production associated with the Great Leap Forward(1958-59) and women in large numbers were brought into different sectors of social production as workers. By then, the Soviet model of development which put emphasis on the development of heavy industry at the expense of light industry and agriculture was discarded and Mao’ strategy of development which advocated the simultaneous development of heavy industry, light industry and agriculture with emphasis on light industry and agriculture on which most of the people depended, was implemented.

Women in both Light and Heavy Industry

In the new situation, women were associated with production in increasing numbers. However, the question is: on which sectors were they engaged? Were they, like men, associated with heavy industries also, or were they engaged only in light industries? On this question, different writers have furnished different facts. It is evident from those facts that although initially, women were associated as workers mainly with light industry, and partially with heavy industry, later on, as a result of dissemination of political education, they participated more and more in heavy industry also. Throughout the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, women constituted the dominant work force in the textiles and light industries4.

Gradually, besides textiles and light industries, the participation of women in other industries increased such as machine-making, electricity, chemicals, minute tools, metal-working, oil, plastics and transistor manufacturing. According to an estimate of 1966, in the Anshan iron and steel industry, where previously there were no woman technical experts or engineers, there were then 300 woman technicians and 30 woman engineers, besides a woman director and a deputy director in the central laboratory. In the production brigades in the countryside, women comprised 30 to 40 per cent of the total workforce and in the sector of cotton, the percentage was around 70 percent5.


In the field of production, men generally led in technological innovations. However, women also did not lag behind and made creative contributions in different sectors. Michael Opper in an article related the story of the manufacture of a metallurgical factory by nine women workers in the town of Shenyang in Manchuria region. They had to do it in the face of non-cooperation and even sarcastic comments from the menfolk. The team of nine decided that they would start a small factory, one they could manage themselves. After many visits to other factories and discussions, they came to realize that that iron oxide was being cast away as waste material. Experienced workers told them that it could be recycled into a product that could be used, instead of iron, for some machine parts. They then decided to recycle the iron-oxide by grinding it into a powder that could be turned into useful fittings needed by near-by factories. How would they do it? They did not have money. They did not want to approach government for finance. They would have to do it alone. They took it as a challenge.

To start they needed a kiln. A kiln would cost nearly 30,000 yuan. So again women had to improvise. They collected used brick from a brick factory. With these they built the inside walls of their kiln, with regular bricks, they built the outside walls. The next thing needed was a chimney. A chimney would cost nearly 30,000 yuan. So the women again improvised. They went to big factories and asked for discarded asphalt barrels. They rolled them back through the streets to their factory site. Here they took off the tops and bottoms and welded the barrels together. At this point they faced a technical problem which they could not solve. They did not know how to lift the barrels up into place. So they asked an experienced worker of a nearby factory to help. With his physical help and basic knowledge, they put the chimney up with a pulley of rope. After the kiln and the chimney were up, the women made their own bricks for the body of their factory building. Then most of their equipment was made by hand. They did not have steel, but they had firewood. Ingeniously working with it they made machines out of wood. The women took advice at every step, thereby eliminating many needless mistakes, and they worked long and hard.

In this way taking initiative in their own hands, that team of women workers started production. According to an estimate, from 1966 to 1974, its production increased 46 times and they were able to turn out 60 varities of products6.

Women’s creativity manifested itself in other fields too. In the Chiamoning People’s Commune in Hopei province, a research team comprising 45 women peasants could, after a series of experiences, bring under control eight varieties of worms such as cut-worm, mole-cricket, maize-borer etc. A forty-member women’s team of the Ushenchao commune in Mongolia fought a successful battle under the leadership of Paokiledai against natural adversity. The extension of the Maoushu desert region gradually brought to an end pasture lands and the challenge was how to prevent it and make it favourable for pasture again. The women’s team made many experiments with plants and shrubs and could ultimately achieve what they aimed at by planting ‘sand-sage-brush’ in the desert land after many years’ efforts7.

Model Woman

As women took part in the struggle for social change, a new concept of ‘model woman’ emerged. This concept was not that of ‘Model Housewife’, this woman never turned back in the face of any challenge. They were called ‘Girls of Iron’. In the vast stretches of Tachai agricultural field, a group of twenty three young women were so called for their unflinching courage and eagerness to surmount all difficulties in the face of adversity. It was at the initiative of such model women that the backward Tachai region could be transformed into a vast zone of greenery and multi-crop production so much that it could be an example for other regions to emulate. In that venture, the Tachai women’s team played the leading role8.

According to a government report of 1966, in every branch of Science and Engineering, women played an important role. Among the research scholars of the Science Academy of China, one out of six was a woman. In such fields as atomic research and most branches of medical science, women played an active role9. In the field of education, according to an estimate of 1965, 24.3 per cent of college teachers, 44 per cent of teachers at the secondary school level and 62 per cent of teachers at the primary level were women10.


At the beginning of our discussion, we have referred to the ‘Marriage Act’ of 1950 which gave the right to divorce. However, despite the law, it was not at all easy, at least in some rural areas to put into practice. In fact, throughout the 1950s and the early years of the 1960s incidents of domestic cruelty meted out to the wives by husbands and even suicides by wives were reported in different newspapers.

Child Care

Incidents of domestic oppression by husbands did not of course happen in many families. However, there were other problems such as drudgery of housekeeping and child care. A contemporary leading paper11 mentioned the contradiction between revolutionary work and housekeeping. On the one hand, it is said that what men can do women can do too; on the other hand, the task of child care and household work lies solely on women. How can women who are entrusted with the responsibility of housekeeping cope with the other greater task of socialist reconstruction that required their presence outside home. The duty of housekeeping should not be the sole responsibility of women; men should also contribute to it.

To resolve this problem, the new society could create nurseries and crèches as was done during the May 4 movement of 1919. The people in the Taching industrial zone took such steps to their own benefit. However, more important than this is to help create a situation where a healthy relation develops between the husband and wife, a new type of family relationship that was unthinkable in the old society. Such a relationship would also help in the healthy all-round development of the child.

During that stage, women came forward to join work of those types which were regarded as men’s domain; however, men did not totally participate in those fields which were generally regarded as women’s domain such as embroidery work, child care through cooperative arrangements etc. Work of these types was still treated as ‘woman’s work’. On the other hand, in some work related to housekeeping such as cooking, shopping, child care etc. men too participated.

Skilled Labour, Unskilled Labour

These were some sectors in production in which there was gender-based division of labour. As for example, men were engaged in sectors that required application of skill, while women were engaged in unskilled sectors. As for example, although previously women were engaged in embroidery work as operators of machines, such intricate aspects as design-making for such work was done by men only. The Cultural Revolution broke down this barrier and involved women in design-making and men in machine operation and embroidery work12.

There is no denying the fact that women’s participation in socialist revolution strengthened their battle for equality with men. However, there were some sectors in which inequality between men and women could not be effaced. In 1971, Noel Gray13 went to Tachai and noticed that women workers who were unable to lift heavy stones got lesser work points than men; on the contrary, comparatively feeble workers could draw the same work points as able-bodied men who did heavier jobs. Women here were obviously the victims of inequality. The question that naturally crops up is this. No two individuals can have the same physical strength, although what is also true is that every person can, out of political or other motivation, do work in excess of what she or he can generally do. But every person makes her/his contribution to socialist reconstruction and revolutionary movement. One who is physically unable to take part in hard work, can take part in light work of different types. In a socialist society, no work can be treated as inferior. If that is so, then why should one’s role in socialist reconstruction be inferior due to her/his inability to do hard work?

Women’s Representation

What was the percentage of women’s representation in different sectors? According to an estimate of 1972, in the CPC’s central committee comprising 170 members, the number of women stood at 15. Men were in a majority in overall membership. In the People’s Liberation Army, women are there in the stage of the company, but not in the regular army. They are engaged mainly in medical and communications departments. It is pertinent to point out that during the stage of the agrarian revolutionary movement or the anti-Japanese national liberation movement(1937-45), women were not included in regular army (The experience in Vietnam, Kampuchea, Laos, Philippines, Peru, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Turkey, India etc. is different). Among the teaching and non-teaching staff of Peking University, the number of men is nearly double, and according to the 1966 estimate, women’s representation in the third National People’s Congress was 17.83 per cent14.

The question that cropped up within the revolutionary communist movement in different countries of the world time and again is that why should there be dominance of the petty bourgeoisie rather than that of the working class in the leadership? In the Indian communist revolutionary movement, within the CPI(ML) this question had been raised. In fact, when one talks about the leadership of the working class, what is meant primarily is ideological leadership, leadership by people with advanced political consciousness. At the initial stage, this is natural because by virtue of being advanced in theoretical study, the petty bourgeois revolutionary intellectuals take a leading role. However, the goal is that they would declass themselves by being integrated with the peasants and workers through participation in their struggles and would imbibe revolutionary ideology, not just theoretically but also practically and thereby transcend the limitations of their class. At the same time they should see to it that cadres coming from peasant and working class background should learn revolutionary theory and bring them up step by step to leadership level. By the same logic, those who are politically advanced and mature should become members of the revolutionary committees, irrespective of whether that cadre is a man or a woman. The low level of representation of women in the revolutionary committees is considered to be due to their low level of political consciousness. The reality is that if a woman has to bear the whole burden of housekeeping and childcare all alone, it is very difficult for her to devote that much attention to political study and work. Unless there is socialization of childcare and housekeeping no equality between men and women can be established. The propaganda by the party is essential, but more important is that husbands should willingly come forward to share the household work with the wives. Here the battle is against patriarchy. And experiences have shown that there is also opposition from the side of some of party’s male members as also husbands against the struggle for women’s liberation.

Family Planning

The question that is integrally connected with the emancipation of women is family planning. Participation of women in productive labour, establishment of economic and political equality, widening of horizon and consciousness and the creation of small healthy families– all these are integral parts of such a society in which the eagerness to build up a new society and the spirit of mutual sharing stimulate people to action. Generally, they are against big families, as such a reality stands as a hindrance to the need to give proper attention to the babies and ensure mothers’ participation in productive and political work. In carrying out the policy of birth planning, the government combines state guidance with initiative on the part of people themselves.

In socialist China, birth planning means not just practising birth control, but taking different measures in the light of different circumstances. In densely populated areas, where the birth rate is high they advocate birth control and marriage at a later age. They also provide full medical treatment for those suffering from sterility. What is their role in the minority nationality areas? In those and other sparsely populated areas, the new society encourages population growth and promotes increased production. In these areas, help and guidance is available to those who have too many children and who want birth control15.

Han Suyin16 has stated that the first birth control experiments made in 1954, except in such cities as Peking, Canton and Shanghai, were not very successful in the countryside. In the cities, people queued up in parks and other places to listen to lectures, see films, and contraceptives were freely shown and distributed in pharmacies. This method was acceptable to intellectuals and people with some notion of science. But when this method was taken to the rural areas, the result was bad. Peasants became horrified, indignant, their traditional modesty was shocked. The reason is not difficult to understand. In the past, death of children, infanticide, small families, were emotionally related to famines and war. Infanticide, chiefly female, was commonly practised in the past when peasants starved. That is why the exhortation to ‘have fewer children’ seemed indicative of impending disaster to them. Such drives, therefore, were discontinued.

From 1963 with the increase in production, movement for family planning gained a momentum. Late marriage was what was propagated. The teaching of birth control techniques was being done through medical personnel and members of the women’s federation, trade unions etc. and pamphlets printed and distributed. The bare-foot-doctors played an important role in that. In the rural areas, however, barefoot doctors were not adequate. This is because most barefoot doctors were young and unmarried and the villagers were not prepared to listen to birth control-related things from ‘unmarried young people’. Those who are most suitable were older women who themselves practise birth control and hence were also living examples.

During the Cultural Revolution, because of the specific situation, all birth control drives were kept in abeyance. There was also an increase in ‘young marriages’17, despite the fact that late marriage had already started being promoted in 1963.

In 1971, the next phase of the movement commenced whose main feature was total mass participation with the greatest amount of propaganda conceivable. The raising of people’s awareness to promote birth control is a major factor and in order to carry it out a whole network of organization had been set up. In fact, nowhere else in the world had such a network of ‘family planning committees’ been set up18. Every street committee, every neighbourhood committee, every commune, every brigade and production team, had its family staff.

Family Planning among the Nationalities

Of the fifty six nationalities in China, the Han comprised the overwhelming majority of at least 95 per cent of the population. What is important here is that in socialist China, birth planning was meant for the Han people, and not for people belonging to the rest of the fifty five nationalities. Where national minorities are concerned, there is no drive for family planning among them because of considerations, as Han Suyin states, of their own feelings. According to an official, “All national minorities want to increase, and we must let them…but we do recommend late marriage, for the good of the women, their intellectual emancipation, and their health’19.

Contraceptive Techniques

Birth planning is closely related to late marriage and the use of contraceptives. Late marriage, although not a contraceptive technique in the proper sense of the word, is certainly a very powerful instrument for lowering the birthrate. In socialist China, there are emulation drives among young people to make them consider late marriage a revolutionary, a noble action. Therefore, although there is the possibility to marry when one reaches the age of 18, as in the Marriage Law, young people are enjoined to wait a few more years. The ideal marriage age, as propagated in the mid-1970s, is 25 for girls and 28 for men in the cities and 23 for girls and 25 for men in the countryside. There is, however, some exception to this rule. In case there is only one son and a young woman is needed to look after his old parents, then he could have married not late, but after attaining the minimum required age. The question that naturally arises is: Does it not mean that a wife is thus tied up with the family like in old society? Or does it imply that it was to imbibe the socialist spirit of service to the elder members of the family who are in need of such attention?

The use of oral pills as a contraceptive started in 1964 in China. It is mostly in use in the cities, but not so much in the countryside. In rural areas, it was very difficult to make women take their pills regularly. It is interesting to point out that in some communes, a volunteer in each production team, in each work team is delegated to remind the women to take their pill every day. Supplies of pills are available immediately.

In the rural areas, as Han Suyin20 points out, there were some failures with the pill. Women who took it for a while and then forgot to take it had withdrawal bleeding and panicked and then refused to touch it again. In another commune, 70 per cent of the women got pregnant because they had not taken the pill regularly. In another commune, all the women who gave up the pill got pregnant.

Because of these reasons, the insertion of a ring, made of stainless steel, in utero was preferred. Intra-uterine devices (nylon) were in use in certain areas such as the east coast, but there is an 8 per cent failure with these.

The use of male contraceptives (condoms) is much preferred in some areas and the reason for these individual and regional preferences is not known. Carl Djerassi writes about a “Sheet type oral birth control pill” that was produced in a Shanghai medicine factory. There were also birth control injections, which, however, were not that popular. Oral pills for women were more popular. In families having two or three children, the emphasis was on vasectomy surgery for male sterilization21. However, it was not easy to convince people about the importance of sterilization. Apart from the surgical side, the thought that was of much concern was whether such a surgery would lead to loss of sexual strength22. In many families, even when women were willing, men were not. Members of the Women’s Association then went to their houses and tried to convince husbands that frequent child births would be detrimental to the health of their wives. When the husbands failed in logic, masculine instinct stood in the way23.

By the late 1950s, free medical service is provided by the new socialist government. Deadly diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea, which killed millions of people before liberation, have been wiped out once and for all, pregnancy and associated ill-health that appeared as nightmare in the old society has become things of the past. Sylvia Greenwood writes that oral contraceptive pills, other medical needs such as cloth, coil, cap, relevant information papers are all readily available free in the health centres and hospitals. In the case of abortions, the opinion of the woman, not man, stands as final24. The method called ‘Vacuum Aspiration Technique’ that is being practised in different countries of the world for the purpose of abortion was first invented in socialist China. This instrument has been installed in most of the seventy thousand commune hospitals in China25.

An important aspect of birth planning programme in China is the invention of different techniques as also medicines. Whenever any contraceptive medicine is made, the first task is to subject it to experiments on human beings. It was not the common people but doctors, nurses and their associates who made preliminary experiments on themselves26. Such experiments are essential as there was some element of risk in it. This has two aspects. First, as doctors and nurses are directly attached to medical theory and practice, they were in the best position to understand side effects of new medicines so that necessary changes can be made before it is cleared for people’s use. Secondly, and this is more important than the other, as there always remains the possibility of having side effects bad for human health, medical professionals are ready to take those effects upon themselves rather than passing these over to the people. It was a manifestation of the spirit of service to the people.

One of the most important achievements in the history of Chinese medical science is the invention of contraceptive pills for men. It has its roots in the cotton plant. The pill was the outcome of several experiments made from the 1950s and the result was the invention in the late 1970s of the pill called ‘gossypol’27. Besides its importance in the field of medical science, this invention had a political significance also. Till then, the contraceptive pills that were in use were solely for women, not for men. As a result, the effect of their regular use fell solely on the women. Men avoided it. That is, all the side effects and pains of birth control measures are to be borne by women, not by men. One of the main criticisms of feminists against contraceptive pills is this. The invention, which is meant for men and not for women, has demonstrated the feminist perspective of socialist China.

Child Care and Child Mentality

Throughout the stage of primary and secondary education, the Chinese put emphasis on mutual cooperation and collective work so that the children and young generation can imbibe the socialist spirit of service to their country and people. Some Western sources hold that Chinese children grow up in a regimented atmosphere. This view has been rejected by many visitors from the Western world. One such visitor was an American physician name Dr. Spock who went to China in 1973. He noticed that there was marked difference between the mentality of children and the approach towards child care in China and those in the United States of America. In socialist China, the children are taught to love, respect other people, to be cooperative in spirit, while capitalist-imperialist America helps develop among their children the spirit of individualism and self-interest.

One of the most extraordinary things that touched Dr. Spock is “the good behaviour of the children”. As he writes, “We never saw children fighting, we never saw children grabbing, we never saw children whining or complaining”.28 Why is it? In Spock’s opinion, China has no secret about child-rearing. “When you investigate child rearing in other parts of the world, you realize that American children generally fight more, complain more, cry more and grab more than children in any other country that I know of”. Some sense of fear grips their minds. The American parents themselves do not know how their children are to be raised. Dr. Spock remarks that the Americans do not have any philosophy of life, no deep conviction about what life actually is for, unlike the Chinese people. The American people always suffer from a sense of insecurity. Everybody in America is economically and financially insecure; most of them are always in danger of losing their jobs. This tension is transmitted to their children. Dr. Spock was also impressed by the “serenity of the people, their smiling and relaxed appearances as they worked”. He thought quite rightly that “if this has anything to do with the kind of society they have got, then it must be related to the fact that all feel that they are working for each other”29.

Role of Women’s Federation

The Women’s Federation was born in 1949 with the aim of bringing about the unity of all nationalities and classes, enhancing the political consciousness and efficiency of women, emancipating them from the bondage of the old society and bringing them into the creative activities of the new, helping them in establishing their rights and reflecting their hopes and aspirations. This Federation played a major role in reaching that goal, at least in some degrees.

The Federation has made it clear that besides fighting for the equality of men and women in work places, they would also deal with their specific problems arising out of their physical aspects, equal pay for equal work and get rid of the contradiction between social production and housekeeping. Various steps had been taken over the years to make women free from the “eternal drudgeries of housekeeping and child care” such as the creation of cooperative nursery and places for cooperative washing, cooperative dining etc. However, as Elisabeth Croll states in 1974, women have still not been emancipated from the “eternal drudgeries of housekeeping and childcare”30.

The Chinese experience has proved that the creation of a new economic base and a new superstructure does not mean that new values will automatically take root in the new society. Had that been so, then Mao Tse-tung need not have to give a call for the Cultural Revolution. Croll writes that from the decade of the 1960s, the aim of the women’s movement was to make women confident and self-conscious by helping them increase their political consciousness and thereby free them from the influence of old ideas and values.

However, if the need for the emergence of politically conscious women is a pressing one, then no less pressing is the need for the development of politically conscious men too. The struggle for women’s liberation can never be achieved without the transformation of both halfs of the sky.

In the beginning of the 1960s there in China existed the feminist view that the issue of women’s emancipation is totally separated from other issues of social and political nature and that the political and economic system would have no role to play in it. Those who are opposed to this feminist view hold that the struggle for women’s emancipation, despite the specific nature of some issues relating to women, can never be attained without emancipation of all oppressed classes.

Mao Tse-tung, Soong Ching Ling, leader of the Women’s Federation, and others emphasized time and again that the need for women’s movement will exist until and unless the fundamental transformation of the Chinese society is attained. This movement, in reality, is an integral part of the Proletarian revolution and its success depends on the success of the people in other fronts. During the period under study—1949-76—women have got social recognition and regained their self-esteem and self-confidence. The socialist China under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung could take positive and firm steps towards women’s liberation. Despite the fact that China has changed her colour in the period following Mao’s death, the ideology that guided the Chinese people will live on and help in their future struggle for the creation of a new world fit for human living.


  1. Julia Kristeva, About Chinese Women, New York, London, Marion Boyars, 1977; Felix Greene, The World Has Two Sides A Portrait of China Today, Victor Gollanz, London, 1970.

  2. Delia Davin, ‘Women in the ‘50s: Shifts in Policies’, China Now, June 1976. No. 62, Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, London.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Rose Buxton and Patricia Langton, ‘Women and Socialist Equality’, China Now, January 1973.

  5. Survey of Mainland China Press (SMCP), 10 March, 1966.

  6. Michael Opper, ‘Women Power’, in China Now, December 1975.

  7. Young Mongolian Woman shows remarkable initiative and leadership’, Survey of Mainland China Press(SMCP), 9 March, 1966.

  8. Brilliant Examples of Tachai Women’, SMCP, 9 March 1966.

  9. Outstanding Women’, SMCP, 10 March 1966.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Red Flag, December 1973.

  12. Sheila Rowbotham, Women, Resistance and Revolution, London, 1972, pp.196-97.

  13. Noel Gray, ‘Women’s Liberation in China’, China Now, October-November 1971, No. 16.

  14. See ‘Outstanding Women’, SMCP, No. 3654, p.24.

  15. Hsu Li-chang and Yu Wang, ‘Exploding Population Myths’, China Now, July-August 1974, No. 43.

  16. Han Suyin, ‘Population Growth and Birth Planning’, China Now, July-August 1974.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Ibid.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Carl Djerassi, ‘Some Observation on Current Fertility Control in China’, The China Quarterly, January-March 1974, No. 57, pp.42, 45.

  22. Leo O. Orleans, ‘Evidence from Chinese Medical Journals on Current Population Policy’, The China Quarterly, No. 40, October-December 1969, p. 142.

  23. Jan Myrdal, Report from a Chinese Village, London, 1965, pp. 226-27.

  24. Sylvia Greenwood, ‘Women Hold up Half the Sky’, China Now, April-May 1977, No. 71.

  25. Tameyoshi Katagiri and Takuma Terao, ‘Wide Range of Family Planning’, China Now, August-September 1972, No. 24.

  26. Ibid.

  27. For details, see Lynda Birke, ‘The Health of Half of Heaven’ , China Now, September-October 1979, No. 86.

  28. Dr. Spock, ‘Child Care in China’, China Now, June 1975, No. 52.

  29. Ibid.

  30. Elisabeth Croll, ‘Half the Sky’, China Now, January 1975, No. 48.


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