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Was the communists’ attempt at marriage reform in 1950s successful? Essay


This analysis focuses on the communists’ attempt at marriage reform in 1950s and the impact it had on the society. Importantly, the essay will detail the successes and failures that were witnessed as a result of the reforms.

In essence, the paper will explore how marriage was revolutionized and the overall impact of the reforms, which were initiated in 1950s. To achieve this objective, relevant information will be sourced from authentic books, written by reputable authors.

China’s Revolutionary Marriage

In understanding marriage revolutionary under communism, it is essential to underscore the role of politics in the entire reform process, and how politicians used their positions to influence the society. For example, the People’s Republic of China was founded by students of Karl Marx, who believed that the marriage system was supposed to change based on the existing economic structure (Johnson 91).

As a result, the Chinese communists embarked on reconstructing their marriage system after the founding of the socialist state in 1949. Following the ratification of the new marriage law in 1950, the reforms were extended to the rest of the nation even though they had only been tested in the border areas.

As a result, most Chinese got used to the new freedom by the time the campaigns ended in 1953. Nevertheless, the process was met with some resistance, which triggered the need for a compromise between the state and its people as a way of attaining a balance (Diamant 30).

During this revolutionary period, the new marriage law led to certain changes, which ended up shaping the marriage system in the country. For example, romantic love was detached from considerations of matrimony and was replaced with the importance of loyalty to the party, matched political ideals, and revolutionary passions (Johnson 92).

Additionally, the state controlled the lives of its people through the introduction of the danwei. In this regard, marriage became a complicated process that entailed application, investigation, and registration.

The revolutionized marriage got rooted in the system, allowing its application to all Chinese across the country (Diamant 41). The following segments explain the marriage law of 1950 and how it affected the country’s marriage system.

The Marriage Law

The marriage law was promulgated in May 1950, by the People’s Republic of China, a move, which was seen by leaders as a way of eliminating the old productive relationships and structure, to develop a socialist system of marriage. In other words, the law was aimed at liberating men and women from the bondage of the old system by conforming to a social system of development (Johnson 92).

Socialists believed that the old system was barbarian and backward. It therefore necessitated the introduction of a system, which would promote social productivity as well as the elimination of the old marriage system.

During the first year of the marriage reforms, communist leaders joined forces with the All-China Democratic Women’s Federation to study the new law. They carried out research on various issues by collecting data from different places.

They studied the marriage laws of the Soviet and border areas, Soviet Union laws, and regulations from the New Democratic Eastern European countries (Johnson 93). Importantly, the spirit of this group was in line with the past marriage regulations of the CPP, which included bringing to an end the feudal marriage system, promoting freedom in marriage, and equality between men and women, with more emphasis to the latter.

Promulgation and Implementation

This occurred between 1950 and 1953 when the socialists focused on replacing the old system of marriage with the one, which they considered to be better for the people of China. Notably, the government launched propaganda that traversed the entire leadership, advocating for change (Johnson 115).

Several nongovernmental organizations joined the efforts of the state, including the All-China Democratic Women’s Federation, All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and the Central Committee of Youth League among others. The implementation period can generally be divided into two major stages; 1950-1951 and 1952-1953.

The Disappointment Stage

Even though the purpose of the new law was to establish a different marriage system, which was inclined towards socialism, the state mainly focused on adjusting marital relations, during the first year of its promulgation. As a result, it adopted various methods, not only to reach the masses but also to influence those who were reached.

Some of these methods included but not limited to broadcasting, art performances, public discussions, and literature (Johnson 115). The state worked towards changing the attitude of its people towards traditional marriage. By the end of the first year, tremendous strides had been made across the country.

For instance, the All-China Democratic Women’s Federation was satisfied with the fact that most Chinese youths were able to challenge the decisions made by their parents, regarding marriage. Women also became more enthusiastic about the reforms as they managed to overcome the connection with the old system of social relationships (Hershatter 5).

Due to this understanding, there was an increase in the number of marriage lawsuits as men and women advanced their marital rights. Despite the fact that the new marriage law was affecting both men and women, most of the reported cases were made by women, indicating that majority of them advocated for change.

It is believed that the first year of promulgating the law led to massive public consciousness about the law across the country, which was the goal of the communist government. However, the achievements realized during this time did not meet the expectations of women in the country and those of the sponsoring political party.

There were various problems that were observed by women’s associations like the increase in the number of women who were prosecuted under the new law (Johnson 116). There were also rising cases of women committing suicide during the first year of promulgation, with Shadong registering 1245 female suicide cases, while 10,000 were either murdered or abused in marriage in Zhongnan.

The implementation of the new marriage law turned out to be ineffective because of feudal thoughts, which remained in the minds of some leaders that were in-charge of the process. This was known to the central government from the time the idea of implementing the law was conceived.

Based on this possibility, the Communist Party of China strongly condemned misconduct among its members upon the endorsement of the new law, in April, 1950. In order to deal with such cases and minimize their occurrence, the government was concerned with training and educating all the cadres, who were in-charge of various areas in the country (Johnson 118).

Additionally, nongovernmental organizations like the Women’s Federation were equally involved in dealing with marriage cases as a way of helping the local courts in prosecuting criminals.

It is doubtless that the Communist Party of China was committed to the success of the law through all the mechanisms, which were available. For instance, the party dealt with its members who interfered with marriage freedom directly without allowing such individuals to be punished by civil and legal legislations.

During the first year of implementing the law, its success was uneven across the country as some cadres had played a significant role in eliminating traditional marriage customs while others had not taken the task seriously. While the state had taken a leading initiative in implementing the marriage reforms, it is worth noting that the process was not smooth in every region.

In some cases, the law was resisted as residents adhered to the old marriage traditions, thus interfering with marriage freedom, which was enshrined in the new law. This was however blamed on the cadres who were in-charge of the affected areas.

As a result, arranged marriages remained common, women oppression continued with an increase in the number of related suicide and homicide cases. Some of the supporters of the traditional practices remained cruel to women and became a stumbling block to their success. For example, several women were murdered as a result of abusive relationships in Huoqu County in 1950.

It was quite ironical that cadres in the affected areas took no action against perpetrators of such inhumane actions but went ahead to criticize the victims, arguing that the affected women were out of their mind, and deserved death.

Some judicial organizations were also blamed for the unsuccessful implementation of the new marriage law; they delayed sentences and gave tempered penalties. These sent a wrong message to men who did not fear serving a jail term of two years for killing their wives (Hershatter 97).

It is important to note that the Chinese traditionalists believed that marriage was a domestic affair, which was not supposed to be governed by the laws of the state. As a general principle, all marriage problems were to be addressed and settled within the family, through the leadership of senior members, related to the husband.

Consequently, the new marriage reforms initiated by the state were seen as external interference, aimed at imposing totalitarian control on the family. It was this misunderstanding that led to panic and resistance within the public domain as some people avoided the cadres.

Among other reasons, it was believed that most Chinese men were worried with the freedom for one to seek divorce as it was stated in the new marriage law. In this regard, there was total fear among men since divorce would imply lose of the daughter-in-law, property and the right to take care of children without any form of compensation.

This would therefore introduce one to eternal loneliness and total detachment from the family. Based on this analysis, it can be argued that the first year of implementing marriage reforms in China was characterized by mixed outcomes of success and failure, as there was uneven acceptance of the reforms around the country.

Urban Success

Despite the uneven response during the first two years, the government remained determined to promote the success of the reforms. In 1953, it initiated investigations, aimed at revealing the implementation of the new law and the performance of cadres, through propaganda (Hershatter 332).

According to the state, there was need for cadres to change their approach in implementing the new laws by adopting educational principles rather than coercion, which was commonly observed in land reforms. As a result, this approach turned out to be successful, especially in urban areas (Johnson 138).

This was achieved through proper training of the cadres with a sole aim of equipping them with knowledge and skills, which were vital in changing the minds of people regarding marriage.

Other strategies, which were employed, included solving the problems of the masses by answering their questions, use of models, and removal of the offender’s name from the public. Moreover, the authorities focused on voluntary participation in propaganda programs as compared to compulsory involvement by the government.

By September 1954, significant achievements had been realized in Beijing, including a drop in cases of women abuse, as masses accepted marriage freedom and denounced trading of marriage (Diamant 178). High level of this acceptance was registered among urban residents, teachers, and university students. On the other hand, partial success was reported among industrial workers and people with rural background.

With regard to children, most of them were not confident enough to make independent marriage decisions (Johnson 139). Despite this success, most girls believed that money was the foundation of love.

They therefore put into consideration the economic status of the man before accepting marriage. Nonetheless, the issue of inequality remained a major problem as it involved the entire society, thus calling for more time in order to influence more people.

Marriage problems

Before the success of marriage reforms was declared, Civil Affairs Bureau of the People’s Government of Beijing reported a wide range of problems, which were facing the reform process in September 1954. In fact, problems related to feudal customs were common in 1960s, as cadres and parents got involved in the marriages of their children.

Additionally, buying and selling of marriages became common as the bride’s family requested for monetary gifts and expensive feasts before accepting the marriage proposal (Johnson 150). Farmers were also neglected as potential husbands since they lacked enough cash.

Most authorities argued that these problems were as a result of discontinuity of the marriage law movement. Many leaders opted for regular propaganda education and government inspections in order to maintain the spirit of freedom in marriage.


In general, promulgation of the new marriage law in 1950s was the first step that was undertaken by the CCP’s revolution agenda. Importantly, the transition between the customs of the state and the thoughts of people could not be achieved easily. It required constant effort in changing the perception of the masses.

Despite the fact that the marriage campaign across the country ended in 1953, investigations, which were carried out later revealed that the transition required a longer period of time, than three years (Diamant 209). Notably, the communists’ attempt at marriage reform in 1950s was partially successful.

This was mainly based on the approach, which was adopted by the state in turning the masses away from their marriage traditions. Importantly, the fear of divorce dominated the resistance of men towards marriage freedom, enshrined in the new marriage law. As a result, most of the efforts towards freedom in marriage were fruitless.

Works Cited

Diamant, Neil. Revolutionizing the Family: Politics, Love, and Divorce in Urban and Rural China, 1949-1968. California: University of California Press, 2000. Print.

Hershatter, Gail. The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past. California: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

Johnson, Kay. Women, the Family, and Peasant Revolution in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Print.

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