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Women Liberation during the Socialist Era Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 21st, 2020

Introduction

This lecture is a close examination of women liberation during the Cultural Revolution in China. Despite the great suppression that women were subjected to, they stood up against all odds to defend their rights. Rising from the lows of an abused slave, Wu Qiong Hua showed a great spirit of a soldier.

She had a strong will to stand up for her rights and that will led her into joining the army and finally became an army leader. She had a great personality and great determination to fight for what was right.

Considering the male dominated society and era that Wu Qiong Hua lived in, it is hard to imagine the feat she was able to accomplish. She was more than a fighter; she had the personality to fight women suppression.

Thesis

Women in China had been chained up by the traditional feminine role for thousands of years. They were coerced to obey the three obedience and four virtues. Mao introduced a new perspective of viewing women thus redefining the woman theory in a more liberal perspective.

This was during the Cultural Revolution and women gracefully enjoyed a new status they had never experienced before. The new era in womanhood witnessed deep transformations spanning from the external appearance to the internal perceptions which had been deep seated during the class struggle era.

The woman soldier is squarely a product of the actions of Mao, and thus of the socialist China. She is a witness and a proof of the transformation that took place during the socialist era. Women of this era were the contradictory mixture. They were the modifiers and were also the ones that were modified.

The Red Detachment of Women, both in 1961 film version and 1964 ballet version, presented the enormous transformation of the female figure and their social status during the era of socialist China. The Red Detachment of Women, which had been assumed as the “model work” in Cultural Revolution, also reflects the life, politic, ideology and social values at the time.

Historical Background

The pre-socialist era was oppressive towards women. There were very many oppressive practices that the society embraced and which greatly burdened women. Fulton discusses these practices in great details. The first practice she highlights is that of foot-binding.

This is an eleventh century practice introduced to the society by the wealthy class. Foot binding was very painful, but unfortunately very significant because it determined whether a woman could get married or not. This practice started at a very tender age of three years (Fulton 35).

Another way that women were oppressed was in the manner in which the society allowed men to relate to them. Wives were treated with a lot off disrespect. A wife was a subject to the family she was married to.

She did not have any powers but always had to be submissive to the family of her husband. Women also fostered oppression against themselves. A first wife had more power than the other wives and using this power she could cruelly treat the other wives.

Concubines were used by men for sexual pleasure as well as for children siring. Wives had more power than concubines and as result concubines were also cruelly treated by wives. If a wife was barren she could take the children of a concubine.

If a husband died, his wife took charge of the concubines and would do anything with them including selling them to a brothel. Prostitution was even worse. There were times when peasants resorted to sell their girls to prostitution (Fulton 35).

On the question of women liberation from the above snapshot, Mao did a revolutionary work. Laws were instituted that gave protection to women, and consequently gave then a leeway from oppression. One such law was the right to get a divorce.

A wife could request for a divorce from her husband. This gave a great chance for wives to divorce husbands who abused them. Foot binding was also becoming a past act by 1949 as result of intentional advances by Mao to liberate women.

Arranged marriages were banned – men and women had to choose each other for marriage. This gave great freedom to women to settle into marriage with men they were comfortable with. Marriage contracts and associated sales were also banned. This gave some dignity to women not to be viewed as goods for sale.

Prostitution was outlawed and concubines were freed. A federation was started, Women’s Federation, to better the status of women in the society. Women were encouraged to join schools and the workforce (Fulton 35).

Analysis of the scenes in film and ballet version

Both the film and ballet version of The Red Detachment of Women reflects the status of women during the pre-socialist era. Wu Qiong Hua best illustrates this as she moves from being a slave into being a woman soldier. At the start of the film and the ballet, we get introduced to a slave girl who has been trying to escape from abuse in vain.

She is subjected to beatings and torture every time she tries to escape. It seems she cannot do anything to free herself. The implication that is shed as at this level is that women were oppressed by forces above them and which they could not control (Xie 1).

This was a true depiction of the events of the time because women were always under the control of their husbands and their mothers in law and if they were not married they were under their fathers’ and mothers’ control. As already discussed above, there was a time when families could sell their girls to get cash for food.

Fulton also notes that at this time, food was so scarce that parents had to choose among the children who was to eat and who to starve and more often than not girls were forced to go hungry (Fulton 36).

The statement is simple, girls/women had nowhere to escape to for freedom whether they were married or not; oppression was right on their necks. This is exactly what is depicted at the opening moments of the film and ballet versions (Xie 1).

It is worth noting that it is only the initial moments of the film and ballet versions that represent the status of women in the pre-socialist era. The depiction is that women were completely hopeless and they had nowhere to run.

When Changqing gets attracted to the situation of Wu Qiong Hua, this marks the beginning of the desire by the Communist Party to liberate women and the whole of China indeed from oppression.

The director used music and light to show the situation between good (socialist era) and bad (pre-socialist era). Changqing represents the good side which is bent on helping Wu Qiong Hua from the oppressive side Nan Batian (Xie 1).

Gender norms at the time

During the socialist era, women experienced great changes in their societal status. One change which greatly changed the position of women in the society was the increase in their duties and especially the things they could do.

Women were allowed to join the labor force in the factories. They learned how to run the factories. They were also allowed to go to school and gain academic competency.

The call for education was even among the peasants and thus generally women gained education, and consequently were more informed.

Education and empowerment from gains earned by joining the workforce raised women to a new level confidence; women gained some sort of independence which gave them some self-confidence. With this sort of confidence and the backup of the law, women were empowered to bargain even at the household level (Fulton 37).

The role of the Women’s Federation cannot be assumed. This organization worked hard to see that women were given an opportunity to progress in the society. Some of the functions that the federation undertook was closing down of brothels and ensuring that all concubines were freed.

The federation organized for the employment of women and did all it could to ensure that those who wanted to join school did that. Women were also informed of their rights concerning the various issues which touched their lives such as being married against their wish (Fulton 37).

The empowerment of women did one great thing – it reduced the gender gap which had existed before. Women were no longer viewed as doormats but were accorded some respect. The mixture of women and men in the workplace made it possible for the notion of male gender superiority to melt.

This era therefore uplifted the female gender, and as a result helped to wither masculinity dominance in the society. In other words, this time helped greatly in fostering equality. There was a great change in ideology on the role of women in the society. The society was turned round to respect and support women whom they had so much scorned.

Women and Masculinity

Despite the stated above facts that the status of women changed under the socialist era, some critics have observed that the change in gender roles and the uplifting of women status was not as high as it has been said to be. According to Evans, women still played the roles of taking care of their families especially children.

She argues that the fact that women were allowed to enter the workforce did not mean they neglected their primary role of taking care of their children, husbands and often parents-in-law. This was their customary domestic division of tasks (Evans 1).

It is further noted that there was a violation of very basic issues that relate to women. The manner in which they were integrated into the workforce left much to be desired. The phrase “Whatever men can do, women can do too” was popularized in China at this time. Unfortunately, this led to rendering women masculine. Women were pushed into being like men – some sources refer to women of this age as ‘iron girls’ (Wang 136).

For instance, they to wear the same uniforms as men and they made to appear as men. Men were being used as the yardstick for evaluating women (Li 1). This meant that women were losing their womanhood and were being transformed to be like me. This was degrading to women.

Women soldiers under political influence

As already noted above, women gained from the recognition they received from the political sector during the socialist era. It has been noted that the Communist Party had the interest of liberating women way before it was in power. This desire started among the founders of the party before it was even formed.

As time progressed, much development unfolded and led to including women in the movement of the party after it was formed. Women issues were discussed in the first, second and third congress of the party back in 1923 (Evans 1).

When the communist Party ascended to power, it had a clear picture of the need to liberate women. This is because women liberation was an issue which had been discussed at length way from the very beginning of the formation of the party.

However, Evans argues that women liberation and politics, especially party politics, have been mixed up in issues to do with the definition of some terms.

It has further been argued that depending on a term picked, the definition and perspective of liberation would take a different course. It is noted that the term given to liberation of women could change in definition depending on the party priorities (Xie, Lily, and Barry 1).

Conclusion

To conclude this lecture, we must note that the study of Chinese women warriors is very important. This is because they have made an important contribution in history of China. They stood up against barbaric traditions and fought their way to freedom.

They therefore made a great contribution to the progress of the reformation of China. Asian women warriors in general have also made great contribution to their specific homelands in ensuring women rights are uplifted.

The studies of women warriors in general therefore help us to appreciate the vital role that women play in the society to ensure that all society members are treated equally.

Works Cited

Evans, Harriet. “The Language of Liberation: Gender and Jiefang in early Chinese Communist Party.” Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context 1 (1998): 1. Print.

Fulton, Jessica. Holding up Half the Heavens: The Effect of Communist Rule on China’s Women. Class Article, 2013. Print.

Li, Yuhui. “Women’s Movement and Change of Women’s Status in China.” Bridge, 2013. Web. <>

Wang, Zheng. “Maoism, Feminism, and the UN Conference On Women: Women’s Studies Research In Contemporary China.” Journal of Women’s History 8.4 (1997): 126. Print.

Xie, Bingying, Lily C. Brissman, and Barry Brissman. A Woman Soldier’s Own Story: The Autobiography of Xie Bingying. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Print.

Xie, Jin. The Red Detachment of Women. Shanghai Tianma Film Studio production, 1961. Film.

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