[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #10,
March 8, 1974, pp. 12-15. A footnote says that “The author
is Vice-Director of the Peking Women’s Federation.”]
MARCH 8 is International Working Women’s Day. This festive day commemorates the glorious history of unity in struggle for liberation on the part of the working women of the whole world. This struggle is closely connected with the victorious advance of the cause of liberation of the world’s proletariat.
Today, on this joyous occasion, hundreds of millions of working women across our vast socialist motherland are vigorously taking part in the great political struggle to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius, repudiating the exploiting classes’ ideology including the idea that “men are superior and women are inferior.” In industry, agriculture and other fields of endeavour, women are doing their bit like their male counterparts for the state’s socialist construction. They are giving full play to their abilities and living up to their role as the “other half.” Women in China enjoy equal status with men in all spheres of life—political, economic, cultural, social, and in the home.
Working women suffered grievously in old China. Not only were they exploited and oppressed by foreign imperialism, the reactionary government, landlords and capitalists at home like their menfolk, they also were made to suffer from the 2,000-year-old Confucian ideology that “men are superior and women are inferior.” Not only were they deprived of the right to take part in political and social activities, they also were placed in an inferior position at home.
From my many years as a cadre concerned with women’s work I am not only fully aware of the big contrast between the past and the present, I have also a profound understanding of its significance as I have taken part in the struggle to change the status of women.
Women’s crew working on a high scaffold.
What makes such a fundamental change in the status of Chinese women in New China possible? I feel deeply that the basic reason is because we Chinese women, under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Communist Party, have taken part together with men in the long revolutionary struggles, set up the dictatorship of the proletariat and persisted in continuing the revolution under this dictatorship. Since the appearance of the proletariat on the stage of history, the Chinese women’s movement led by the Chinese Communist Party has, at each and every stage, been integrated with the social revolutionary movement, developed with the advance of the revolution, and become a component part of the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution led by our Party.
I gradually came to realize the reason for this after personally experiencing many setbacks in the course of work and through continuous study linking theory to practice.
I took up work connected with women in 1937. China was then fighting a war of resistance against Japanese aggression and my task was to organize women in the countryside to join the movement to resist Japan and save the country. I was a student who had just come into contact with the revolution and knew little about revolutionary theory. I knew that the majority of women were working women and to talk about women’s liberation without them was only a deception by the exploiting classes and empty talk by intellectuals. But as to how the broad masses of working women were to gain their liberation, I had no clear idea. I saw the unhappy lot of women and questions crowded my anguished mind. Why were women so oppressed? Why weren’t women and men equal? How were the women to achieve liberation? At first I thought that because women were bullied by men and by parents-in-law, to win equality, women must win their due rights from the men and fight for freedom in the home. This view was not uncommon among some women and cadres at that time. This was trying to settle the women’s problem in isolation and proved to be quite impractical.
Engels pointed out: “The first class antagonism which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamian marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male.” Women had occupied a highly respected position throughout the period of primitive society until the rise of the patrilineal gentes. The change in social status between men and women gradually took place with the breaking up of primitive society and the emergence of private ownership and the appearance of classes. Oppression of working women is first of all class oppression and sex inequality accompanies class inequality.
Since oppression of women has its social roots in private ownership and class exploitation, a thorough change in the unequal status of working women can be achieved only through revolution, through the elimination of private ownership and the exploiting classes. Precisely because of this the great task for the complete liberation of women falls on the shoulders of the proletariat whose historical mission is to eliminate private ownership and class exploitation. Hence, women’s liberation cannot but be a component part of the proletarian revolution. Since the women’s rights movements of the bourgeoisie pursue “equality of the sexes” in form, and do not take into account classes and class struggle and are divorced from the social revolutionary movement, they can only side-track the women’s liberation movement.
Men and women guerrillas returning to their base after destroying
an enemy transport line during the War of Resistance Against Japan.
Woodcut by Hsu Kuang
In pointing out the only correct path for the Chinese revolution, the great leader of the Chinese people Chairman Mao also pointed out the only correct path for Chinese women to win complete liberation. In 1927, Chairman Mao said in his work Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan that a man in China is usually subjected to the domination of three systems of authority—political, clan and religious—whereas a woman, in addition to being dominated by these three systems of authority, is also dominated by the man (authority of the husband). “The political authority of the landlords is the backbone of all the other systems of authority. With that overturned, the clan authority, the religious authority and the authority of the husband all begin to totter.” “As for the clan system, superstition, and inequality between men and women, their abolition will follow as a natural consequence of victory in the political and economic struggles.” This is a profound exposition of the relation between the liberation of Chinese women and the people’s revolutionary struggle. Only by overthrowing the rule of the reactionary regime can the position of women be fundamentally changed.
For the broad masses of women to win liberation they must take part in social revolution. For the revolution led by the proletariat to win victory it must have the participation of the broad masses of women. Marx said: “Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment.” And Lenin said: “There can be no socialist revolution unless very many working women take a big part in it.” Chairman Mao said: “Women comprise one half of the population. The economic status of working women and the fact of their being specially oppressed prove not only that women urgently need revolution but also that they are a decisive force in the success or failure of the revolution.”
During the various historical periods of the Chinese revolution, our Party has always paid attention to getting the broad masses of women to take part in it. For example, in 1934-35 quite a number of advanced women were in the world-famous 25,000-li Long March of the Chinese Red Army. They were as firm and brave as the men comrades, crossing snow-clad mountains and desolate grasslands, overcoming unimaginable hardships to victoriously reach their destination. Today, many of them are outstanding cadres in the Party.
During the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-45), I worked in several base areas behind enemy lines in southern Hopei Province. I vividly remember as if it were only yesterday how women enthusiastically participated in the war effort, urging husbands and sons to join the army and taking over all the farm work while the men were at the front. They also weaved cloth and made footwear for the people’s army, served as stretcher bearers, tended the sick and wounded and acted as couriers. Some women took up arms and fought in battles.
Textile worker Wu Kuei-hsien (centre) is discussing with workers of the
fine yarn shop of the No. 1 State Cotton Mill in northwest China to
improve the quality of products. Wu Kuei-hsien is Alternate Member of
the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee and Secretary of
the Shensi Provincial Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
In the land reform and the movement to support the fighting front during the War of Liberation (1946-49), women took an active part and played a tremendous role. Many heroines emerged in the history of the Chinese revolution and their heroic deeds are still praised and sung by the people.
As the revolutionary struggle developed victoriously, the cause of women’s liberation also won great victories. The status of women improved step by step. I remember the first election of people’s representatives in the Shansi-Chahar-Hopei Border Region in 1940. Eighty-five per cent of the women citizens cast votes and 20 per cent of the representatives at the region, county and village levels were women. An increasing number of women held leading positions. For one engaged in work concerning women, this big change in their status was heartening.
Precisely because hundreds of millions’ of Chinese women took an active part in the revolutionary struggles together with the rest of the people, the dark rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism was overthrown in 1949 and the Chinese people were liberated. The liberation of the broad masses of women thus entered a new stage.
With the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the working people became masters of the country. The Party and Government drew up a constitution, laws and a whole series of policies to guarantee and promote the right of women to enjoy equality with men politically, economically, culturally, socially and in the home. The Marriage Law promulgated in 1950 completely did away with the arbitrary and compulsory feudal marriage system, prohibited the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage and introduced freedom of marriage for both men and women. The Labour Insurance Regulations promulgated in 1951 contained special provisions to safeguard the interests of women and children.
But the revolution did not end with these. When the People’s Republic was founded in 1949, Chairman Mao called on the women of the whole country: “Unite and take part in production, and political activity to improve the economic and political status of women.” In 1955, Chairman Mao pointed out that real equality between men and women could be realized only in the course of the socialist transformation of the whole society.
Under the guidance of Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line, women in China have over the past 20 years taken an active part in democratic reforms and in the socialist revolution. In particular, since the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, women along with the rest of the people of China threw themselves into the battle to smash the two bourgeois headquarters headed by Liu Shao-chi and Lin Piao.
In the struggles they diligently studied Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and their consciousness in class struggle and the two-line struggle was greatly enhanced. They paid attention to affairs of the state and the world and they had their minds on how to better serve the people. They linked their work to building socialism, supporting the world revolution and the liberation of women of the whole world and the cause of liberation of all mankind. Large numbers of outstanding women have been admitted into the Communist Party and women delegates made up 20 per cent of the delegates to the Tenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1973. Twelve per cent of the Members and Alternate Members of the Party Central Committee are women.
The swift development of the socialist economy and culture has provided a wide range of opportunities for women to take part in social productive labour. Every year, large numbers of them join the ranks of workers. In the cities many women have broken out of the restricted confines of the family to set up and run all kinds of factories and create wealth for the society and, at the same time, improve their own economic status.
In the countryside the broad masses of women, including tens of thousands of educated young women who have gone to settle in the countryside after completing their schooling, are working tenaciously to transform nature and build a new socialist countryside. A large contingent of women “barefoot doctors” has appeared in the countryside in recent years. They are a substantial force for improving the rather backward medical and health conditions in the rural areas. In education, the arts and science and other fields, large numbers of women are working diligently for socialism. All this speaks well for the fact that times have changed and today men and women are equal. Whatever men comrades can accomplish women comrades can too.
Members of a commune in Shansi Province
off to study Chairman Mao’s works in a
night school run by their brigade.
All over China public dining-rooms, creches and kindergartens, and other mother and child care facilities are increasing in number. Family planning is advocated and housework is shared by husbands and wives. All this ensures the health of the women and at the same time frees them from the burden of house hold chores, enabling them to have more opportunities to take part in political activities and productive labour.
Special mention must be made of the large number of outstanding young women workers and peasants who have been promoted to leading positions since liberation and, in particular, since the Great Cultural Revolution started. Women today hold leading posts ranging from the highest organs of the Party and Government as well as the National People’s Congress down to the various local organs, factories and people’s communes. Ordinary women textile workers have become Party and state leaders and former women serfs in Tibet are now leading cadres respected by everyone. They maintain close ties with the masses and serve them diligently, playing an increasingly great role. The emergence of large numbers of women cadres is an important indication of the liberation of Chinese women.
In recalling the fighting history of the Chinese women’s movement, it can be clearly seen that it is a component part of the new-democratic revolution and the socialist revolution led by the proletariat. Every advance in the revolution brought the women’s liberation movement a step further.
Age-old oppression and enslavement of Chinese women is gone for ever. The establishment of the socialist system has opened up boundless vistas for their complete liberation. However, the reactionary forces scheming to turn back the wheel of history still remain. We must smash their plots for retrogression and restoration of the old order. Remnants of the old concept that “men are superior and women are inferior” and old habits and customs left over from the old society have still to be thoroughly eliminated. The current nationwide revolutionary movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius will inevitably become a tremendous force propelling China’s women to win complete liberation.
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