Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 21, September 6, 1976.
Women in China
Women in China
The study of women in China is often a source of frustration to those involved in Women's Rights groups in New Zealand. The different historical backgrounds and political evolution of the two countries have brought about different responses to the problem of the oppression of women.
Women's "Liberation" in advanced western capitalist countries exists mainly in the form of lobby groups striving to remove overt discrimination and signs of oppression. There is a tendancy for the focus of their attacks to be the males of the society who become identified as the oppressors and therefore the enemy.
To the Chinese this shows a very superficial analysis of the problem. Their task, since the beginning of Liberation, has been to rid their society of all oppression from feudal and imperialist forces. They recognise that women under the old system were "doubly oppressed", both as peasant Chinese and as women, but recognise also that the cause of both these forms of oppression was the economic system itself.
Now the enemy is no longer feudalism but capitalism, so that the women's struggle is seen as an element of the class struggle. Women in China seek with men, emancipation from capitalism and thereby an end to all oppression. Thus from a Chinese viewpoint, many western radical Women's groups may seem largely misdirected in their concentration on fighting the symptoms of oppression rather than the cause.
At the risk of having laboured a point, it was necessary for me to outline this basis of Chinese thinking and I hope it provides some sort of answer to two predominant attitudes I encounter on the part of many women. The first is the assumption that Chinese women have reached their present state of "emancipation" through the successful lobbyings of organised groups of women much along the lines of our own; and the second is the criticism, made in the knowledge of women's lobby groups in China, that the Chinese stifle the natural feminist tendencies of some of their [unclear: womens].
It was constantly emphasised to us in China that although Chinese women had not achieved total emancipation, we should never forget how far they have come since Liberation. In other words, rather than comparing the present status of Chinese women to that of New Zealand women, or examining it in terms of our expectations of a socialist state, the only meaningful analysis for the Chinese is in terms of how far they have come in so short a time. In these terms their progress is immeasurable. Every Chinese has indelibly imprinted in his/her mind exactly what women were forced to undergo prior to Liberation. Not only were the vast majority of them slaves to merciless landlords, but under the guidance of Confucius, women were slaves of the men of their family as well.
But it is in the nature of Chinese socialism that this consciousness be equally aroused in men as in women. The myth of male supremacy was shattered early as it was realised that it was an [unclear: inseparable] element of class supremacy, and served only to perpetuate the feudal system, so that it was in everybody's interest to work against it.
Now, since the Cultural Revolution in the mid-sixties, almost every Chinese is conversant with Marxism and Mao Tse Tung thought, so that the Revolution has gained tremendous momentum. Every factory work team, commune production team, residential area, and in fact every work unit in the country has regular "criticism and self-criticism" meetings so that every individual in China is encouraged to criticise what he or she sees as incorrect thinking. For example in a village if a man is accused of [unclear: maltreatment] of his wife he will be severely criticised at one of these meetings by men and women alike, and will be encouraged to recognise the counter-revolutionary nature of his actions. Mao Tse Tung has taught "women hold up half the sky," and anyone deterring from this objective will be openly criticised and encouraged to reform.
For the Chinese know and always emphasise that the class struggle is continuing, and thus the women's struggle also as an integral part. They have not yet got to where they are going, and the future rests solely in the hands of the people.
Chinese women have achieved much of what we would recognise as steps towards liberation. In the vast majority of households men share cooking and cleaning equally with women, and [unclear: child-i-iren] also are encouraged to participate. All people work and there are creches in every single work unit. Women have 56 days maternity leave, then time off to visit and feed the child in the creche when they return to work. Contraception and abortion are freely available and encouraged. One sees women along-side men in factories fields, and on building sites. Very often it was women; who as leading members of Revolutionary Committees addressed us on our visits.
But most important is the extent to which the whole Chinese population is politicised to recognise and fight oppression of all descriptions. This is the women's greatest tool.
But there are still enemy ideas to be fought. Women are still considered by some to be more patient and meticulous, and consequently better with children, while men are more equipped for heavier physical work. In one village we saw an old woman with her feet bound in traditional repressive style.
This is part of the [unclear: atinuing] process in China of phasing [unclear: the] old ideas; no Chinese will eve [unclear: ell] you that the class struggle is [unclear: o]. But men and women alike have the class struggle firmly in hand and one cannot leave China without an overwhelming feeling of optimism inspired by their achievement, their energy, and their conviction of success.