2126-Article Text-7101-1-10-20190506.pdf - WOMEN AND...

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128 WOMEN AND COMMUNIST CHINA UNDER MAO ZEDONG: SEEDS OF GENDER EQUALITY MICHAEL WIELINK The mid twentieth century was a tumultuous and transformative period in the history of China. Following over two decades of civil and international war, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party seized control and established the People’s Republic of China on Oct ober 1, 1949. Mao Zedong’s famed political slogan “Women Hold Up Half The Sky” 1 was powerful rhetoric, with the apparent emphasis on gender equality and inferred concepts of equality and sameness. Women did not achieve equality with men, nor did they attain egalitarian self- determination or social autonomy. Mao envisaged “women’s equality” as a dynamic force with an indelible power to help build a Chinese Communist State. An in-depth investigation into the social, cultural, and economic roles of women, both rural and urban, illustrates how women inextricably worked within Mao’s Communist nation -building efforts to slowly erode gender inequalities. While full gender equality never came to fruition, this era allowed women to experience a broad range of experiences, which ultimately contained the seeds of change toward breaking down gender stratification. Viewed through this lens, a window of understanding opens up about gender dynamics in Mao’s China and how the first cracks in gender inequality appeared in China. Perhaps the best starting point is to understand the social status of women in China prior to the Communist Revolution. Chinese women, not unlike women in most cultures, have historically suffered as a result of their comparatively low status. The Confucian philosophy (551- 479 B.C.E) of “filial piety” produced a deep rooted and systematic gender inequality for women in China. The three 1 Xin Huang, The Gender Legacy of the Mao Era: Women's Life Stories in Contemporary China (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018), 14.