The Role of Women in the History of the Twentieth Century China
There were instances whereby women were ignored or considered insignificant in the journey of revolution in China. However, women played a great role in the transformation of the 20th century China. Ma and Ye narrate their stories about what transpired; they share their worries and experiences from their childhood to the time they went to the U.S. (Weili and Xiadong). Ye and Ma identified many social and cultural characteristics, an aspect that shapes up what they encountered. They were both born in Beijing, lived in the great leap forward in the city, were sent to the countryside, and they together became red guards as young youths (Weili and Xiadong). Consequently, Ye uses this platform to critique her experiences and argues that she lost years of her life trying to make China better and trying to stand out in a culture that demeaned women.
In the history of humankind, women have always been given lower position compared to men. Nonetheless, their predictable values have transformed over time from the imperial period to the communist revolution (Thunghon and Xiaogang 6). In fact, the communist revolution damaged the traditional familial bonds and in turn elevated women to equal positions. This entailed the use of repetitive community meeting and poster propagandas to manipulate people’s thoughts. Women became a crucial part of China especially after the 1950 marriage law that outlawed harsh practices against women such as child brides, arranged marriages, and dowries. This resulted in the development of what the country figured as the New China.
Ye and Ma discuss their experiences and the events that transpired that eventually shaped China. During their time, China lacked the freedom of ideas and they learned to do things that were allowed by their community. Moreover, they questioned what was presented because they wanted to show that the country could be greater if it had freedom. The two wanted to show that women were not considered as an important figure, unlike their male counterparts. For instance, they could argue, “eliminating gender distinctions was never articulated as a goal of the movement, but to be a revolutionary implicitly meant to look like a man” (Weili and Xiadong 4). This shows that they had to act like men if they were to achieve any change in China.
When the communist party centralized its power, the rights of women were uplifted, and they were considered as important figures towards running the country. However, even after they entered the workforce, they were still required to have many children to help with the revolution. Some urban youths and the Red Guards were separated from their families and sent to the countryside. This affected Ma, and Ye, and it why they reflect on as they were among those sent to the countryside while they were still very young.
Women were not always considered as complete equals even after enacting laws that protect their interest. Indeed, femininity was disguised under unisex clothing and women were considered at fault when they suffered sexual harassment. Ye and Ma went to great heights to ensure that the women were heard, they even fashioned themselves like men because males were the more respected figure (Weili and Xiadong). They argue that they were counterrevolutionary and Ma went as far as physically abusing a woman with a belt.
During the Cultural Revolution, Ye joined with other students in marching and shouting slogans. She argued that before the Cultural Revolution, acts of violence were only prevalent in movies. However, Ma believed that this violence was necessary for the fight for change; she said that counter-revolution violence was bad, but Cultural Revolution violence was necessary. Ma argued that during this time, a person had to pick sides and thus she had no place for sentiments. Ma was a revolutionary in the fight for change while Ye was not willing to be in acts of violence (Weili and Xiadong).
Role Played by the Stratum of Party Cadres in the Political and Economic Structure of China
The stratum of the party of cadres played an important role in the fight against class in China. The Chinese Party Cadres suffered from reforms when seen as an elitist political stratum. Party organizations were the ones referred to as the Chinese Party Cadres. The elite controlled China, the class that controlled production by the use of political power (Thunghon and Xiaogang 3). Ye and Ma argued that they both wanted to change because the ruling class exploited the common civilians. Ma argues that she was a revolutionist and was in the anti-Mao fight with the aim of ensuring they got the chance they deserved (Weili and Xiadong). During this period, there was a great divide between cadres and ordinary workers, or party members and non-party members.
The rural workers were confined to a collective rural sector while their urban counterparts were well organized in a factory. Therefore, there was a need to fight for the peasants in the rural areas. Ma experienced solidarity with the peasants and outline her struggles refusing to paint herself as a victim. She went back to help them after her assignment was over because she understood what they were going through.
Economic reforms started in 1957 when capitalists and landlord were eliminated from the society by the communist rhetoric (Thunghon and Xiaogang 8). Most of the Chinese population consisted of peasants. However, the capitalist class gradually reemerged in the 80s but most people in the private sector, during this period, were self-employed. The stratum of party cadres was similar to the elite class in that they had the ability to control production. Those in power, the bureaucrats, and political leaders defined a class, and thus this class could be able to do so. However, there were a lot of differences between workers and ordinary people as they were not treated as equals.
Role of Class
The class has often been used as a common divide to know the people who are considered to matter and the people who help make them matter. In the late 20th century, there was a great divide between the people who own and the ones who do not own the means of production (Thunghon and Xiaogang 2-4). This is due to cases of inequality in pays, public protests, and rising labor disputes. This made the social class a core concept in analyzing this social inequality. China experienced a lot of issues regarding class inequalities since the economic reforms (Thunghon and Xiaogang 3).
The neglect on the issue of social inequality and collective action was because of the elimination of private ownership during a period in the Maoist era. This epoch condensed class as an unsatisfactory idea when evaluating economic and social dissimilarity. The private sector emerged in the early 70s, but it remained marginal in the national economy up until the mid-1990s (Thunghon and Xiaogang 2). Another reason for the neglect is the fact that the Chinese Communist Party did not want to relate to the concept, class, that it was a term that meant there were issues of exploitation, a concept that was against their official ideology (Thunghon and Xiaogang 2-6). However, this does not mean the issue of class was non-existent; the wealthy class was still in control while the poor and middle-level class was employed to work for the wealthy, making them richer.
Chinese communist rhetoric argued that class ceased to exist in 1957 when landlords and capitalists were taken off, and private ownership was transformed to public ownership (Thunghon and Xiaogang 2-6). However, class struggles were strongly emphasized during this period, during the Maoist era, the class was referred to as a political label, which was based on one’s family origin during the period of the liberation. At this time, it was not regarded so much as the socioeconomic term referring to private ownership of public assets.
The Chinese class structure changed during the Chinese Socialism, the Communist revolution and social reforms led to the extinction of exploiting classes. The new classes that were formed entailed bureaucrats and Communist Party functionaries. These groups used political power to control the means of production (Thunghon and Xiaogang 2-7). This shows that class was simply determined by the elite and thus one had to understand those who controlled production. The rhetoric of class ensured that the capitalist and all private owners were alienated in a bid to make workers and peasants have a right in the society. However, the term class referred to exploitation, and that is why it could not be extinct.
China’s rapid economic growth meant that the peasant class declined in number and the number of rural cadres also went down due to the abolishment of the commune system of the people in the 1980s (Thunghon and Xiaogang 10-15). The hierarchical order implemented in the Maoist era differed from the traditional Confucian order in that it defined power regarding hierarchy. The people at the top of the leadership ladder were the ones with the ability to control production while the traditional Confucian order depended on those with the workforce.
Thunghon, Lin, and Wu Xiaogang. “The Transformation the Chinese Class Structure, 1978-2005.” Social Transformations in Chinese Societies 2009: 1-45. <https://works.bepress.com/xiaogang_wu/19/>.
Weili, Ye, and Ma Xiadong. Growing Up in The People’s Republic: Conversations Between two Daughters of China Revolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.