Middle Kingdom Tales
Middle Kingdom Tales


On CCP's Feminism

They never tried to liberate women, but to liberate their productive force.

When people so persistently try to find something from the past to justify their cause in the present, their forbearers’ limitation is often ignored. Such is the case for many resurgent Maoist feminists. Many of them fail to understand the patriarchal nature of this very ruling party they are still putting their bet on.

      Recent years with the decline of China’s female power, there seemed to be a surge of Maoist feminist slogans on Chinese internet. Female netizens employed this terminology to both avoid the censorship and express their loyalty to the regime. Mao’s “women hold up half the sky” became widespread in several feminist online platforms in China again.

      Another popular Maoist feminist slogan is “when China’s women finally stand up, it is the time for the victory of China’s revolution.” Despite its revolutionary façade, one does not have to dig too deep into its terminology and context to know that China’s female liberation in the Maoist era is merely a political asset for a totalitarian regime and a tool for Mao’s political movements.

      By “liberating” the females from a millennia-old patriarchal society, a revolutionary party successfully painted these females as revolutionary figures. From concubines they became partisans. From prostitutes they became field medics. From servant girls they became model workers. “Progressive” females became propaganda tools for a Communist party that aspired to the liberation of all human race. Praise be to the socialism! Like the Soviet Stakhanovite movement, the party state spared no efforts in bragging about the achievements of this great socialist society—train driver Tian Guiying, tractor driver Liang Jun, and representative in the National People’s Congress Shen Jilan (she claimed that her being elected as the representative in the People's Congress required no need to communicate with her constituency since it is “democratic election” and never voted against any bills proposed in the Congress.[1]) State sponsored women’s liberation penetrated the Chinese society in the fifties as a part of the Chinese Communist Party’s grandiose socialist transformation project.

      Chinese women in the fifties indeed were no longer restricted to the inner quarter of their household, yet they were still subject to male and patriarchal dominance by and large. CCP’s Long March veterans like Deng Yingchao, Kang Keqing, and Cai Chang were all given jobs related to women and children even after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.[2] Female participation in the field of defense and transport industry was rather rare. The only female who became a politburo member was Jiang Qing, known as Madame Mao, who gained her political power through a series of malicious factional violence and of course, her marriage with the paramount leader. While the elite Chinese women were given jobs which defined their roles as “maternal,” most Chinese women’s lives were even more miserable. In spite of the increased number of female workers in industry, these women were also tasked with familial duties typical to a patriarchal society. Women in the high-level party cadres’ household may employ housekeepers to do their chores, yet the massive female population in China carried their tiring dual identities. In factory, they were workers toiling for the achievement of Communist. At home, they were butlers catering to their husbands and children. They were bread-earners as well as housewives.

      It is also no coincidence that the greatest surge in the number of female workers happened during 1957 to 1960, the time of the Great Leap Forward. In this period, the number of China’s female workers increased from 3.2 million to 10 million.[3] In the age of starvation and purge, Chinese women made tremendous sacrifice for Mao’s “Exceeding the UK, catching the USA.” Much like Kemal’s reform and Reza Shah’s mandatory unveiling, the kind of “female liberation” under the third world state feminism is more or less turning a private patriarchy to a public patriarchy. The vast number of females walking out of their household to the working places does not change the fact that this country is still largely ruled by men; and these men never tried to liberate women, bu to liberate their productive force.

      It goes without saying that the female status in China dramatically declined after the reform and opening in 1978. CCP employed traditional Chinese culture in its massive nationalistic propaganda campaign to win over people’s hearts after the Tiananmen Square massacre. The revival of Confucianist values brought back many insidious misogynistic doctrines from the past—female virtues, or female’s way, stipulating that a woman belongs to the house and should be fruitful and multiply.

      The government also exhibited its frenzied Malthusian view regarding China’s exploding population. Family planning policies led to several political campaigns which resulted in atrocious violation of human rights. Several organizations besides the state, including the once awarding wining (for its achievements in promoting female rights) All-China Women's Federation, engaged in this process. After all, this Women’s Federation is merely an extension of the party-state. Pregnant women were yanked out of their houses and forced to receive abortion at the nearby hospital, often with very insufficient aftercare which caused life-long gyneoopathy. The loss of a child became their unforgettable traumas for those who survived, and the intrauterine device forced on their bodies will continued to cause pain for the rest of their life. Coming to the 21st century, the government got concerned with the lowered birth rate. Again women became the victim. Single women were stigmatized as “leftover” for being unmarried. Girls were told by the state: the only reason for them being single is that they are too “picky.”[4]

      Women’s contribution to the progress of history is unneglectable, yet their stories were quickly swept into the dumpster of history. The bread-rioters who set the French Revolution of 1789 and Russian Revolution of 1917 on stage were all women. They may be born as nobles or raised among the poor, yet they all stood up against oppression. But what happened afterward? Codes after the French Revolution stipulated: “The man and the woman after the marriage are one and the sole representation of that ‘one’ is the man.” The Russian Revolution’s empowerment of women suddenly came to a halt under Stalin’s dictatorship. Everyone knows about Lenin, but few may think of Alexander Kollontai. While women sacrificed as much as the men in those movements and rightfully asked for their rights, stigmatization from a patriarchal society came at them like a storm.

      “When the men kill, it is up to us women to fight for the preservation of life.”—Clara Zetkin. Women’s liberation is inseparable from the liberation of all oppressed people. As illustrated above in the case of CCP, state feminism has great limitations when it comes to female liberation as the state itself being patriarchal makes the term “state feminism” and oxymoron. It may be the means through which we achieve female liberation, but certainly not the end. There are no supreme saviors. Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.

[1] 陈 娟娟. 申纪兰:要给人民办事才能当人民代表_财经_中国网. 新闻源 财富源, 2012. http://finance.china.com.cn/special/lianghui2012/20120306/573421.shtml. Shen Jinlan: only the people who do things for the people can be the people’s representative

[2] Howell, Jude. “Women's Political Participation in China: In Whose

Interests Elections?” Journal of Contemporary China 15, no. 49 (2006): 603–19.


[3] 蒋永萍, 2001, 《50年中国城市女性就业的回顾与反思》, 《半个世纪的妇女发展》, 北京: 当代中国出版社。Jiang yongping, 2001, <Review and Reflection on the employment of urban women in China in the past 50 years>, < Women's development in the past half century>, Beijing: Dangdai China Publishing House

[4] Fincher, Leta Hong. Leftover Women. Zed Books, 2014.


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