Assignment #9, Lucy Hao
Young female Red Army soldiers
The Chinese Revolution of the 1900s was a conflict that brought instability to China as it transitioned into a communist state under Mao. Before Mao was able to take control, the country was already weakened by years of internal conflict. After the 1911 Revolution, which overthrew the centuries old dynastic system, the Nationalist Party failed to take strong hold of the country, and China soon fell into foreign influence. It would take a twenty year civil war against the Nationalists until Mao could truly implement communism, and the constant chaos greatly damaged the nation’s infrastructure, economy, and social structure. However, despite the all the suffering it caused, the Chinese Revolution was an opportunity for women in China to improve their social standing and achieve a more equal status to their male peers.
In the past, and especially during the dynastic system in China, women were at the bottom of the social hierarchy and had no political rights to protect them. They were treated as property or even slaves by their fathers and then their husbands. They were excluded from society, forbidden from education, and forced into polygamy or prostitution. Perhaps the best representation of the woman’s status before the revolution is the concept of foot binding, in which a girl’s foot was physically broken and reshaped into a lotus shape. Not only was this a symbol of beauty and wealth, but it also limited a women’s movement and forced her to rely on others.
While the Communist Party struggled to gain control of China and reorganize its structure, women were able to join society. This change was the result of to the communist ideals of citizenship as well as the sheer need of the Communist Party. Women were given a role in the Revolution, serving in both non combat and combat roles. In fact, the first front army included 32 women soldiers, wives of the leaders of the Revolution. Some women joined the Red Army, traveling throughout the country promoting communism, arming citizens, and engaging in guerrilla warfare. Others supported the Red Army, working in agriculture, communications, transportation, nursing or propaganda. Their roles in the war gave them an opportunity to receive more specialized roles, and many pursued higher education or even gained leadership roles. The time of the Chinese Revolution proved to be a liberating era for women as they broke free of the traditional social structure that had restricted them for centuries. Moreover the changes that occurred during the Revolution paved the way for the era after it. Under the communist regime, past laws and institutions against women, such as foot binding, were outlawed. Women were legally given the right to work, own property, pursue an education, and even vote and hold office, but most importantly they were finally given a place in society.