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GENDER ISSUES

CHANGE AND CONTINUITY: 

ORTHODOX DISCOURSE ON GENDER RELATIONS IN CHINA

RAVNI THAKUR

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"Gender relations" as a category is meant to capture a complex set of social processes. Flax puts it succintly when she says, "Through gender relations two types of persons are created: man and woman. Gender relations so far as we have been able to understand them have been relations of domination. That is gender relations have been more controlled by one of their interrelated aspects --"the man" (Flax, 1990: 45). The continuity and commonality of this motif can perhaps best be understood by complementing gender theory with a perspective of both domination and change. Here the work done by Bourdieu is both seminal and useful.

Bourdieu, following the line of reasoning already laid down by Marx, Gramsci and Weber, argues that dominant dis-courses exercise power through the production of specific set of discourses. Bourdieu calls the relationship between "orthodox and heterodox" discourses (Bourdieu 1990).

Orthodoxy can, in a sense, be seen as representing a certain cultural continuity with regard to social relations. It is a discourse which, at any given moment, tends towards conservatism and towards preserving the status quo on a given subject. Dominant patterns of social relations are not always maintained by an exercise of repressive power but acquire power by a sort of consensus. Such consensus is based on which Bourdieu calls "habitus" or the accepted aspect of social relations which structure the disposition of agents.1 In a sense, all orthodoxy attempts to do is to conserve this state of habitus and maintain a status quo vis-a-vis social practice. With regard to gender discourse, for example, changes in the material position of women do not imply that every aspect of gender discourse will change. Certain elements or gender discourse remain in doxa and mediated through social practice, are accepted by both sexes.

Orthodox discourse in China today is based on the ideology of Marxism and its specific vision of male and female roles. I shall argue that this "new" orthodoxy is in turn based on a more traditional habitus which is specific to China. This is partly because socialist orthodoxy has been imposed upon a more traditional orthodoxy in an authoritarian manner, succeeding in suppressing traditional elements rather than fundamentally changing them. Traditional ideas about women are then pushed underground and operate in a more complex fashion. Here we have a situation where heterodox discourse can turn into orthodoxy when it receives the backing of the state and its institutions.

By the time that the Communist Party of China was formed in 19211 discourse on gender relations had already experienced certain changes. Because of this, the Communist Party was forced to distinguish itself from two other discourses, both of them grounded on different conceptions of gender relations. The first was a more traditional discourse on the position of women, which derived its legitimacy from the Confucian classics. The second was the nationalist and liberal position, which was influenced by western ideas and became popular in China at the turn of the nineteenth century. I will first briefly discuss these two positions before turning to an examination of the way the Communist Party redefines gender relations.

 

Early Orthodox Discourse: The Construction of a Habitus of Gender Relations

Several scholars have pointed out the inferior position of women in traditional China. Chinese society in Confucian terms was a patriarchal society with strict rules of conduct. The underlying principles of governing rationale were the teachings of Confucius {551-479 BC). The traditional ideal woman was a dependent being whose behaviour ,was governed by the "three obediences and four virtues." The three obediences were obedience to the father before marriage, the husband after marriage and the son in case of windows. The four virtues were propriety in behaviour, speech, demeanour and employment {O'Hara 1945). Education for women was intended to inculcate these virtues. Among the most recommended books of instruction for women were the Nu jie (Precepts for Women), the Nu er jing (Classic for Girls) and the Lie nu zhuan (Biographies of Eminent Chinese Women). All these books were supposed to furnish women with knowledge about how they should conduct themselves in society. The Nu jie is attributed to Ban Zhao {AD 0001), a famous women scholar and historian. These books gradually became the governing principles for female behaviour, especially among the elite.

All these books stressed the importance of the family for women and their seclusion within the household. Women were denied participation in any of the government or local community institutions. Discussing the reason for women's general degradation in China, Helen Snow makes the same point when she says:

"The distinctive weakness of the position of Chinese women was due to the fact that property could not be transferred by marriage A Chinese woman was valuable in her own right only as a hostage or as a source of domestic labor power. She did not exist as a mother in her own right and had no legal control over her children." (H. Snow 1967: 48).

Alongside their lack of property rights, women were controlled by a firmly entrenched system of patriolocal marriages2 and the related norm of female chastity. This rigid sexual morality was, and remains, a key link in the subordination of women. Particularly in the Song dynasty {960-1279AD), with the revival of neo-Confucian ideals, these ideas became even stronger and more widespread (Tianchi Martin-Liao 1985). A combination of these factors ensured that girls were seen only as burdens and temporary members of the natal family. Any investment in a daughter's well-being was considered a waste of money. Women's oppression was, thus, firmly rooted in China's feudal marriage system.

A husband could also repudiate his wife for seven reasons, originally contained in the Li Ji rule of conduct. These were: {1) disobedience of her husband's parents; {2) failure to bear children; {3) adultery; {4) jealousy; {5) loathsome disease; {6) garrulousness; and {7) theft {H. Snow 1967: 50). Such traditional laws served to make women in China extremely vulnerable and forced them to accept the position of subservience accorded to them in traditional discourse (Young 1973; Wolf 1978; CroIl1978).

Another obvious symbol of the confinement and subordination of women was the custom of binding the feet of young girls. This custom is said to have started in the Tang dynasty {618-906), in the later seventh century. The scores of classical poems written about the delicacy of the female foot and the walk that it ensured, testify to the important role played by this custom in terms of norms and standards of female beauty (Levy 1966).

However, in the light of what several scholars have noted, it needs to be stressed that the Confucian ideal of womanhood was mediated by the material position of the women. In general, the pressure and confinement of upper-class women was far greater.3 Wolf points out that peasants could not afford the luxury of secluding their women (Wolf 1978: 161). Women, especially in the southern Chinese provinces of modern-day Fujian and Guangdong, often participated in field labour, and certain groups, such as the Hakka, were known for not binding the feet of women. This area of China also had a tradition of forming sisterhoods Uiemei hul) or support groups of women, including those who had refused to get married (Topley 1978).4 Thus, these strict codes of conduct were in no way uniform.

Another scholar of Chinese history, Joanna F. Handlin, shows how even among the gentry the Confucian norms of behaviour for women were not rigidly followed. As she says: "The principles of female subordination and li designed to order society, tell us more about how the upper class thought women should behave than how they really did." (1975: 13). Focussing on a sixteenth-century Confucian scholar, Lu Kun, who attempted to admonish women towards good behaviour, she points out that by the end of the sixteenth century a whole range of female behaviour was visible in urban centres. In fact, she sees Lu Kun's admonitions as an attempt to counter the existing situation rather than as a representation of the reality of women's lives or, as Handlin puts it, "a dialectic between the actual and the real." (Handlin 1975: 15). Such a perspective is useful, for it raises the question of the actual interaction between women and society.

These examples are cited here to show how orthodox discourse is forced to construct itself in relation to a variety of other discourses. It also allows us to look at the means through which women do acquire a certain degree of power and autonomy. Wolf has suggested that within the family women accumulated power over time by building on their "uterine ties" or ties developed through giving birth to sons. In her later years, it is this close relationship that will ensure that a woman exercises power over her family and over her son's future family and her daughter-in-Iaw. Wolf goes on to explain that women also found ways to exercise power through village gossip, a means by which the community of women could make their husbands lose face  (Wolf 1978). Snow also notes that "gossip" was a weapon deployed very skilfully by women, and in certain cases men were forced to take refuge in monasteries or flee the village to guard their honour (H. Snow 1967: 50}.

However, rather than seeing these examples as instances of female power as such, one could argue that this was the only way women could survive an otherwise abominable situation. It does not change women's power relationship in terms of gender relations. They exercise effective power only against their own sex, thereby further ensuring the legitimacy of male power structures, or an acceptance of doxic forms of identification. In fact, traditional folktales abound with stories of tensions between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-Iaw, both of whom. seek to preserve and build a power base within the family.

Thus, although it was possible for women to acquire a modicum of power in their old age through having given birth to sons, in terms of discourse, women remained clearly subordinate to men. In her own right, a woman had no power or legitimate position. In the final instance, she remained dependent on the good will of her husband and son. It was this real vulnerability of women that made the "women's question" (funu wentl) one of the burning issues of late nineteenth and twentieth century China, and provided the first instance of an organised and systematic heterodoxy on gender relations.

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Repudiating Tradition: The Emergence of the Women's Question

Bourdieu argues that in times of crisis (here he implies social, economic and political crisis} prevailing systems of classification become a target of confrontation (1977; 1990}. By breaking down objective structures of social relations and their institutions, the basis of prevailing orthodoxy becomes weaker, thus allowing critical opposition to emerge as a real possibility (1977: 169}. This is clearly visible in the way gender relations became a field of conflict and a discourse to be contested in early twentieth century China.

Several scholars of Chinese history have pointed out that the issue of women's rights was first raised, though indirectly, by the intellectuals of this period. Their primary concern was nationalist, a natural response to the humiliating defeats that the Qing empire had suffered at the hands of the western powers. Having come into contact with western cultures, these intellectuals were interested in discovering why China had been easily defeated and what could be done to make it into a strong nation. This nationalism led them to advance a charter of reforms which included improving the position of women (Chow Tse-tsung 1960; Rankin 1975; CroIl1978}. The main issues taken up by the reformers of this period were footbinding and the education of women.

By the end of the nineteenth century, several anti-footbinding associations had been set up. The custom was castigated as cruel and indicative of the low status of women in Chinese society. Part of the concern of these reformers was that the custom of footbinding made China appear culturally backward in the eyes of foreigners (Croll 1978}. The pressure exerted by these reform groups finally succeeded in getting the Dowager Empress to pass an edict in 1902 which requested the gentry to "influence their families to abstain from the evil practice and by this means abolish the custom forever" (Levy 1966: 20}. The main feature of this reform movement, however, is the almost negligible role played by Chinese women themselves. The movement as a whole did not penetrate very far into rural areas and remained restricted to the upper classes even in urban areas. It was only when this demand for "natural feet" was combined with the demand for women's education that Chinese women were to emerge as reformers in their own right.

Behean, in her research on the issue of early female education in China, notes that Shanghai was in the vanguard of the new movement to establish women's education. Although schools run by missionaries had come into existence a few years earlier, the first modern girls' school was established in Shanghai in 1897, and was associated with the reform movement of 1898. In 1997, an official nation wide system of elementary schools for girls was established and over the years their number continued to increase (Behean 1975: 381}.

It is clear from the above that importance was being attached to education as a first step towards the improvement of the position of women. However, it was limited to urban women from a bourgeois or "respectable" background.5 This was partially responsible for the "middle class" and urban nature of the initial feminist movement in China. On the other hand, the importance of female entry into formal education in China is demonstrated by the role played by female students in the various political movements that were emerging. Literacy served as an integrative mechanism for women, allowing them to acquire skills through which they could become self-supporting. It was within the confines of the new schools that the "woman's movement" (funu yundong) first emerged (Croll 1978).

The immediate and most noticeable impact of female education in China was the appearance of a number of magazines or journals for women.6 Several of these were founded and run by women students who had left China to study abroad. During this period, Japan became a major centre for Chinese intellectuals interested in reforming the customs of their country. By 1997, there were about a 100 Chinese women students in Japan. Most of them were influenced by the patriotic sentiments of the male student community. However, along with espousing patriotism, women also spoke up for female equality (Liu Mei Ching 1988). The first journal to be published in China specifically devoted to women's issues was called the Funu zazhi (Women's Journal edited by Chen Xiefen (Rankin 1975). The main focus of all the articles addressed to women was to motivate them to participate in the national movement. That women responded to these calls is evident from the number of women who participated in the anti-Manchu movement, the most famous being Qiu Jin (1875-1909).7

After the downfall of the Manchu empire in 1911, China declared itself a republic based on parliamentary democracy. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was briefly the president of this first republic. This period saw the rapid acceleration of suffragette politics, when several women's organisations sprouted and women started campaigning for the vote. Major cities such as Nanjing, Beijing and Shanghai saw women barricading government offices and demanding the vote (Croll 1978: 66-7). This focus on specific women's demands was different from the pre-Republican issues which were identified more with nationalism than with feminism. This is evident in the kind of articles appearing during this period, stressing the need for women to become independent persons in their own right (Croll 1978: 82).

The high point of the early women's movement occurred during the May Fourth movement of 1919.8 Listing the numerous effects of the May Fourth period, Chow says; "The movement also accelerated the decline of the old family system and the rise of feminism. And above all, the authority of Confucianism and traditional ethics suffered a fundamental and devastating stroke and new Western ideas were exalted." (Chow Tse-tsung 1960: 2).

It is not strange that during this time men were often prominent as champions of women's rights. Many of them, such as Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and others who participated in this new culture movement, were to raise the issues of women's subordination in the magazines they edited and in the essays and stories they wrote.9 Another important indicator of the changing attitudes of the urban intelligentsia on the "women question" is the way women characters in fiction were dealt with. This period saw the birth of many young writers such as Lu Xun, Mao Dun, Guo Moruo, Ba Jin and Ding Ling, to name a few. All of them focus on the condition of women in their works and advocate male-female equality (Hsu 1981). The influence of Ibsen's plays in this period also testifies to the importance of this issue. Ibsen's play A Doll's House was translated into Chinese as early as 1918, immediately causing a great stir and leading to the emergence of cases of "Chinese Noras" (Schwarz 1975; Eide 1985; 1987). Lu Xun later wrote a rejoinder to this phenomenon of China's Noras in an article entitled, "What Happens after Nora Leaves Home?" (1923). He stresses the necessity to link women's emancipation, with their economic emancipation, as otherwise "they would only change one cage for another" (Lu Xun 1923: 86). The Chinese Communist Party was to focus on this need for women's material emancipation as the founding principle of its own discourse on the woman question.

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The Communist Party and the Women's Question, 1921-49

The underlying emphasis of this position was the need to draw women into productive labour and organise them along class lines.10.

The leadership of this task called "woman work" (funu gongzuo) was given to Xiang Jingyu.11. Xiang was of the opinion that envisaging a separate women's movement was a political error and that the women's movement had to be part of the general communist revolutionary movement. The directives regarding women's participation in the Communist Party seemed to have followed a Soviet strategy of assigning the few available female cadres to organising women's groups at the grass roots level. These organisations, among other things, were responsible for holding demonstrations on Women's Day, 8 March. As Leith notes: "Throughout the twenties, March 8 continues to be a focal point for mobilizing women. By 1926, the movement had grown to such proportions that 10.000 gathered together in Canton, 800 in Hunan." (1973: 53).

Despite the initiar success of a communist-led women's movement, a 1926 Party resolution noted that several problems remained. The movement was not really able to penetrate the masses. Many of the volunteers were more romantic than realistic and several of them had problems identifying with their constituents (Maloney 1980). Although the Communist Party succeeded in widening the context of the women's movement, its chief concern remained a focus on class struggle and, therefore, on women workers.

By 1927, the Communist Party had become a force to be reckoned with in urban areas. The Nationalists, encouraged by the imperial powers and its own fledgling bourgeoisie, found it expedient to check this growing working-class movement. They unleashed a white terror of unprecedented proportions during which thousands of communists and their sympathisers were killed (Cheneaux 1968). The centrality of "gender" as a factor in propaganda is testified to by the vociferous statements made against the alleged attempt of communists to change gender roles and morality. Diamond (1975b) comments on the use Nationalist propaganda of the period made of the woman's question. Rumours circulated about "naked women" who freely cohabited with men and lacked all morality. Stories were told of communist cadres forcibly cutting the hair of women. Such propaganda was essential to justify the mass executions that were carried out. Cai Chang, one of the women leaders of the period, recalls how: "More than 1 ,000 women leaders were killed... When girls were arrested in Hunan they were stripped naked, nailed on crosses and their noses and breasts cut off before they were killed It is actually true that if a girl had bobbed hair she was subject to execution as a communist in Hunan and Canton." (H. Snow 1967: 242).

Among those caught was Xiang Jingyu who was executed in March 1928 (Luo Qiong 1986: 87). Such brutal repression of the early labour movement and the women's movement forced the communists into the hinterland and the countryside became the mainstay of the Party in China. This move was also responsible for changing the face of the women's liberation movement.

In his Report on an Investigation into the Peasant Movement of Hunan, 1927, Mao Zedong points out the close link between a struggle against the feudal gentry and patriarchal ideas. This much-quoted paragraph explicitly denounces the system of male superiority in China. As Mao puts it:

"A man in China is usually subjected to three systems of authority (political authority, clan authority and religious authority). As for women, in addition to being dominated by these three authorities, they are also dominated by the men (the authority of the husband). These four authorities -political, clan, religious and masculine -are the embodiment of the whole feudal-patriarchal system and ideology, and are the four thick ropes binding the Chinese people -particularly the peasants." (Mao Zedong 1956: Vol. I, 44).

Further on in the same article, Mao stresses the importance of organising women and sees their participation in anti- feudal struggles as part of the process of rural transformation which the Party desired. This particular text of Mao is of importance because it shows both the importance the Party attached to the issue of women's liberation, and the analysis maintained about its role within the overall revolution.

As the Communist Party strengthened its position in the countryside, it instituted several reforms that were to affect the position of women positively and radically. Davin notes that: "One of the greatest achievements of the Chinese Communist Party has been the change brought about in the lives of Chinese women in the rural hinterland." (1976: 243). Practical policies to deal with the situation of women were first applied in the Jiangxi Soviet (1927-34). These were the Land-reform law and the Marriage law.12. These two documents were later to serve as the basis of the laws promulgated in the Yan'an period (1934-47). Although constant warfare and generally unstable conditions made the implementation of any policy a hazardous matter, women were granted equality with men at all levels (Davin 1976; Stranahan 1976; Maloney 1980).

The major focus of mobilisation for women during the 1930s, however, was to motivate them to contribute to the anti- Japanese war effort. Kay Ann Johnson points out that the work among women was felt to be necessary because in many cases women exercised a strong influence on the decision of the male members of the household to join the Red Army. To ensure a successful recruitment strategy, the Party soon realised the necessity of enlisting the support of the whole family (Johnson 1983: 52).

Separate women's organisations were also set up and special attention was supposed to be paid to women's work. Mao sums up the Party position when he says: "Women make up half the population. The economic position of women and the special oppression suffered by them not only shows the need felt for revolution but also implies that they represent a force to determine the success or failure of the revolution." (Luo Qiong 1986: 88).

Stranahan quotes unverified Chinese sources to list a figure of about 130,000 women who were members of one or another association. Of these, 70,000 were said to attend meetings regularly and joined in work projects (Stranahan, 1976: 35). Several measures were also adopted to train women cadres and a special school called the School for Women Cadres (Nu Ganbu Xuexiao) was also set up (Price 1975). However, Janet Price (1975) notes that the number of women who actually participated in this and other cadre schools was extremely small and their responsibilities were limited to propagating the tasks outlined by the Party. Nevertheless, great emphasis was placed on women taking the lead in educating children and other women.

Women cadres already familiar with Party policy were trained to set up village cooperatives and women were encour- aged to take up spinning, weaving and other such tasks (Davin 1976: 37). In areas where men had been drawn into the army, women were also encouraged to participate in agricultural production (Johnson 1983: 65). Periodic efforts were made to bring women into the political process though, here again, a strict sexual division of labour seems to have existed. There were very few women in leadership positions. Women who did emerge as leaders such as Cai Chang and Deng Yingchao through Party work were almost automatically assigned to women's work and women's bureaus.

A critical analysis of the early Party position: The initial period of the Communist Party's engagement with the "woman's question" demonstrates the limits of change in gender relations. While the Party attempted to question a traditional orthodoxy, and at this stage the lack of institutional legitimacy gave its discourse the flavour of a heterodoxy, it was unable to question the deep-seated habitus of gender relations. This is specially noticeable in the case of Party policy on intra-family relations. Once the Party had shifted its base to Yan'an, its position on the role of women was quite clear. Several directives on women's work pointed out the need for caution and care. Although the fundamental position of the Party -that women's participation in production was the way to female liberation -did not change, caution and unity were the operative words in its dealings with gender contradictions.

The struggle for women's rights in marriage and divorce was considered potentially divisive, especially since this affected the very constituents which the Party was seeking to win over. These were the poor and the middle peasants. If the marriage law was actually enforced, in some cases the peasants would lose not only their wives but also their lands. Numerous other incidents document the compromises that the Party made with rural patriarchy and traditionalism in order to further the aims of its "general revolution". Women who were interested in pushing forward issues of family reform were seen as divisive and accused of espousing separatism over the interests of the general revolution.

Stranahan records numerous incidents during the Yan'an days when women's interests were successively sacrificed in the name of unity and family harmony. Women who came to the women's bureaus with complaints about ill-treatment from the family were, in the 1940s, encouraged not to divorce or create dissension; instead, they were told to go home and attempt to raise their own political consciousness and that of their spouses (Stranahan 1976: 45-6), as well as to be productive and contribute to the general war effort against the Japanese. Cai Chang's words in the early 1940s seem to sum up the position of the Party: "Our current slogans for work in the woman's movement are no longer 'freedom of marriage' and 'equality between men and women', rather they are 'save the children and establish an abundant and flourishing family so as to cause each household to become a prosperous one'." (Johnson 1983: 75).

The most famous critique of this period is that of Ding Ling (1908-85), the grande dame of Chinese letters. Ding Ling came to Yan'an in 1937 after having escaped from a KMT prison. She was already famous as a controversial and daring woman writer in Shanghai. On arrival in Yan'an, she was made editor of the Party's propaganda magazine. Helen Snow recalls that many Party members at Yan'an were aghast at Ding Ling's reputation as an avant-garde feminist and by her attitudes towards free love and marriage (H. Snow 1968).

Ding Ling made an open critique of the double standards of the Party on the male-female issue, not only in her stories such as When I was in Xia Village (Wo zai xiacun de shihour) but also in her article published in the Jiefang Ribao (liberation Daily), on 8 March 1942. According to Ding Ling, women were encouraged to take on new roles as Party activists and yet fulfil their obligations as housewives and remain responsible for the family. The result was that women were faced with unsolvable contradictions and were viewed with contempt irrespective of what they did. As she says: "They were damned for what they didn't." If women did not marry they were ridiculed, if they did, they were criticised for paying too much importance to family matters. She went on to say that male leaders should talk less of theory and more of actual practice. In the end, she made a pointed reference to the discriminatory attitude of the Party. She said that if the opinions she was putting forward had been those of a male leader, they would have been read with great seriousness; unfortunately, being a woman her opinion will probably be dismissed (Feuerwerker 1982: 32). Ding Ling was not wrong in her prognosis. Not only were her opinions and criticism dismissed, she found herself at the receiving end of a great deal of criticism, led by Mao himself (Feuerwerker 1982; Goldman 1971).13.

Less scathing critics of the Communist Party have pointed out that it was not necessarily deliberate Party policy to uphold patriarchy. Instead, they argue, the compromises made by the Party regarding the woman's question were a result of the circumstances it faced in its drive to gain control of1he Chinese countryside (Davin 1976) .In the light of the historical evidence cited earlier, we see a dynamic relationship between Communist Party policy and the practice of gender relations. The early attempts to bring women into communist politics did exhibit a certain radicalism.14. The Party, in its attempt to construct a policy on women's issues, ignored questions of female sexuality and intra-family relations. It is here that the Party succumbed to a habitus on gender relations. Its member's understanding of social relations was mediated by their sense of habitus, a habitus which for centuries defined a strict code of male-female positions and relations. The understanding of male-female relations continued to be overshadowed by those elements which remained in doxa, and constituted the unsaid, taken-for-granted and therefore "natural" difference of gender dispositions. It was these "natural" dispositions of men and women which made the issue of sexual morality and the general sexual division of labour difficult questions for the Party.

On the whole, the period leading up to the liberation of China in 1949 can be characterised as one in which the specific interests of women, and of a revolution in gender relations, were constantly compromised and relegated to become secondary issues. It would be correct to say that the Party lost a great opportunity to effect real change, and had it acted on its own revolutionary laws for female equality, problems that persist today would have been minimised to a large extent.

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Institutionalising a new Orthodoxy: Women In Post-revolutionary China

October 1 1949 saw the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC). This victory gave the Party the power to exercise effective control over the limits of discourse formation on most subjects. Through control of the channels of the production and dissemination of information, that Party was able to project its own ideas as the legitimate and correct way of approaching all social relations. It is in post-revolutionary China that we see clear and direct links between an institutionalisation process and the construction of an "orthodoxy".

The Communist Party, during its early years, was interested in extending the reforms that had been implemented in the liberated areas to the rest of China. Its policy on women was put into practice with the creation of the All China Women's Federation (hereafter ACWF) in April 1949. In fact, during the period immediately following liberation, great attention was paid to the creation of women's organisations and youth organisations. Their purpose was to ensure that specific sectors of the population could be brought under the umbrella of the ACWF (Andors 1981). Its aims and goals were laid down in the Central Committee circular on women's work towards the end of 1948.15.

The period immediately after liberation, 1950-53, saw the most radical implementation of the Marriage Law and the Land Reform Law. A series of campaigns via posters and so on were initiated to popularise the Marriage Law which had been proclaimed in 1950. According to Johnson, the Basic premise of the campaign was "the belief that ideological propoganda could succeed in changing traditional attitudes towards women." (1983: 100). Efforts were made to educate and influence mothers-in- law to show them the necessity of supporting the reforms and for improving relationship with their daughers-in-Iaw. However, in no instance was the family as an institution questioned (Davin 1976: 97; Eber 1989).16.

Considerable effort was put into making divorce more acceptable to the population. In the early stages, when divorce courts were set up at local level, divorces were generally initiated by women and granted on anti-feudal grounds. A 1950 report on divorce claimed that 50 per cent of divorce application came from those between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five (Croll 1978). Although reform in the urban areas proceeded relatively smoothly, in rural areas it sometimes led to tragic results. There were incidents of women being forced to commit suicide or being killed because they demanded divorce (H. Snow 1967). By the late 1950s, however, the policy of granting easy divorces was changed and social stability again began to be cited as a goal.

Women were also encouraged to participate in production. The new Labour Law of the PRC declared that women were equal citizens and had equal rights to participate in production. Giving women land in their own names was only the beginnning of the process of social change. Since then, the marked improvement in the lives of Chinese women compared to their pre- liberation situation has been acknowledged by most writers on the subject.

However, while the legal and political measures adopted by the PRC definitely created a millieu for female equality, the actual implementation of reform remained uneven. The reforms did not go far enough in terms of changing male-female relations, especially within the family and marriage. Thus, the "intimate personal" lives of women remained constrained by the ideas of the natural sexual division of labour. Although the number of women involved in factory work and those entering white-collar services rose, the practice of ascribing "suitable female" tasks to them also increased. Thus women started to dominate in light industry and as junior teaching staff (Andors 1981 ).

During the land reform period in the countryside, the aim was to bring women into production by giving them land in their own names. However, in many cases the situation remained unchanged because women lacked the necessary skills to till their own lands. The best choice for women seemed to have been to lease the land to their male kin (Diamond, 1975a: 26). Croll further comments that since marriage remained patrilocal in nature, women tended to leave their land to their father or brother to manage (1978: 12).

During the first five-year plan, controversy also arose over the role of housewives. It was found that housewives felt socially despised because they did not engage in productive labour.

It is interesting to note that although the official press, eg. the woman magazine Zhongguo Funu (Women of China) tried to legitimise and in places even encouraged women to be housewives, the question of housework actually being productive labour never entered the debate. As Croll suggests, all the household activities undertaken by women were never quantified or even considered to be productive (1978: 12). Instead, women's status as dependents was stressed and campaigns such as the Wu Hao or Five Goods were inaugurated. This was supposed to politicise housework by showing its revolutionary worth. Women were told that they could contribute to society by ensuring that they kept the morale of their working husbands high and maintained harmony in the house (Davin 1976: 169). For working women, on the other hand, the problem remained that of the double burden. Although they had achieved a degree of status and social respect, little attempt was made to handle the contradictions of their position. Efforts to provide social services in the form of creches and canteens did not change the fact that housework was seen as a female task (Sidel 1974; Stacey 1983).

The initial post-liberation period, for women, was thus, fraught with contradictory demands. The Party was forced to waver from its own ideological understanding of women's liberation as being dependent on participation in what it defined as productive labour, and once again bowed to historical expediency, attempting to shelve the contradiction that occurred in terms of female equality and economic growth.

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The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution: Women as Labour Heroines

The Great Leap Forward (GLF) launched in 1958,17. and the collectivisation drive in rural areas that followed, saw a revival of the theme of women's participation in production. The GLF envisaged a rapid transition to socialism by mobilising masses of people to contribute to the production of goods (MacFarquhar 1983; Brugger 1981). Andors sees GLF policy towards women as a logical outgrowth of its attempt to mobilise mass labour as a development strategy (Andors 1975: 34). Women were encouraged, both in the rural areas and in the urban areas, to participate in labour.

Initially, women were supposed to take over those tasks which men vacated in order to participate in many small-scale rural industrialisation projects. They were freed from household duties through the creation of community childcare centres and canteens. In many rural areas, grandmothers and older women of the community were encouraged to look after children so that mothers could work (Hemmel and Sindjberg 1984). The benefits of female participation in labour were enormous, and many observers have recorded the positive impact that this had on women. According to Sidel (1974), an additional benefit of the GLF was to expand the inadequate he3.lthcare system in rural areas. On the other hand, this drive to encourage women's participation in paid labour also bought certain contradictions to the fore, testifying once again to an unchanged habitus of gender relations.

The most obvious of these was the consistent devaluation of women's labour in the new system of wages in work-points. The maximum number of work-points available was ten. Women 011 average were never given more than six or seven work-points even where they performed tasks similar to those of men. The explanation put forward for this was that women were not reliable in their work due to the demands of childcare. What it actually showed was a continuing belief in female inferiority and resistance to the idea of women working in the fields. Tasks consistent with traditional female roles, such as spinning and weaving, were more easily accepted but traditional prejudices against women working in the fields still existed (Davin 1976; Cro1l1978; Andors 1981).

In urban areas housewives were encouraged to join urban communes and neighbourhood committees. These in turn organised co-operatives of various sorts. Women were also asked to undertake jobs being made available in the light industrial sector because men were drawn into other work. Women especially older women, were also drawn into the service industry, such as childcare. This period saw an increase in childcare facilities and kindergartens available to working women, especially in state-run factories (Chan 1974; Davin 1976; Andors 1981).

When analysing the rhetoric on female liberation that emerged during this period, Andors comments that the measures which were conducive to women's emancipation were incidental to the policies being implemented. The goal of rapidly creating socialist institutions and of catching up with the West raised the issue of conflict between women's equality and socialist construction. Andor's reading of the situation also holds true if we examine the fact that policy changes after the Great Leap Forward rescinded many of the measures that had been used to encourage participation by women in wage labour. The cuts appeared first in the welfare services, such as rural creches and canteens.

The major conflict concerned women's primary responsibility in the period of socialist transition: were they to be dependents and helpers of their spouses or revolutionary and productive activists (Andors 1976: 101)? This conflict became more apparent because women were already visible in the field of production and a few had even emerged in leadership positions. Sheridan (1976), in an examination of the background and lives of young women leaders in China, notes that most of the women who had achieved political and social status in China and had been appointed members of the National People's Congress (N PC), were women workers who had risen from the shopfloor through a demonstration of skills in the production process. As Sheridan points out, the histories that she deals with show "the interlocking of several roles -political roles, family roles, and roles as workers" (1976: 60). Thus, in reality, women were constantly occupying multiple roles. In fact, what we notice is the addition of a new role for women -that of worker -on top of their existing family roles.

The onslaught of the Cultural Revolution in 196618. and the large-scale disruption that it brought to aspects of family and social life, also saw the disbanding of the All China Women's Federation (CroIl1977). Strong criticism was directed at the editors of the magazine Zhongguo Funu (Women of China), pointing out that during the early 1960s they had over-emphasised the role of women in the family while downplaying their role in production.

The most significant campaign to concentrate on the role of women in society was the Anti-Lin Piao and Anti-Confucius Campaign (Pi Lin Pi Kong) of 1972. It began with a critique of Lin Piao and was later extended to include an attack on Confucian moral values. The campaign, directly attributed to Jiang Qing the wife of Mao Zedong, named Confucian feudal values as the ideology of the oppressive ruling classes. A number of "Confucian statements" were attributed to Lin Piao who was then cast in the role of chief villain. Several derogatory statements he had made about women were criticised, and the occasion was used to compaign for female equality (Croll 1977).

Under the general guidelines of opposing discrimination against women, women and youth groups at local levels held meetings and implemented educational campaigns to fight the old attitudes towards women. Some of the specific issues raised concerned discrimination against women at work and the failure of men to participate in house-work; even the issue of encour- aging matrilocal mariages in order to undermine the patriarchal family system was raised (Croll [ed.] 1974). As the campaign progressed, newspapers and periodicals carried articles which featured exampl&s of women who proved the fallacy and biases of feudal discourse. These women were held up as role models and communist heroines (Croll, 1977; Johnson 1983: 194-297).

Interestingly enough, it was this campaign, coinciding with the heyday of the women's movement in the West, which led to claims of "patriarchy kowtowing in China" (Stacey 1979). The Chinese women's movement was cited as an example of the superiority of the socialist system where women's right were concerned (Eizenstein 1979; Weinbaum 1976). However, with the downfall of the Gang of Four following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, policies have again changed in China. In typical fashion, so have the new role models being presented to women.  

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Re-emphasising Femininity and Motherhood: The Post-Mao Years

The economic and political changes that have occurred in post-Mao China have affected all levels of Chinese society and have led to the emergence of new guidelines and directives for women.19. Although the ideological underpinnings of women's roles remain grounded in the previous notions of female equality, there is a striking difference today between the much publicised ideology of equality and the practise of female subordination. The new policies introduced by the Chinese government under the name of the "Four Modemisations" have once again brought the contradictions between the issues of female equality and the government's goals to the fore (Davin 1988).

The main policy change of the post-Mao period has been the introduction of the "household responsibility system"; in rural areas and the "industrial responsibility system" in urban areas (Zeren zhJ). All these measures have been encouraged under what is called breaking the "big rice pot" (da guofan), a system of guarantees under which all workers, irrespective of performance, had a right to an average wage (Leung-Wing-yue 1988, Piehe. 1991, Christiansson 1989).

Women's contributions to the programme of modemisation have been outHned in Party directives to women's organi- sations and in journals specifically addressed to women (Jiang Tingsheng 1987). The repudiation of Cultural Revolution policies has meant that the ideological emphasis on confronting feudal attitudes towards women which were highlighted in the anti- Confucian campaign, have all been put on ice. Images of women which encouraged them to enter new avenues and emphasised their roles as labour and peasant heroines who could do all that men could do are a thing of the past. Today, there are new issues and new ideas regarding what women should expect under socialism.

The reconvened All China Women's Federation took over its old task of propagandising the aims of the Party vis-a-vis women. As in previous years of Party policy on the woman question, women are first and foremost called on to do their duty by working for socialism (Chang Jiaqin 1988). The Fifth National Women's congress, held in 1983 and attended by about 2, 100 delegates, laid down the tasks of the women's movement for the next decade. A major policy document published in the aftermath of the conference emphasised women's roles as mothers and within the family. Women are seen to be responsible for childcare and the ideological care of the younger generation. Further, the lack of reference to any sharing of these tasks between men and women ensures that women remain primarily responsible for childcare. However, the document also stresses the government's commitment 10 defend the rights of women and children.

Besides childcare, women also remain largely responsible for house-work. A recent study of family life in urban China notes that women perform more than 70 per cent of all household labour. This naturally limits their access to job-training and other avenues for increasing their skills. In an interview with a journalist from China Reconstructs a working mother compares herself to a juggler: "Catching the 'ball' of her work for the country's socialist modernisation and snatching at the second ball of running a household" (Tan Manni 1980: 10).

This is corroborated by evidence from an extensive urban survey carried out in selected cities in which Whyte found that women do most of the cooking, cleaning and childcare (1984: 224). Though the government has shown a constant awareness of this fact, the modern solution is to encourage the production of consumer goods such as washing machines and refrigerators which will lighten the domestic loads of women (Robinson, 1985:44). Although domestic appliances certainly make life easier, women's responsibility for these tasks does not change. Mao Zedong's often cited comment that washing machines do not liberate women has today been turned on its head.

The continuing double burden caused by an entrenched sexual division of labour leads to inequality in other spheres. Dalsimer and Nisnoff note how the policies introduced in post-Mao China have created conditions which impose sex-differentiated roles on women in production (1984:32). Women find themselves forced into the service sector and into teaching. In 1982, women workers dominated in the broad fields of cotton textiles, finance and trade where they formed 60 per cent of the above force; they made up 50 per cent of the total labour force in light industry (Women of China 1983: 8). In 1990, women made up 37.6 per cent of the total employed in China. Out of this, only 20.5 per cent are employed in administrative jobs in the state sector (Pei Qing, 1992:20). Overall wages and material benefits to workers used to be higher in the state-owned sector. This sector also has subsidised services such as transportation, housing, schools and health-care facilities. Dalsimer and Nisnoff note, for example, that at the Changchun automobile factory, a state-owned enterprise, a dozen nurseries were provided whereas the embroidery factory in the same city with a 90 per cent female labour force only had a modest childcare centre on top of the factory (1984:27).

Apart from sex segmentation in different types of industries, there is sex discrimination within industries as well, especially as far as wages are concerned. While men are distributed throughout the eight-grade wage scale in the factories, women are more often found in the lower grades. In the Dalian ship-building works for example, one woman was reported at grade 7 and another at grade 5, while the other women workers were clustered in the lower grades (Dalsimer and Nisnoff 1984: 25). A similar bias seems to be occurring in the allocation of bonuses. A Workers' Daily commentary, "Attention Should be Given to Unequal Rewards between Men and Women", reported that after smashing the big rice pot, discrimination against women had again surfaced: "For example, women workers have the same, or even a greater workload than their male counterparts, but when it come to allocating bonuses some people would say, 'she is after all a woman and cannot compare to her male comrades'." (Leung Wing-Yue 1988: 85). Leung Wing-Yue also quotes a Chinese survey which found that over 60 per cent of redundancies caused by economy drives in factories during the second half of 1987 were of women (1988: 86). The same bias is reflected in the recruitment, training and promotion of women cadres (China Daily, May 1983, p. 3).

The chief reason given for discrimination against women is the fact that their household duties often make them neglect their jobs. Further, women's right to paid maternity leave also influences management decisions. These attitudes have become even stronger in recent years because most factories now enjoy the right to hire and fire employees. In certain cases, discrimi- nation has been so acute that even graduates from Beijing University have been refused jobs. These incidents are a startling demonstration of how protective legislation for women can become a cause of discrimination against them. As Tan Manni points out: "Labour protection benefits for women often push them into unfavourable positions." (1983: 23).

Such acts of discrimination are also leading to the re-emergence of an argument which had been previously discredited in China. This is the demand that "married women" return home and give up their jobs in favour of men. An article in China Reconstructs quotes some husbands as saying: "Send our wives home and subsidise us with their wages. Then we are freed of household chores, we can do better at our jobs." (Tan Manni 1983: 23). Some working mothers echoed this demand and said: "I think I should give up my own career for the sake of my husband and family." (Tan Manni 1983: 23). Ideas such as the above represent a desire on the part of women to revert to older forms of habitus and show the way dominant values work through consensus and acceptance rather than by force.

However, it is interesting to note that the ACWF has come out strongly against the raising of such demands. It has pointed out the necessity for women to continue working and has reiterated the links between women's liberation and their participation in production. The Tianjin Women's Federation carried out a survey among working women which noted that the tasks 'fvomen needed most help with are childcare and shopping. Of the 1,000 women interviewed, 797 wished for help with shopping (Tianjin Women's Federation 1985: 100). This is not surprising since a large urban population makes shopping a fatiguing task at the best of times (1985: 19).

Along with active discrimination in the job market and education, other forms of exploitation of women are also now prevalent. Women are victims of sexual harassment and physical violence. In recent years, the Chinese press itself has carried cases documenting the gravity of the problem (Dai Qing and Luo Ge 1988). Prostitution and pornography have become rampant in urban areas and numerous rackets dealing with the abduction, buying and selling of women have been exposed (Pearson 1989). There is evidence that patriarchal practices have resurfaced in rural China available from several sources. Female infanticide, much publicised in 1983-84, is only the extrerne form of this tradition. The People's Daily of 23 March 1983 carried a letter from twenty-three women from Anhui province who had all suffered because of giving birth to baby girls. The letter describes how they were abused by their husbands and not allowed access to contraceptives until they gave birth to a son. The women write: "We cannot understand why 32 years after liberation, we women are still so heavily weighed down by such backward feudal concepts We long for a second liberation."

The official press in China has typically blamed feudalism as the cause of such practices. More critical analysis have seen the reemergence of this practice as tied to the way state policy has indirectly colluded with feudal ideas. The twin policies of the rural household responsibility system and the one-child family-planning policy are partially to blame (CroIl1983). Evidence suggests that reversion to the household as the main unit of rural production has led to peasants strongly desiring sons. This demand for labour conflicts directly with the government's one-child policy. Since a daughter is seen as a source of labour which is lost to the family on her marriage, women who give birth to girls are maltreated, and baby girls are killed. Croll notes that in some places the ratio of baby girls to baby boys was 1 :4 (1984: 20). In 1990, women formed 48.4 per cent of the total population as compared to 48.7 per cent in 1982 (Pei Qing 1992: 20), showing the impact of female infanticide during the intervening years.

Croll also points out the danger of women's labour disappearing under that of the "household" in rural areas. Despite the many success stories quoted in the Chinese press, she adds a cautionary note:

"Current policies returning production to the household are marked by the near omission of any substantive analysis of the household and the relations of production and exchange within it. In the absence of such discussion which defines the distribution of labour and rewards within the household, it is likely that the gender hierarchy will be reproduced in production and the individual contribution of women be camouflaged by the family wage." (Croll 1983: 126).

Women's labour may also be intensified now that they are expected to work on sideline occupations, help with agriculture and take care of the household's basic needs (Hopper 1984).

However, it should be pointed out that the ACWF has made certain efforts to combat the most overt forms of discrimination against women. It has carried out educational campaigns among women and has tried to popularise women's rights through an emphasis on the law. Fran Williard, for example, notes that complaints about mothers-in-law, humiliation by husbands who had mistresses, arranged marriages, physical and mental maltreatment, financial non-support and other forms of inequality were aired at tables managed by women lawyers and Federation members (1985: 14). Again, one notices that the problems as such have not changed despite decades of propaganda and favourable legislation. They are the problems against which women fought at the turn of the century.

While, on the one hand, the ACWF champions the equality of women, on the other hand, it also contribute8 to dominant notions of female roles and images. The way the Federation has dealt with the issues of "love and marriage" is a case in point. Since marriage is seen as the aim of all women, to be "left on the shelf" is considered a state to be pitied. Consequently, it is seen as the duty of social organisations such as the Women's Committees, the Neighbourhood Committees and Youth Organisations to arrange opportunities for young people to meet and get married. Marriage bureaux have also been set up to serve as officially sanctioned matchmakers. While marriage is seen as a natural way of life, the requirements of what counts as an eligible spouse have changed. These reflect the increased consumerism that is visible in urban areas (Tan Manni 1983: 12).

Another significant change in post-Mao China has been the encouragement given to consumerism through the means of advertising. Chinese cities today are littered with advertisements related to household goods from washing machines to tape recorders. As in other countries, advertisements in China use female models, and posters of smiling women standing in front of well-stocked fridges are commonplace. Alongside this, fashion and cosmetics have become important and the hairdressers, and beauty parlours are always full. Such trends mark a significant departure from the ideas of frugality and simplicity that China tried so hard to propagate earlier. They also reveal the resurgence of older notions of femininity, proving that a change in economic or political relations does not automatically imply a change in the way an orthodoxy on gender relations incorporates elements of long-standing cultural tradition.

Another aspect of post-Mao China that needs to be stressed is a remarkable fluidity in the opinions and discourses on the question of women. Harriet Evans, in a study of how popular magazines available in China deal with the sex-gender issue, notes: "Sensationalist, macho and violent stories, printed ostensibly to teach a moral lesson, are found alongside advice to young mothers about how to calm babies who cry too much." (1989: 12). She further notes that other semi-official magazines such as Women's Forum (Funu luntan) tend to discuss more topical issues like marriage problems and love matters and give advice on how best to handle these (Evans 1989: 12). These discussions represent a new emphasis on the more traditional nature of female roles in China today. They also represent a range of possibilities that have emerged with the loosening of Party control over publishing.

Though there has been a definite rise in conservatism on the question of women, hitherto unknown feminist voices have also been heard. Several women within the ACWF itself have taken consistent stands against the resurgence of sexism. They have pointed out that for women to be able to compete with men, they need access to job-training facilities and scientific knowledge. As a report by the Anhui Provincial Women's Federation says:

"Lenin once pointed out that the working class should seek its own emancipation, as should working women. We feel that the same can be said of women becoming capable and qualified people in every field. Provided they are determined to break through the confines of conventionalism, work with persistence and diligence, and overcome obstacles in their path, women can certainly make something of themselves." (Anhui Provincial Women's Federation 1985: 33).

The report then goes on to list subjective and objective factors behind the subordination of women. It also demands that more women should be accepted as cadres in the Party. It points out that, at the provincial level, women form only 23.2 per cent of cadres and the figure decreases sharply among senior ranks. Women account for only 7.2 per cent of cadres at the county levels and 6.2 per cent at the prefectural bureau level (Anhui Provincial Women's Federation 1985: 35).

Despite such efforts on the part of the Federation, post-Mao China is a place where conventional ideas about women have resurfaced. As usual their problems have been subordinated to the immediate policy aims of China. The contradictions that are beginning to emerge between the gender-specific interests of women and the modernisation programme are expected to get worse unless an attempt is made to redress these trends.

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Conclusion

An analysis of Chinese policy towards women, and the shifts and changes in the issues that are perceived as women's issues, shows that the crux of the problem has remained the contradiction between women's reproductive roles and their participation in wage labour. While the Chinese Communist Party has constantly expressed support for female liberation, this support has been conditional on women's specific interest not conflicting with the overall interests of the Party. The persistence of "feudal" values about women imply that economic liberation, though an important necessity for female liberation, is not sufficient in itself.

China's case demonstrates that gender relations remain an aspect most resistant to change. The rigid sexual division of labour upon which a habitus of gender relations is built is not only hard to change, but is tenaciously maintained despite changes in economic circumstances. In China one of the most fundamental beliefs remains: that of women's natural role as mothers and providers of the emotional and nurturance needs of their families. As shown, although the status of women in China has changed enormously, this automatic assumption continues to receive tacit support from the government. Their domestic responsibilities and their reproductive roles are seen as aspects which make women different from men, a biological difference which is seen as imbuing them with "natural" characteristics.

The persistent sexual division of labour and the failure to alleviate the domestic burden of women has merely resulted in the addition of new roles on top of women's previous roles, rather than a redefinition of male and female roles, resulting in the exhausting double burden faced by women. The government's limited efforts towards dealing with the specific demands faced by women justifies the charge made by feminists that the policies of socialist states towards women are constantly subordinated to the productivist goals of these states. An analysis of the continuing forms of female subordination, and the way in which socialist policy itself condones male-female inequality, is postponed. Every time the issue emerges from doxa, a new orthodoxy is constructed around it by emphasising one or the other role of women rather than attempting a fundamental restructuring of gender relations. This constant displacing of the women's question is often hidden by the formal equality that women have acquired, and behind the accession of women to previously unconventional occupations (Molyneux 1981 b: 36).

The Communist Party, especially in the rural areas of China, first confronted feudal ideas about women in China as a heterodoxy, challenging a Confucian orthodoxy with its discourse of female equality. In the Chinese case it is interesting to note that the Party recognises the importance of ideological change, in fact it positively emphasises it, but it refuses to touch certain aspects of gender relations. These are the sexual division of labour and the consequent belief that women are naturally suitable for certain tasks. That is why the mobilisation of women for tasks which are a natural extension of their familial roles is no contradiction. The discourse of the Party becomes a new discursive alignment of old elements.

This is not an attempt at a deliberate policy by the Party. The Chinese case demonstrates that although the "wider limits" of the discourse on women are extended, certain elements remain behind. This also allows us to form an alternative hypothesis to that of Stacey and others who argue that the Party as such is patriarchal. Further, if we see discourse on gender as premised on those areas which the Party does not see as real contradictions, we can also understand women's own support and participation in the ranks of the Communist Party. They not only actively propagated the Party line but also believed in it. Like the Party, they were convinced that the contradictions between their gender-specific interests would be detrimental to the goal of national and class liberation. It is this aspect of Chinese policy on women that allows us to say that the new orthodoxy on gender relations is a curious mix of patriarchy and socialism, where the tensions between women's productive and reproductive roles remain unresolved. It also shows us the importance and power of discourse and the role that discourse plays in the mystification of the material subordination of women.

Another significant aspect of socialist rhetoric on gender relations is the protectionist discourse within which state support for female equality is couched. Women are constantly identified as those who need to be "protected", on par with children. Women's rights are enshrined in the constitution as a gift of the Party rather than as something won by women through struggle and because women deserve to be equal. This discourse of protectionism has been visible ever since the women's question first appeared as a necessary part of a charter of social reform. The stalwarts of the early reform movement are all men, with the exception of a few token women. In the socialist phase of the revolution, those women who emerged as leaders were automatically assigned to female tasks, which were seen as secondary to the overall goals of the revolution. This protectionist discourse of the Party is also what made it suppress the more radical and independent discourses which emerged within the women's movement during the period of the May Fourth movement of 1919. The Party cannot afford to allow competing discourses, which link questions of female subordination to intra-family relations and pose the problem as a contradiction between the interests of men and women. This would undermine the Party's legitimacy as the arbitrator of social relations.

The structural subordination of the ACWF, as a mass organisation is a natural consequence of this protectionist bias. This protective strategy serves a double function, for it also ensures that women who do act in their own interests outside the avenues provided for them, are successfully marginalised and discredited as divisive. The need for an independent women's organisation is removed if the Party constantly proclaims to support and protect the interests of women. Whenever this protectionism offered by the state and its organisations fails, the Party blames feudal ideology rather than examining the limitations and drawbacks of its own strategies and policies. Feudal ideology, in other words, becomes a convenient scapegoat for the tensions that emerge when the gender interests of women come into conflict with state policy.

Because of the Party's compromises at various levels, and the way women are defined as dependents, power relations between the sexes have changed very little over time. At the material level, women remain unequal to men in all areas of social life. At the level of discourse, this inequality is hidden behind an ideology of equality. Any analysis which seeks to examine the "position of women in China, then, has to start with debunking this myth of equality which is maintained by orthodoxy. The ideology of equality through state protectionism ensures that the emergence of an independent women's organisation which will consistently champion women's rights is an uphill task.

While orthodoxy and its contents can be examined through the way the state presents its position on the woman's question, we also need to find a way of assessing what women make of these representations of therr,selves, and how they represent themselves in alternative ways. Women throughout different periods have responded to the demands made on them in different ways. While many have accepted the demands uncritically, others, as exemplified by Ding Ling, have tended to look critically at their position in society. The post-Mao years, with the loosening of control at various levels, further demonstrate that the state does not have a monopoly on the production of a discourse on women. Though it attempts to construct an orthodoxy, in practice, several discourses coexist.

This heterodoxy, in the Chinese case, contains different discourses, some seek a return to a position that existed before the CPC came to power and are echoes of conservative ideas about women; others seek radically to question all elements of a traditional and socialist orthodoxy. While the former justify and support discrimination against women by seeking to contract the limits of change that have occurred, the latter seek to widen the limits of discourse.

Strands of heterodoxy can also be spotted in different places. Within the Women's Federation, for example, there has been a growing acceptance of the existence of female subordination rather than pretending that the problems of women have all been taken care of. Although the ACWF is structurally limited in its propagation of female equality, it has highlighted and criticised incidents of blatant discrimination against women. Independent women's voices have also been heard through university student groups such as the Guangdong University students who have started a journal specially devotes to publicising cases of discrimination against women. Some of the more critical women writers are also part of this more independent critique of gender relations. A few women's studies programmes have also been set up in universities (Shen Zhi 1987).

In the final analysis, discrimination against womerl can be eradicated only if what is taken for granted about male-female relations is questioned; not by a revival of an earlier conception of male-female relations, as is happening in China today, but by a radical questioning of their relation. It is this apparent fit of women's natural roles with their objective circumstances that seems to provide a motif of continuity within the changing discourse on Chinese women.

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1. Bourdieu defines habitus as "At once a system of models for the production of practices and a system of models for the perception and appreciation of practices. There the habitus implies a sense of one's place" and also a sence of other's place (Bourdieu 1990: 131)

2. The role played by patrilocal marriages has been examined by several scholars. In the case of China see, Freedman (1970).

3. This feature of feudal society leads one to argue that dominant or orthodox discourse in pre-capitalist societies attempts to control only those it classifies as its "representatives". The adherence to morals and values is, in fact, one of the bases on which the upper classes distinguish themselves from the general mass of the population.

4 While sisterhoods are a positive and successful example of resistance to social pressure, they existed only in south China. For many young women the only means of resisting forced marriages was suicide, a very common happening in traditional China. See Wolf (1978).

5. Croll has an interesting quote to prove the class bias of these early reformers. She quotes from the prospectus of one of the schools opened by a number of wealthy merchants: "In opening schools for girls we are reverting to the illustrious custom of the three dynasties. In order to open up the intelligence of the people, we must certainly make women free and afterwards customs can be changed It is the intention of the school to make no distinctions of rank but since in the future, pupils from the school will be leaders and teachers in other schools, only respectable families will be admitted." (CroIl1978: 52).

6. See Liu Mei Ching (1988) for details about the content of women's journals in Japan during this period.

7. Oiu Jin is often seen as the heroine of this period. She came from a gentry family, with liberal parents. She divorced her husband and left her children in order to study in Japan. There she came in contact with members of the Tong Meng Hui, an association set up under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, later the president of Republican China in 1911. Oiu Jin participated in their activities and in 1906 returned to China to work and propagate revolution. She was arrested and executed by the Manchu government in 1909 when she and her co-conspirators planned the assassination of a high official (CroIl1978: 65).

8. The actual incident that started widespread demonstrations all over China was the protest of 4 May 1919 against the enforcement of the Versailles Treaty, from which the movement draws its name.

9. As early as 1916, Chen Duxiu suggested that a new family system was essential if women were to be liberated. The magazine New Youth, of which Chen was editor, ran regular columns on the subject from 1918 onwards. See Chow Tse-tsung (1960).

10. The leaders of the communist movement in China accepted the analysis outlined above because by the early 1920s women workers had emerged in large numbers in the urban areas of China. Further, Honing (1986) in her study of women textile workers in Shanghai points out that women were severely exploited and worked long hours under miserable conditions.

11. Xiang Jingyu was the only woman in the first politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. She studied in France with Zhou Enlai and returned to China in 1922 to participate in Party work. She was one of the few women who ere part of the decision-making apparatus of the early Communist Party. She was appointed director for women's affairs by the Party in 1923. Xiang was especially against the early feminists, regarding them as middle-class women attempting social charity. This prejudice against feminists was to continue and the word "feminism" (nuxing zhuyt) came to be seen as pejorative. See Leith (1973).

12. The Soviet Land Law of 1931 provided for the distribution of land among hired hands, labourers and peasants regardless of sex (Stranahan 1976: 21). This was an historic landmark in China, for before this women had never had the right to inherit property. The second important piece of legislation in this period was the promulgation of the Marriage Law in 1931 (Zhonghua Su-wei- ai gong he guo hunyin tiaolt). This law listed three basic principles: free choice of marriage, legalisation of divorce and the position of children. See Delia Davin (1976).

13. In today's light, it is interesting to note that similar critiques have been made by female guerrilla fighters from Cuba and Zimbabwe. Women recall that on their return to "normal" life they were seen as "strange, loose women, while the men were welcomed back as heroes of the revolution". See Molyneux (1981 a).

14. A good example of the radicalism of certain of the women's organisations during this period is documented in William Hinton's Fanshen (1966), a history of how revolution and liberation occurred in the Long Bow village. Hinton records the steps that the local women's organisation took against those men and mothers-in-law who continued to mistreat wives. the records how the "eat bittemess" (chiku) campaigns worked in practice.

15. The circular evaluated the experience of women's work in the liberated areas and pointed out the shortcomings that had existed. Commenting on the central task of women's work, the circular stated: "The orientation of womanwork in the liberated areas should still be based on mobilising and organising women for an active part in production In the first place women must be given equal rights and position with men, and in the countryside get and keep in equal share of land and property and learn to look upon labour as glorious." (Davin 1976: 203).

16. After the law was proclaimed, a survey of marriages in the rural countryside listed the different types of marriage as following: free marriage, arranged marriages where the couple were allowed to meet each other before the marriage, and arranged marriages where the couple had no choice. Of these three forms, free marriage, where the couple married by their own choice, was both the least common and the ideal that the Party encouraged (Davin 1976: 96).

17. The Great Leap Forward was a campaign launched in 1958 at the behest of Mao. It was the first large-scale attempt by the Party to collectivise rural landholdings under the famous Commune experiment. For details on the compaign and its effects, see MacFarquhar (1983).

18. The Cultural Revolution was launched in 1966. Its main aim was to attack what Mao termed the revisionist and rightist tendencies within the Party. He specifically called upon students to attack the leadership. Called the Red Guards (Hongweibing), students from all over China participated in mass campaigns against the top leadership. For details on the movement as a whole, see Robinson (1971 ).

19. Post-Mao China has witnessed major changes in the organisation of social and economic life in China. For details on the policy changes initiated in this period, see Feuchtwang et al. (eds.) (1988).

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