Featured Student: Alessandro Benedetti

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“Women Hold Up Half the Sky”

Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong declared his commitment to gender equality through his famous saying that ‘women hold up half the sky’. Did Mao’s view transform underlying gender relations in China? Bachelor of International Relations student, Alessandro Benedetti, investigates this engaging topic. The following is a short excerpt from his paper for INTR13-301 Strategic China.

alessandro benedettiChinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong declared his commitment to gender equality through his famous saying that ‘women hold up half the sky’. Did Mao’s view transform underlying gender relations in China? Bachelor of International Relations student, Alessandro Benedetti, investigates this engaging topic. The following is a short excerpt from his paper for INTR13-301 Strategic China.

The condition of women in pre-revolutionary China was one characterized by a long story of misery. The binding of the feet, female infanticide, concubinage, loveless marriages were just some of the many humiliating customs to which Chinese women were subjected during imperial times (Clark & Wang, 2004). The condition of women in China at the beginning of the 20th Century was dismal compared to the rights that women were already holding in western countries; this era could rightly be identified as the ‘feminine-humiliation’ within China’s ‘Century of Humiliation’. However, with the rise of Mao Zedong in 1949, proclaiming his commitment to gender equality with his famous statement, ‘women hold up half the sky’, it was clear his ‘Chinese road to socialism’ was going to break forever with the traditions of the past, making women ‘comrades’ with the same rights as their male counterparts.

Taking on the heritage left by Sun Yat-Sen, Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have changed forever the underlying gender relations in China. The newly founded People’s Republic of China (PRC) after the victory of Mao’s troops in 1949 saw as one of its first laws the Marriage Law of 1950. This clearly reflected the importance that gender issues played during the Revolution. With this law, old practices such as concubinage, brideprice and child betrothal were abolished and at the same time more freedom was given to women in regards to marriage and divorce. Furthermore, provision was made for maternity leave and kindergartens were established (Bailey, 2012). One of the reasons for Mao’s success in the Communist Revolution was his appeal to young women in rural China; they rose to the promise of reform (Johnson, 1985). The 1950 Marriage Law represented a stepping stone in the advancement of human rights. This was coupled by redefining a women’s work role. The image of women in the workforce was communicated through the model ‘female worker’. She was usually represented, in propaganda pictures, as a peasant with a confident smile, strong and capable, using technology and sometimes instructing…READ MORE

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