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The Role of Women as Crucial Actors in the History of Twentieth-Century China

Introduction

Xinhai Revolution, which took place in 1912, marked the beginning of radical changes in all spheres of Chinese life in the twentieth century. It significantly influenced China’s politics, economy, finance, culture, and everyday life of people. The revolution caused by the general course of the social and historical development of the country had democratic, national, and antimonarchic character and became the starting point for the new stage of China’s development. In fact, it is hard to overestimate the value of changes that followed the withdrawal of the 267-year-old alien rule of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of a republican system to the further development of the country. The revolution opened the way for further development of China and brought a new perspective to women as crucial actors in the history of twentieth-century China. Based on the above mentioned as well as the book review of Growing Up in The People’s Republic: Conversations Between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution by Weili Ye and Ma Xiaodong, the following paper is aimed at discussing how perceptions and self-perceptions of women changed over the course of the twentieth century in China and defining the role of women in the Communist revolution and Cultural Revolution. In fact, the paper will analyze the role of women as crucial actors in the history of twentieth-century China, identifying the way the gender helped to produce and maintain power structures of Chinese society.

Book Report & General Overview

Growing Up in The People’s Republic: Conversations Between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution by Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma provides the story of Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma’s lives through the prism of the Chinese social changes in the twentieth century. The book is written in a conversational manner and provides the chronological sequence of events evidenced by Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma in the 1950-1980s (Ye and Ma). Personal experience of the narrators provides the background to the understanding of the Cultural Revolution and the Communist regime in the country, defining the specific generation in recent Chinese history.

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The conversational manner of the book is based on the layers of historical, personal, and generational experiences. The abovementioned helps the narrators to show the impact of radical changes on the role of gender in the social life of the country. The book provides an overview of Chinese women’s lives during the period of the Cultural Revolution, showing it in the new light, i.e. from a completely new perspective.

Personal Influence

Being the representative of the new generation, I have not seen the effects of the Cultural Revolution myself. I can have a glance at the Cultural Revolution only through the review of history books. However, the book Growing Up in The People’s Republic: Conversations Between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution by Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma has completely changed my interests and personal values. Ye and Ma have made me face the burden of the history of China. Nevertheless, though the book opens deep wounds of society, it still reveals the highest moral integrity of its members. The book proves the complexity of the era and provides the humanistic review of a seemingly unimaginable individual behavior. The honesty of the narrators and specific details of the historical period help to face past events from a personal perspective.

The book helps to understand the history of China through the personal experience of the narrators, making it easily understandable to the reader. Examples of the real-life of people such as Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma or, for example, Ye’s mother shows the war-time sufferings that the Chinese people had to go through during their history (Ye and Ma).

The specific and even ugly truth of the totalitarian regime concerns unbelievable facts and stories. For example, stories about counter-revolutionists who lost individual rights and faced physical attacks of mobs influence the reader’s attitude to the historical events. The practices of beating someone to death as well as the public humiliation or looting were supposed to be noble actions in the name of the revolution. Nevertheless, the courage of young people surprises the reader. Being farm laborers, they used to face famine and poverty, which categorized them into so-called “red” and “black” types (Ye and Ma). The Red Guards combated with anything or anybody related to counter-revolutionary issues. Violence was praised and justified. However, the cruel reality of the described period helps to see the role of women as crucial actors in the history of twentieth-century China. The new government made women equal to men in various activities, which had been quite unusual for the previously male-dominated society.

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The Role of Communism & Cultural Revolution in the Perceptions & Self-Perceptions of Women in China

The Xinhai Revolution became the starting point for the Chinese progressives to start talking about the equality of women and men, as well as the need to give women the opportunity to participate in social and political life, providing them with access to education, obtaining a degree, and facilitating their marital status (Pbs Documentary). The changes in the position of women in society were necessary to break the old patterns of family relations. Since ancient times, Chinese women had been deprived of most civil rights. Girls had learned humility and meekness. The revolution marked the beginning of a period of radical changes (Schoppa). The information on women’s issues occupied a significant place in newspapers and magazines of the time. Since 1916, girls gained admission to higher education. In addition, women defended the right to express and protect their own opinions, as well as make independent decisions. Under the banner of the struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights, the advanced minds of the Chinese society began to talk about freedom of divorce. The discussion of these issues caused a heated debate in the country since it meant the destruction of the feudal system and the traditional concept of marriage (Schoppa).

Nevertheless, it should be noted that divorce cases started to occur mostly in the capital and major coastal cities where the society was more prepared to accept new social standards. Divorce remained an unacceptable act in the consciousness of many Chinese for a long time. As a reason for divorce, women often referred to the violence imposed by a husband or his family. In fact, violence occurred more frequently among men with low levels of education such as agricultural workers, industrial workers, entrepreneurs, unemployed men, or temporarily unemployed persons. Judges often proceeded from the need to preserve the family as a guarantee of the stability of the society and considered the complaints of women as insufficient arguments for divorce. Invited witnesses often gave false testimonies against women, which led to the rejection of claims for divorce. Most husbands, not wanting to lose face, denied violence and put forward economic reasons for divorce. It means that although formally women gained equal rights with men, in practice the protection of their rights was quire difficult.

The efforts of progressive leaders of the country were focused on training new people able to ensure the rise of China and its progress (Meisner). However, history has proven that changes should be gradual, taking into account the specifics and peculiarities of the national psychology of the people. The media of the abovementioned time period encouraged young women to dress similarly to soldiers, i.e. with heavy belts and uniforms. The traditional perception of the femininity was considered as the bourgeois legacy. The motherhood was devalued as compared to the socially important work.

Conclusion

The abovementioned paper contains the book review of Growing Up in the People’s Republic: Conversations Between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution by Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma. Based on the events occurring in the social and political life of China in the twentieth century, the paper has discussed changes in the perceptions and self-perceptions of women taking place over the course of the twentieth century in China through the prism of the conversation provided by Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma in their book. The book has proved that due to the Communism and Cultural Revolution women received equal rights with men. It means that gender helped to produce and maintain power structures of Chinese society through the break of traditional family relations. The book Growing Up in The People’s Republic: Conversations between Two Daughters of China’s Revolution by Weili Ye and Xiaodong Ma is supposed to be a perfect example of the historical view onto the development of a huge nation through the prism of personal experience of the two women. The stories of the women conducted in the form of the conversation make it easy to understand the essence of the discussed time period. The complexity of the discussed era makes the book of Ye and Ma a perfect review of specific details of the historical period. It helps to face the past events when searching for the truth.

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