Confucius said, " Only women and small-hearted people are difficult to deal with." This has exercised a subconscious effect on women's interests over the past two milleniums. In imperial China, most women rarely ventured beyond their own doorsteps, their feet bound (literally and figuratively) and their lives one of domestic drudgery. Women have always been valued for their beauty all around the world, it has been no exception in China. Concepts of beauty, however, have varied as dynasties rise and fall. In Jin Dynasty in the 13th century, women were made to bound their feet to assuage the lascivious of the corrupted Emperor. In the Tang Dynasty, well-endowed women with generous curves were the dish of the day! This may all seem remarkably hilarious in our enlightened world today when giving a woman a once over is alluded to as sexual discrimination. Pause in your derisive laughter, for how has such a history of repressing women affected the progress women's liberation today?
The turning point for women in post-revolutionary Modern China has perhaps been the occurrence of the May 4th Movement in 1919. It was a public revolt against the feudalistic rule of Chiang Kai Shek which called for a total makeover of China's social and economic infrastructure, created new opportunities; schools and universities were founded to train female students as teachers and nurses. The nascent urban communist movement gained considerable female support because it called for a change in the traditional Confucian gender relations that relegated women to a subservient existence. Beginning in the late 1920s, the Chinese Communist Party promoted liberal marriage laws in its peasant base areas, which generated support for the movement among rural women. In line with Chairman Mao's well-quoted line, " Women support half the sky", the 1949 Communist Revolution meant that both urban and rural women alike were expected to participate fully in the socio-economic transformation of society. As Marxism emphasised class as the agent for change, however, Chinese women were encouraged to enter the workforce to contribute to socialist construction, rather than fight for gender equality.
The upheavals of the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 made the majority of Chinese women eager to embrace Deng Xiaoping's brand of "market socialism" in 1978. Yet undeniably it was during the Cultural Revolution that many women came to the forefront of political decision making. During this period femininity was criticised as a "petty bourgeois characterisitc". Hardly any skirts could be seen walking down the streets and make-up was a definite no-no. Female Communist Party members were expected to be militant and ambitious. Shrill but effective political propaganda emanating from Chairman Mao's manipulative wife, Jiang Qing, helped double the number of women in local provincial and national government. However, many have indicated since that they were compelled to join and not from any sense of motivation.
The only Empress to ever rule China as an autocratic ruler, Wu Zetian, would have been outraged to see the degree of liberty (as she would see it) that women enjoy today. However, the world can not be viewed through rose-tinted glasses. Women have borne the brunt of the negative effects of China's economic reform policies, a fact repeatedly pointed out by Chinese women's studies scholars, activists and even the official All-China Women's Federation. Widespread discrimination in education and employment both reflects and reinforces social prejudices against women and affects the lives and destinies of hundreds and millions of women today. Women and girls have been the silent victims of government policies which encourage or tacitly accept human rights abuses. But controls on freedom of expression, information and association have prevented women from speaking out freely about their experiences or organizing as they see fit to combat rights violations. The rest of this paper shall be dedicated to exposing some of the most egregious violations of human rights against the Chinese women that occur in the People's Republic today.