Thursday, August 16, 2007

Marriage and the Chinese Revolution

Before the 1949 revolution, Chinese women were regarded as lower in social rank than men, notwithstanding the general disempowerment of women due to the lower social class that they belonged to. Women were considered chattels, especially by the noble classes, in which families arranged marriages for their daughters in order to secure favors from government officials, warlords and even from the imperial household. Moreover, men could have as many wives as they wanted, notwithstanding the utter lack of power of women to secure a divorce from their husbands, in the event that they were abused and badly treated.

Mao Zedong said this about the Marriage Law, "The Marriage Law affects all people's interests and is one of the basic laws of China, next only to the constitution…It is the legal means through which to carry out reform of the marriage and family system in China, the weapon with which to fight the feudal family system, and the tool necessary to establish and develop a new marriage and family system." For all the faults of Mao’s China, the marriage law which the communists implemented liberated the women from the bondage of a patriarchal society which dictated the terms of their existence, including their choice of a life partner. By decreeing the dismantling of a feudal system of relations between men and women, women were now able to truly choose to marry only those that they truly love. While such a state policy exists, it took more than the marriage law to truly ensure that the social inequality in a Chinese marriage was implemented politically and culturally, to ensure that women indeed held half the sky.

On the other hand, such liberation of Chinese women in marriage then did not amount to utter sexual promiscuity as in Western countries, except at present, where changing partners and spouses seem to be as fast as changing mobile phones and cars in Chinese contemporary society. As divorce is China is as easy as selling the newest Ipod, it is now steadily undermining once more the value of marriage and the commitment that is intertwined in its concept. If the women were treated as chattels in feudal China that no mutual consent in marriage ever really existed, the present increasing number of divorces seems to manifest that with the increase in personal income and spending of the Chinese is rendering as a commodity the institution of marriage. These things, treating women as chattel and the commodification of marriage, are both social evils which destroy the basic sanctity of marriage, in view of the family as the basic institution in any society.

As the Chinese economy grows by leaps and bounds, it has also led to the creation and reproduction of a new inequality in the institution of marriage, where mutual love and commitment are not at the center of the institution but property relations to outpace all other families in a cutthroat competition for financial security and success. It is no different from feudal China where families arranged marriages for their daughters because it destroys the long-held idea, even by Mao Tsetung, that marriage should only be based on mutual respect and love by partners with a deep perspective on their relationship and a long-term goal for the development of both partners’ lives in all aspects – physical, economic, social, and even spiritual.

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