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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

In which the marriage law of April 1950 was the first step


Chinese

leaders realize that an improved level of living is difficult to attain while the birth rate remains high. They have hesitated to adopt a family-planning policy, which would fly in the face of Marxist doctrine, although for a short period family planning was openly recommended. Their most efficient method of limiting the birth rate has been to recommend postponement of marriage.

First the limitation of private enterprise and business and then the nationalization of all important businesses following the completion of land reform deprived many employers as well as small shopkeepers of an occupation. But the new industries could not absorb all of the labor that suddenly became available. When rural youth inundated the cities in search of employment, the government returned the excess urban population to die countryside and recruited students and other urban youth to work on farms. Reeducation camps in outlying areas also provided cheap farm labor.

The problem facing China or any nation that modernizes and industrializes in the twentieth century can be simply stated. Nineteenth-century industry needed large masses of workers which only the rural areas could supply; and, with the development of farming methods, the countryside could afford to send its youth to the cities. Twentieth-century industry, on the other hand, needs technicians and highly qualified personnel, often with college degrees, but few unskilled

workers. China has traditionally employed human labor where machines would have been cheaper and more efficient, simply because labor was available and capital was not. But since, with the growth of modern industry and modern farming, the problem will arise again, the policy of employing urban youth on farms is shortsighted.

The labor force also increased as a result of the "liberation" of women, in which the marriage law of April 1950 was the first step. Nationalist China had earlier created a modern and liberal marriage law; moreover, women were never the slaves that they have sometimes been painted. In many parts of China, long before the Pacific War, women worked in the fields with their husbands. Elsewhere they worked in secondary agricultural industries (weaving, preparation of food conserves, home industries, and even textile factories) and provided supplementary income for their families. All that "liberation" in 1950 really meant was that women had to work a full day as their husbands did, and had, in addition, to do house work and care for their children much as before. The new marriage law did, indeed, make both partners equal; it also made it easier for men to divorce their wives, political incompatibility becoming a ground for divorce.

The ideological justification for a new marriage law was the desirability of destroying the traditional Chinese family and its economic basis because a close family, and all the more an extended family or a clan, could obviously serve as a center of resistance. Land collectivization and the nationalization of business destroyed the economic basis of families. The "liberation" of women brought them out of the house and made it possible for the government to exploit dissension between husband and wife, thereby increasing its control over the family. Finally, the new education system, which indoctrinated all children from nursery to the end of college, separated children from parents, thus undermining parental control and enabling the state to intimidate parents by encouraging their children to denounce their "deviations." Sporadic efforts to dissolve the family completely by separating women from men in communes--recalling an attempt made almost a century earlier by the T'ai-p'ing--were unsuccessful.


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