Mao Zedong's New Marriage Law Of 1950

“Women hold up half the sky,” Chairman Mao Zedong stated to the people of China, showing his clear belief in gender equality and the importance of women in a society. This was a good indication of what was to come for the People’s Republic of China, and why these changes were to occur. Although Mao’s solution to the problems in China, the New Marriage Law of 1950, caused much controversy and angered many people, it helped and protected millions more. By ending the oppressive reign of the feudal marriages and traditional familial values and routines, Mao Zedong saved the lives of countless women and children.

The New Marriage Law of 1950 was a highly beneficial resolution to the age-old conflict and oppression of feudal marriages, and significantly bettered the lives of women and children by protecting their rights and ending traditional sexist policies such as child marriage and taking concubines, which eventually led to improved modern day gender equality in China and the rest of the world. China was a difficult place to live in pre-reform. Parents had the sole decision-making role in choosing their child’s marriage partner, so the relationships between husband and wife were often shaky and obligatory at best. The societal mindset of the time was that children were owned by their parents, and were never allowed to go against their will. This harmful tradition was upheld all the way through to the issue of marriage. Parents did not even look at compatibility or respect between the future bride and groom, let alone any love whatsoever. They matched birth-dates at a fortune tellers, or asked the Buddha statue at the nearby temple if the relationship was to be beneficial for the rest of the family. If the children were lucky, their parents might consider the other family’s status before forcibly combining their children and requiring them to live together for the rest of their lives and produce children for their country. It was even worse for the women, as they were pressured to be submissive, polite, and obedient to their husbands. They were never allowed to remarry, even if their husbands passed away. The two lived together indefinitely, shrouded in bitterness, until their own children were old enough to be married, who were then betrothed and married to partners of their parents choosing, continuing the cycle. Additionally, the parents would end up living with their married children and grandchildren, as was the societal custom, and would end up making their children care for them. In this position, these tyrannical elders could get free care and financial support, in addition to a place of immediate power and control in a family. To say the way these families worked was non-beneficial and miserable for almost all parties is an understatement.

Additionally, child marriages were a huge problem, and, frankly, absolutely disgusting. The parents of the wife would ship their daughter to the new family as a young child, and she was then forced to work under terrible conditions for the new family. After laboring for years with barely enough to eat or wear, she was handed off to a much older husband, who beat and worked her for the rest of her life. On the other hand, sometimes a family would receive a female fiance years before their son was even born, and she would live with and work for them until he was of age, which was often deplorably young. There would often be a situation with an 18 or 19 year old wife and an 8 or 9 year old husband, which was not only biologically incorrect, but caused much arguing and discomfort in the home. Much worse offenses also took place in the homes of pre-reform China.

As previously mentioned, young girls were often married to much older men, some even before reaching their teens, or an older woman would be married to a child husband. In addition, sexism was a huge problem, as well as abuse, and women and girls were treated terribly. This sexism was sometimes taken so far as to carry out gender-based abortions of female babies. Furthermore, husbands could take multiple concubines or wives, and would often abuse them as well. The practice of human trafficking also grew in order to obtain these concubines or transport child brides to their future husbands. Human trafficking could even be an issue in the rare case of a happy marriage, as when a man and woman were to be married from far apart, they would send the bride, ready for her wedding, in a carriage to the man’s town. These bridal carriages were often intercepted by traveling bandits, and the happy bride-to-be never got to meet her groom, and was taken and forced to another man.

Overall, the situation in China before 1950 was shameful and full of unnecessary pain and strife. Mao Zedong saw this suffering, and found a way to release China from it’s harmful traditional practices. As clearly stated above, the issues in China before Mao passed the New Marriage Law were at a terrible height. People, tired of the never-ending struggle, began to rise up against their oppressors. These educated young revolutionists were highly impacted by Western influence and the nationality and internationality that came with these ideals. These new ideas caused a series of failed revolutions, movements, and reforms, that, although did nothing for society at the time, seriously benefited Mao’s 1950 reforms. These movements kickstarted the ideals of Mao’s revolution. Every ideal that had been brought up by these reforms and silenced later influenced Mao’s revolution and the New Marriage Law of 1950. China had seen the worth in the failed ideals the revolutionaries died for, and knew that these changes needed to come about. Mao led these powerful changes for China through his reforms and the creation of the New Marriage Law.

During the writing and passing of the New Marriage Law, Mao used a lot of positive propaganda to ensure the law’s success. Many posters were made and distributed, with images of happy marriages and captions, such as “in marriage, keep an eye on your own interests, and return radiant after registration (New Marriage Law - 1950). These statements demonstrate the healthy mindset of the reforms. As an overarching point, the Law gave women legal equality with men, and was meant to also end the patriarchal and ageist feudal marriage system. The Law went on to state that marriage needed to be based on the consent of both people, monogamy, and equality within the relationship, in addition to protecting and promoting the rights and safety of women and children. Divorce was now also a protected right. Polygamy, taking concubines, and child marriages were now all banned. Couples were ordered to register their marriages and divorces with the state. Additionally, the Law defined relationships between different members of the household.

Children, parents, and grandparent all lived together during these times in China, but pre-reform, the grandparents would reign tyrannically over the household and drain the resources of their children. However, now they were ordered to live peacefully and care for one another. This met with a lot of resistance from these elders, however, they were prosecuted for being ‘landlords’ if they caused too much trouble for their children and grandchildren. This helped many families gain happiness, but also ripped apart the traditions and customs of spousal choice and familial life. This break of tradition caused some discomfort in all generations, but without this, China may still have been arranging their children’s marriages to this day. Almost immediately after the Law was passed, the rates of everything exploded. Free marriages sprung up everywhere, and widows were allowed to be re-married, so happy marriages increased immensely. In addition, divorce rates went up, due to the ability to get out of an unhappy relationship. Clearly, many of the elders and husbands of traditional beliefs were angry that their power had been upset, but this was to be expected. In addition, many young people struggled with their new blooming freedom, and this split many families in two; revolutionary and traditional. This split caused many fights, murders, and suicides, but without this painful cleave, China could never have moved on and ended its age-old suffering. There is no gain without pain, and these people suffered so that the ideals they believed in could fully bloom in China. They died to make their country a better place for all. Overall, these changes brought about good in China, then and now.

Without the reform, China could still possibly be submerged in the painful traditional customs of its past. If it weren’t for the New Marriage Law of 1950, and the valiant struggle of those who came both before and after Mao’s reforms, China wouldn’t be what it is today. Mao Zedong once stated that pre-reform China had a society composed of three iron nets for young people; one’s own family, one’s future partner’s family, and society itself. Once all three of these nets closed in, there was no hope for the person of ever having a happy and contented life (Miss Chao’s Suicide). Mao cut these nets open for his people, and all the future generations of China to come. To conclude, the New Marriage Law of 1950 was a highly beneficial resolution to the age-old conflict and oppression of feudal marriages, and significantly bettered the lives of women and children by protecting their rights and ending traditional sexist policies such as child marriage and taking concubines, which eventually led to improved modern day gender equality in China and the rest of the world. People pre-reform were daily denied the basic human right of free love.

Women were raped, beaten, and harassed, often to the point of death. Children were suppressed and used for a monetary advantage. Women and girls were stolen or shipped off at young ages to be wed to men completely unsuited to them. Tyrannical husbands took concubines and abused their wives, elders reigned over a household and commanded everyone to misery, people lived out their days in agony. Mao Zedong ended all this with the New Marriage Law. By eliminating anything but free and happy marriages, supporting and protecting womens’ and childrens’ rights, and banning harmful traditions such as concubines, child marriage, and gender-based abortions, he freed China from it’s troubles. This success even carried over into modern day China, and then transferred into the rest of the world, causing improvements in gender equality and many happy marriages. Overall, the New Marriage Law of 1950 benefited and helped all of China, then and now.

31 October 2020
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